Designers Interviews

Interview with The Cookie Lab

Interview with The Cookie Lab as seen on Gothic and Amazing Magazine issue #4 – Halloween is Here!

The Cookie Lab is a place where you can learn to bake and design your own and unique style of cookies they have amazing designs made but even now they keep surprising us all the time, The Cookie Lab is based in Portugal but don’t worry if you enjoy their work and you want to learn with them because they travel all over the world giving workshops to everyone that wants to join their amazing and creative world art…

1. Could you tell us how did you get started with cookies design, was that a long time dream?
First of all. Thank you so much for inviting me to speak of and show some of my work. Actually, cookies came into my life by accident. In Portugal, I used to work for a bank. It was challenging and I loved it, but due to my husband’s business, we traveled the world. We moved to Brazil, then Hong Kong, and finally Japan, all within 20 years. As I’m always looking for new challenges, I worked as a freelancer.  I prepared technical manuals in Portuguese for several gadgets and equipment.  While in Japan, I also setup classes to teach local residents Traditional Portuguese Cuisine.  As I used to entertain very often and word of my food spread throughout Tokyo, I was invited by my Embassy to develop a Food Project with a Japanese Association that had ties to Portugal.  I was then introduced by a friend to an International Cooking School and I became a teacher there.  I also taught several culinary classes at the Tokyo American Club. By the time my classes were full time, my daughter was attending a University in the United States, and so I used the “excuse” of visiting her to attend Culinary Arts courses at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) to improve my skills, and ultimately become a Chef. But life sometimes changes our path and with a 2 week notice, I left Japan and returned to Portugal at the end of 2011. I started 2012 in Madrid where I lived for several months.  I was unemployed and had a lot of spare time. I saw some cookies made by a friend and decided to take a cookie decoration lesson in a local cake shop that offered the class.  We learned a wet on wet technique, and, I have to confess, I was disappointed and the technique didn’t work for me.  Months later, my husband was retired from his position and we moved from Madrid to Lisbon.  At that time, it was my daughter who encouraged me to keep going and made me believe that I could succeed with cookies.  So, I decided to try it again on my own and after 6 months of practice, I entered Julia Ushers Christmas Cookie and won first prize (Julia Usher´s Cookie Connection site). From this contest, I started to become well known among cookie artists and cookie lovers. I started to receive invitations to teach cookie decorating all over the world. My work has been featured in magazines, blogs, even national television. A Portuguese Cake Decoration magazine Bolos Decorados created a Special Edition on just my work and other magazines in Spain, France and Portugal also routinely publish my work. Recently, I was fortunate to be one of the 3 finalists  of The Cookier of the Year 2014 from the Cookie Connection website.

2. Now more than ever, standing out and having something unique to offer is really important. So what would you consider your signature design element?
About two years ago, I looked at my cookie idols and saw that they had a very distinctive style that was noticeable at a single glance. My style, though, came naturally.  I never had an intention of creating a “style”.  It was only after receiving feed-back from other cookie decorators that I realized I had a style.  I think that what I express on my cookies, and therefore in my style, is an expression of my feelings, or my exposure to the world, and what I like to be surrounded by.  Cookie after cookie, our own personality, taste, and technique will be reflected and will turn into our signature style. My style has been defined as a “delicately detailed” or centered around “very elegant vignettes” – and one which relies on intricate piping set off by the finest-of-fine hand-painted outlines! I have to confess the more challenging the design the more I like it and I realize that I tend to go to designs that are full of volume, textures and movement, I really like to give my cookies a 3D like effect, I also like to work on figures and make them “pop” out of the cookie.

3. You don’t just make your own cookie designs you also teach others how to do it, what do you enjoy most about teaching?
My cookies cover different styles and designs. I create my own designs, but I also recreate other artists paintings or illustrations which I feel identify with. (I don´t recreate other cookie artists Designs). It´s not the same recreating a picture by simply painting it on a cookie.  I have to create that image with volume, textures and depth to give it a 3D effect. Everything is done by hand, I don´t use projectors or other gadgets to do so. I enjoy teaching students to make the art with their hands.  It is important because the students may not have any other resource, except for their hands. Two years ago, my cookie journey took me to a level that I never thought it could.  I started receiving invitations to teach, not just in Portugal but in Spain and the United States. This upcoming year, I´m travelling to Switzerland, Italy, Spain, and have several classes to teach here in Portugal. Actually my 2016 schedule is taking me to several other countries in Europe, Asia and probably South America. I made it a habit to put my latest cookies on Facebook and many of my followers began to ask if I could con-duct lessons in other countries as well.  So now, YES, this is what I really want to do.  Teaching is my passion, and cookies have given me a medium to fulfill this passion.

4. If you could pick just one, which would be the decorating tool you just can’t live without?
Just one…my scribe for sure or toothpicks instead. It may sound surreal but this little item is really important on my work.

5. You travel all over the world with your workshops so your designs are all over for everyone to see them, how does that make you feel?
It´s really pleasant and I am grateful for the reactions I receive when my students see some of my real cookies and look amazed. They know and identify the cookies because they already saw them on Facebook, Instagram or any other media. But the most humbling comment from my students is that the pictures don´t do my cookies justice (I really have to improve my pictures by investing in a better camera).

6. With so many amazing work done, can you tell us where do you draw your inspiration for your designs, who or what is inspiring you at the moment?
I do like to play with a cookie and give it “life”. Playing with volume, textures, shades, and depth make the figures or elements to pop.

From the union of piped royal icing elements and final painted details, I get my little edible art pieces. I probably have to “blame” the royal icing for taking me in this direction. As I feel more confident manipulating it, as it makes me want to go one step further.

7. Can you describe us a bit about the creative process for making a cookie and getting the perfect design for it, like what comes 1st the cookie shape or the painting in it?
My cookies are essentially decorated with colored royal icing. The painting is minimal just for details (I have just a few entire painted cookies). Although I have probably 300 cookie cutters, the design comes first most of the time. I like to adapt it to any cookie shape I may have baked before it is ready to be decorated. Sometimes I look for a cookie cutter that may work and fits for a certain design and bake a few cookies accordingly but I very seldom use the cookie cutters shapes as it is.

8. Out of curiosity, do you take costume orders, if you do what was the more challenging order you ever had?
I used to take more cookie orders than I´m taking now because I have less time due to my workshops and constant practicing and creation. Actually, at the present, I´m not accepting additional orders for the months to come. Probably the most challenging order was an international request to make a cookie replica of a painting done by a gentleman whose daughter wanted to recreate it for him on a cookie for Father’s Day.

9. And what was your favorite design until this moment?
Tricky question…. I have a few favorites but perhaps I would say my “Girl walking in the park”. This cookie was a pleasure to make. The diameter of the cookie is 9 cm, but the girl itself is only 8 cm tall. The most challenging part of this cookie was, for sure, painting the eye and mouth.  The face is so small that painting it requires a stable hand.  I always pray before painting on such tiny details.

10. What’s your favorite part of your job, do you still time to have fun with it?
Oh Yes, If I didn’t have fun, I wouldn’t be continuing this venture. Every single step is important for the whole outcome, from the study of the design, sequence of applying Royal Icing, consistencies to be used, etc. Most of the cookies I have been showing are singular pieces. They are also my very first attempt on that particular cookie. They are generally full of tiny details and, because of their small size (usually 8-9 cm or less), the details are more challenging.  I really enjoy the challenge, although they are time consuming.  But my favorite part is adding the final details that will bring “life” to a cookie.  This “life” is the final step before the cookie is complete.

11. Do you enjoy designing cookies for special days, does it feel good to know that you will be a part of someone’s big day?
Designing cookies with a special theme in mind or request is more challenging, but I enjoy it because it allows me to step out of my comfort zone. I recently took part in an International Collaboration where I was the only one presenting cookies. All the participants were cake Designers. The experience was amazing; we got wonderful reviews and international magazines featured the works. After this event, I had a few more invitations to collaborative events and I´m presently working on 3 other international collaborations. Giving my contribution to a group or being part of someone´s special day is priceless to me.

12. As we pointed out before your designs are amazing it must be hard to eat a piece of art like that but your cookies are edible so I imagine you must have some orders, can you give us some tips for getting a beautiful cookies for a special day while still staying within a reasonable budget?
It´s interesting to see people´s reactions to my cookies. Some have them framed, others made magnets, and some people still kept them in their boxes for display. But, there are those who look at them and say “they are pretty but they are cookies, therefore they are to be eaten”. There is always a design to fit someone’s need and budget. It´s just a matter of finding what is most suitable for every occasion.

13. What are your plans for the future, is there something you dream about and hope to achieve?
Oh Yes! I´m presently working on a way that can improve my work and take me to those students that, due to geographic dispersement, can´t attend my Work Shops. I´m working on on-line classes and small videos with tutorials for instance. Also, I would like to find a place to turn into a studio since my actual working space is quite limited.

14. You are a Designer Idol to so many people around the world…do you have a designer Idol of your own?
Oh, Thank you for that compliment. I don’t know if I´m a designer idol or not but I’ve noticed that I’ve been influencing a few people which makes me feel happy. But among all the Cookiers I admire and follow their works, there is one particular person whose work uses several techniques that I also use. She is an artist by nature and by the time this text is published I may have spent a couple of working days with her in Hungary. She is Judith (aka Mezesmanna)

15. Could you give some tips to people who have just started decorating cookies or would love to start?
Practice! Practice is the key! There are no failures along the decorating process but just lessons to be learned. Don´t give up at the first attempt.  Try, try again.  The “right attempt” might be the next one and if you give up you’ll never know! If you are a beginner, go for easy designs,  it´s better a simple and  well done cookie rather than an intricate design that due to the lack of practice can turn into something less appealing.

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