Monday, October 29, 2012

From Farmer's Market to Macy's

Interview with Kathleen Escamilla-Hernandez

By Kathryn Gordon and Jeff Yoskowitz of

Kathryn:  Hi Kathleen, you’ve come a long ways since you started at ICE (Institute of Culinary Education) as my student 2 ½ years ago!   We’re very excited. Is it true you just got your first purchase order to sell your Cocoamains macarons at the Macy’s flagship store in Manhattan?

Kathleen:   Yes!  It was interesting to be in the negotiations with such a large customer.  Prior to this, I was selling my macarons and other baked goods at a farmers’ market!   I loved the farm market and meeting my customers directly – but this is a fantastic next step for my business. I do plan though, to continue selling at the farmer’s market in the spring.

Jeff:  You began at a farmer’s market in NJ earlier this year. Can you talk about that process?

Kathleen:  The farmer’s market debut allowed me to pull together my business structure.  When I first started at ICE, I was looking to do something in baking that was creative since I formerly designed children’s wear.   I didn't know precisely what I wanted to do, but I loved pastry and it was a creative outlet from the stress of my former career.  The opportunity to sell on weekends at the farmer’s market came along, and I took the plunge.  I also started to do some dessert catering.   It helps to have a supportive husband, who is also a graphic designer!  At first, I wasn't sure what would sell and I offered pound cakes, madeleines and macarons.  The macarons sold out immediately! 

Process wise, I had to file my LLC, get a trademark, have the website developed, do my Serv Safe certification (which you can do entirely online through -- it’s very interesting!), obtain general liability insurance, complete the mandatory paperwork to sell at a farmer’s market, find a commercial kitchen to work in, develop my macaron formula, flavors and prices, buy a tent, and create signage, flyers and business cards!  At that point, I didn’t yet need packaging.  

All summer, I was baking all night, working from 4 am to 2 pm for my regular job, and getting 4 hours sleep.   However, it was a fantastic way to work out the kinks, make money, allow clientele to get to know my product and also allow me to get feedback on my product.

A friend of mine said:  "You don't go to the farmer’s market to make money - you go to promote your product."  But I told him you go to do both or else why bother going if you don't make money?

Jeff:  When do you launch at Macy’s?

Kathleen:  We just opened at Macy’s Cucina and Co. earlier this week.  We gave away free macarons from 11 am until 2 pm!

Currently I am working on my display case – I can create whatever I want in terms of macaron cakes, gift baskets, etc.  It’s a lot of fun.  I like figuring out how to make lacquered display macarons look as realistic and beautiful as the edible ones!

Kathryn:  Originally the Macy’s Department Buyer for Cucina and Co. wanted you to just have fresh, loose “grab and go” macarons available for purchase out of their refrigerated case?  

Kathleen:  Yes, but then a Macy’s Vice President decided that he wanted to offer gift boxes.  There was a bit of going back and forth.  We decided to do both, and now, my custom boxes are being created.  When we open, there will be 2 sizes of macarons available in 8 flavors:  large and Cocoamain’s mini Mac Poppers!  Pre-packaged Cocoamains gift boxes will be available for the holidays which is great, because a lot of people shop at Macy’s and it’s located so conveniently to Penn Station that commuters can pop in and pick up a present!  We’re all hoping that the eye-catching appeal of macarons will do the trick!

Jeff:  What makes your macarons different from other macarons, Kathleen? 

Kathleen:  I respond to my feedback from my customers and offer fresh, accessible flavors.  I have some popular standard flavors (5) and will rotate in (3) others seasonally.   For example, the Macy’s buyer mentioned that she would like to attract customers at breakfast time – and I turned around and gave her my cinnamon raisin twist macaron with cream cheese filling.  It’s absolutely delicious, especially with morning coffee!  So I have flavors that appeal throughout the day to consumers.

Cocoamains offers American theme flavors in appealing colors.   Compared to other macaron start ups, my texture is soft and my flavors are “bumped up.”  The large size fits into someone’s palm in an appealing way like the size of a cupcake.  The mini Mac Poppers are cute, and allows someone to sample all the flavors.

JeffKathleen, where do you do your production?

Kathleen:  I was working in one commercial kitchen in NJ but I am switching to a larger, brand new facility that lets me rent time on a monthly basis.  I just signed that contract.  I had outgrown the freezer space in the first kitchen.

Kathryn:  How will you transport your macarons to Macy’s?

Kathleen:  As an approved vendor, we have a wide range of hours we can unload at the loading dock from even as early as 5 am.  I plan to arrive early to avoid city traffic, and will be able to bring the macarons straight from my commercial kitchen facility up to the refrigerated case at Macy’s Cucina and Co.  

Kathryn:  What’s one of the biggest lessons you learnt between finishing at ICE as a pastry & baking student and becoming an entrepreneur?

Kathleen:   When your instructors tell you to practice piping, they mean it!  On my first day of externship at Bouchon Bakery, I piped their signature Bouchons for 12 hours.  I had recently had a carpal tunnel operation and there was nothing like that much piping to bring back my hand strength.  I will be hand piping my own macarons until I can justify a depositor, since I am now so fast at piping!

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Follow up to Macaron Parlour Interview

Follow up to Macaron Parlour Interview

Macaron Parlour is open!  Chef Kathryn Gordon visited last Saturday with her new Mod 1 class at ICE (The Institute For Culinary Education).  The dynamic couple Christina Ha and Simon Tung, owners of the Macaron Parlour, kindly hosted a tour of their production kitchen and beautiful retail space -- lots of chairs to enjoy macarons over tea!

Christina and Simon both shared their experiences in transitioning from the Hester Street Farm Market to opening their own retail bakery:  It always takes longer!  You can't quite visualize your space until you are "in it."  And there are more things you have to figure out than you can possibly plan for.

Christina Ha and Simon Tung
Macaron Parlour
111 St. Mark's Place, Manhattan

Read our original story about on Macaron Parlour's beginnings, and how Christina and Simon met:

Macaron Parlour posting, part 1

Note to all ICE graduates:  Christina will soon be taking on externs for the holidays.  So contact them if you are interested in perfecting your macaron baking skills!  

Friday, October 19, 2012

Kerry Vincent Gives Advice to New Cake Decorators

Advice to New Cake Decorators
Interview with Kerry Vincent

By Kathryn Gordon

Kathryn:  Hi Kerry, can you talk about whether cakes can be copyrighted?

Kerry:  The answer is no – artistic license is interpretation, and cakes cannot be copyrighted.  Forget all that rubbish!  Everyone is copying everybody.

Very often they don’t even realize they are doing it. Nobody can have possibly seen all the cakes that were done in the world beforehand!  Unfortunately, some new cake designers turn around and claim that their rose petal style or whatever is copyrighted. What’s unique about a rose petal, or how you placed it on a cake?  It may be pretty, but it’s not spectacular. 

Unless you know everything that the grand ladies of cake, the trailblazers, have done over the years, you can’t claim an idea as your own.  Chances are it’s already been done before fondant-style cakes even came to the United States; maybe it was done before you were even born. 

Budding cake designers can join ICES, the International Cake Exploration Society

Kathryn:  What kind of situations where new cake decorators claimed techniques/styles as their own have you seen?

Kerry:   Once I heard someone claim on TV that they were the inventor of the frill yet I have a book that was published before they were born with the Garrett frill.  In another instance someone tried to claim a technique that they just didn’t know Colette Peters had first done and published in 1984.

Almost all people begin by copying other people’s cakes.  The problem starts when they start thinking they’re doing something different than anyone else and they can claim it as their own.  Then they bemoan that someone has “stolen their cake.”  It is a load of rubbish.

Kathryn:  There seems to be a lot of blogging about this question at the moment.

Kerry:   Get over it!  Everyone copies everyone – it’s the way of America. There are very few unique ideas in our business.   Motivation for uniqueness should not be driving you.  We live in a very litigious society.   You can’t be inwardly focused in a protectionist mode.

Don’t waste your time complaining on websites that someone else took “your” cake design – you may in fact have taken “your design” from someone else and you’re not even aware of it.  Come back down to earth – it’s cake!  Go back to spending all your time designing.

Kathryn:  What cake designs are truly “Kerry Vincent?” 

Kerry:  It takes someone else to point it out to you, that what you are doing has never been done before.  In 1984, Patricia Simmons (author of 4 cake books, who had seen cakes all over Australia and abroad), visited me.  She recognized that what I was doing was a new and unusual technique.  She introduced it to the bi-annual cake conference that year and it was entered into the historical record.

I invented “inlay in sugar,” but I didn't invent “inlay." That technique dates back to the art of the Roman and Greek empires.  I've had two successes that way but even with the Vincent Marquetry, people have knocked that off directly from my book, which is fine, it is a how-to book, but don’t pretend to claim it. 

Romantic Cake Decorating
Kerry Vincent, Published by Merehurst Cake Decorating 2002

Kathryn:  What changes have you seen in the American cake business? 

Kerry:  A few years ago there were 3-4 fondant companies.  When I last counted, there were 35 and it may be higher.  That’s good stuff! It supports employees, families and generates revenue.

Also, we have developed many cable television cake shows.  I am all about the competitor, and supporting their artistic endeavor.  I founded the Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show (and Grand National Wedding Cake Competition) 19 years ago (Note:  it has been featured on Food Network several times). But I won’t support someone who is stealing another person’s technique and claiming it as his or her own. 

(More info on the show here: Oklahoma Sugar Artists )

I am thrilled to have announced this week that for the first time ever, a cake artist will be a judge for a mainstream free view network baking show.   My dream is coming true;  this will allow access to millions who cannot pay for cable.   Access will be worldwide, as well. It started in the UK and a US show is being commissioned. 

Kathryn:  That’s a fantastic development!   What do you recommend for new cake designers to do, to pursue their dreams?  How should they focus their time?

Kerry:  Refine your art.  Pay your dues and focus on proper execution of skills.  A cake can look very pretty and doesn't need to be “copyrighted.” Work damned hard and don’t take shortcuts and you will become successful.

You should also investigate how your business set-up will work (financially) or you may go bust before you even get it off the ground.  Just because your family believes you are the world’s greatest baker doesn't qualify you as a great cake artist (who can attract a paying customer base).   Get out there and do something new!  The flavor of the month will only stay that for that month.  You have to keep striving. 

You can follow Kerry Vincent on Facebook:  Kerry Vincent on Facebook

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Having copyright issues with your recipes?

Don't Plagarize:  Someone Will Find Out !

By Kathryn Gordon 
CoAuthor with Anne E. McBride of Les Petits Macarons, Colorful French Macarons to Make at Home
Running Press, 2011

Below are answers to recipe copyright questions posed in macaron classes at ICE, The Institute of Culinary Education where Jeff Yoskowitz and Kathryn Gordon teach.  After using some of Kathryn's published material with students, we thought it could useful to learn about recipe copywriting, etc. so other people can avoid troublesome situations.

1. What are the copyright laws pertaining to recipes?

You actually cannot copyright a recipe.  You can’t copyright the ingredient list, the techniques you use, or the explicit instructions you give to describe the technique.

Recipes are exempt from all claims of intellectual property.  However – a reasonable claim of copyright infringement can be made if someone is listing material from your published work if it:  a) includes your head notes; and b) the language from your process is more or less identical.

2. Can a publisher prosecute an individual who republishes a recipe without permission?

No – and it would generally be a very costly process to a publisher.  But you can “shame” the person.  If someone published a recipe without permission on the internet, you can get it taken down off the web.  If someone published without giving credit to the author in print, the author can report the incident to their publisher so they know to be aware of that issue and person.

3. What can an author do to protect their original recipes?

I learned a trick from another cookbook author to always share documents in a “PDF” format.  I realize it’s not foolproof as it could always be retyped from scratch, of course, but modifying the document is more problematic for someone who intends to plagiarize.

If you give out material, such as in classes you teach, you need to always note that the recipe cannot be redistributed or used online without permission.

4. How does recipe reprinting work?  Every time someone wants to reprint of the recipe from a book in another book, a magazine, or in a blog they have to clear it with the publisher?

For any recipe previously published in a book – permission to reprint or use online has to be given by the publisher.  The author does not have the authority to give the permission.  A publisher wants to be aware of these situations regarding how the material is going to be reused because they need to make sure it is correctly attributed, with the correct dates of publication, and where the book can be purchased.  

5. What if I have previously published an original recipe myself, but on the web (maybe through a food blog) and not in traditional print form? 

Then you as the author can give direct permission to someone else, such as to another food blogger, to republish your recipe.  You don't need to go through anyone else.

6. What if someone wants to reprint a recipe in their food blog, or somewhere else online? 
(As an instructor using a variety of recipes from multiple sources, I have noted that the question does come up in classes because nowadays, a lot of students film the classes, take pictures of their products and blog that day about what they produced and sometimes want to share the recipe for the product that they baked in our ICE curriculum).

It’s best for students (bloggers, and everyone else) to get in the habit of regularly obtaining permission from the publisher to share the recipe.  Even if they modify a recipe, they need to write good head notes.  Probably your idea was inspired by someone else. Where did the original idea for that recipe/technique come from?  Make the connection back to that source in your head notes (head notes are often noted under the recipe title to explain the inspiration or provenance of a recipe).

Going through the formality to reprint an actual recipe from another author is a simple process.  Most authors these days have websites and can be reached via Facebook or email.  An author should turn around and put the person making the request in contact with the publisher for formal permission.  

But when in doubt, don’t republish a recipe.  Ethically, the right thing to do is to attribute an idea to its source.  

7. Say you’re a food blogger, and you want to obtain permission from a publisher to reprint a recipe in full?  How does the permission process work?

Someone will contact the publicity department of a publisher, and they are generally happy to give permission for legitimate promotions of their books.   It can give the magazine good material for an article, and helps the author and the publisher sell more books.  A publisher knows they have to “give away a little” to generate sales.  They will also often proof the article, etc. to ensure the recipe is correctly represented without errors.

Below is how one of our macaron recipes was reprinted in Wine Spectator, with permission from our publisher, Running Press:

8. How do editors, book agents and publicists keep aware of what might be published out there in cyberspace and would be considered a violation of the intellectual property rights?

An easy method is to set up “Google Alerts,” like on the name of your book.  You will get a lot of email – but some of it will be legitimate notices that someone has taken one of your recipes.   Publishers are always reading material and “looking” for misuse in the similarities to that of their author’s recipes and procedures.

9.  If you find a violation, what is the most effective way to remedy the situation?  

The power of Twitter is amazing, and embarrassing if someone finds out you did something wrong.  "Shame" is a highly motivational force.

Sometimes though, you track down an illegal e-book and its origin is more robotic or a pirate site than attributable to a person you can make take down the material.  It can be an uphill battle with everything that’s printed and reprinted (illegally) via the internet.  The music industry has the same issues regarding pirate sites downloading material so the musician (author) and producer (publisher) don’t make money.

10. How else has the internet affected recipe publishing?

Authors can correct mistakes in e-books quicker than through the reprint process.  Different publishers do it differently because it costs money to resend a file to all nooks, kindles, pdf readers etc. but there are clear benefits for a consumer to have the information in that format.  Prior to e-books, consumers might have contacted a publisher that a book contained an error but they would have to wait for a physical reprinting if they wanted a copy with the correction. 

In closing:  unless you know you came up with a recipe as an original idea – don’t rip people off.  Make it a habit to contact the person who came up with the material originally (the author) or go directly to their publisher for permission.

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Research Your Niche

Interview with Robbie Frank
“Not Everything Will Go As You Think It Will”

By Kathryn Gordon

Kathryn:  Hi Robbie!  I’m very glad to meet you – I know you and Jeff (Yoskowitz) go back a long way, working together.  Can you tell us a bit about what you do?

Robbie:  I am mostly a middleman, and sell to distributors but I help work with the people producing the products I sell, to find them co-packers to do the production. I also have my own line of products that I use a co-packer for and sell through distribution channels. 

Kathryn:  Wow.  That sounds like a lot of hats to juggle, and it sounds like you know a lot about how the food business works. What’s the best advice you would give to someone setting up a new business? 

Robbie:  It depends a bit on which market you want to go after.  Retail is definitely more expensive to establish.  Someone can always decide to open their own retail operation after they have more capital.  It might be best to start selling first to the wholesale market through distributors to start establishing your business and to build your brand.  Ideally, someone starting off would have enough capital to be able to set up for wholesale and retail.

Kathryn:  If someone is a start up, what does it take, to be able to go through a co-packer?

Robbie:  You have to have some extra capital because not everything is going to go exactly how you think it will.  You need your name, packaging, branding, corporation, insurance, recipe costs and nutritional analysis to start working with a co-packer.  Most co-packers have high minimum production runs but co-packer price points do drop for volume production.   

Kathryn:  What’s the biggest challenge to a startup going the distributor route, after they've figured out how to produce?

Robbie:  You have to allow for the percentage off wholesale price, because everyone along the way charges a markup:  the distributor, the wholesaler, and the retail outlet.   Generally, the person producing the product needs to take 30% off the wholesale price to figure out what price they’ll be able to sell for to a distributor. 

Kathryn:  What’s the biggest advantage a start-up company would have in deciding to work with you as a middleman / distributor?

Robbie:  I work with about 3,000 retail outlets. I work with 40 different co-producers to sell product to those 3,000 accounts.   Ask yourself, how long will it take for you to get 50 solid contacts? 

My customers buy solid products from me, because they trust me if I’ve made a decision to represent the product.

We also have refrigerated trucks, and enormous freezer storage warehouses.  We can inventory your products .  Co-packers often can’t, or will charge to store your product.

Kathryn:  What do you look for in a product before it can be sold to a real high volume retailer?

Robbie:  3 things have to be met:  Niche, price point and quality.  

Kathryn:  If you get someone into a retail outlet, how do payment terms work?

Robbie:  The retail outlet generally sets the terms.  Usually it’s 15 day or 30 day payable.  You may be able to negotiate a slightly better price for a longer payment term.

Kathryn:  What mistakes do you see if someone decides to strike out on their own and approach retail outlets?

Robbie:  Research your niche – know who your competitors are and what their price points are.  Figure out how you are going to deliver your product and don’t forget to factor in your time, and travel and parking costs.

Kathryn:  Any other words of advice you have for a start-up company?

Robbie:  Hold down your food costs.  Know exactly what your recipe costs you to produce.   Maybe you can “tag onto” the purchases of a friend in the business, otherwise the smaller you are – the more likely you going to pay top price.  You might even be charged delivery fees for your ingredients, and that’s not going to make you profitable.

I’ve seen a lot of good products that for one reason or another just don’t make it.  Maybe the company had a good idea, the product tested well and was even covered in the local press but sometimes it could not be manufactured efficiently.  Sometimes you are not selling enough volume to get your price points down enough to really do business.  Also, ask for help because if you’re too proud to ask for help, you may always remain stuck in between achieving success or just scraping by.   

Kathryn: Thanks Robbie!

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Monday, October 1, 2012

Pop Up Bakeries

Pop Up!

Interview with Eugene Ashton Gonzalez
Eat My Heart Out Storytelling Dinner Theatre
By Kathryn Gordon

Kathryn:  Hi Eugene.  Pop Up restaurants and bakeries are appearing everywhere as promotional tools to attract attention and investors and also to earn profit. I know you've been working on a pop up restaurant, and I know you’ve been involved with one before.  Can you tell us about it?

Eugene:  In October we will have a one-night dinner theater and storytelling performance.  I am the writer/director in charge of the theatrical part, and I am working with the chef and crew that we worked with last year for a prior popup.   Diners will enjoy dinner while watching a show.

Kathryn:  How do you promote something that only lasts one night?

Eugene:  We are raising funds via Kickstarter.  We also have a website and a Facebook page.  We still have a mailing list and followers from our last event.  Last time, we sold out our available tickets in 72 hours because we attracted the attention of food bloggers.

Kathryn:  With your ticket sales, is something like this pop up model economically viable? 

Eugene:  Honestly, we can’t really pay the servers.  Mostly, they are volunteers (friends of friends).  We have to have enough funds to rent the space and the equipment, pay for the food and pay some of the cooks who join the team for the night.

Kathryn:  What’s the biggest challenge of arranging something like this?

Eugene:  Risking exposure of the event to health officials!  It’s not treated completely like a private party.  It’s quasi open to the public and it’s not an invitation-only private event so it’s kind of in a grey area in terms of inspections.  We try to keep the final location hush hush until the last possible minute so the health department won’t be there to shut us down when we need to serve dinner!

Kathryn:  How did you find the space you will be using this year?

Eugene:  The first event was in a friend’s loft.  We served 80 covers and outgrew that space, so this time we are renting a larger space.  We also rent the kitchen equipment, table ware, everything. 

My partner, the culinary director, is in charge of renting the ranges, refrigeration and everything they need in the kitchen.  He designs the menu.  I am making the front of the house arrangements.  My background is in food and theater  and I write and produce the show with a troupe of actor/friends.

Kathryn:   Eugene, what’s next in terms of projects for you?

Eugene:  We are planning to open in California. There is a market everywhere now for storytelling and a huge fan base and we plan to feature the local food economy in California and independent food producers.  For example, the chefs come out to describe the recipe development for each dish in between serving the courses to the audience.

Kathryn:     Thank you Eugene!

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