Last weekend, we were dispatched to sunny South Bay to attend Sunset Magazine's Celebration Weekend. The rain clouds held off for long enough that we were able to enjoy great food and great drinks. We toured the festival, surveyed some incredible Weber grills, admired the Succulent Gardens' gorgeous living murals, talked to some celebrity chefs and watched a few live cooking demos. Among those chefs was Ani Phyo, ecostylist and organic food author, who shared her perspective on an ecostylist lifestyle - she noted that it's about being conscious of sustainable, organic consumption while still being stylish.
This philosophy brings to mind Sprinkles Cupcakes, which is all about quality ingredients and yet does it oh so stylishly. We were lucky to talk to Candace Nelson, founder of Sprinkles - Foodspotting's birthday cake sponsor - and judge of the Food Network's Cupcake Wars. With 10 branches across the country and most recently a new location in New York City, Sprinkles has captured the very essence of a delightful dessert. Even Oprah is a fan! Below is our conversation with Candace, in which we learn some great trivia about Sprinkles, including the fact that it may not be just cupcakes in the future.
Questions provided by our Twitter followers, who helped us brainstorm some thoughtful questions that Saturday. Catch Candace on the next season of Cupcake Wars, which starts tomorrow, June 14th, on the Food Network.
FT So tell us how you started Sprinkles.
CN My background was actually in finance - in the investment banking working with high tech companies and then went on to work at an internet company. When the bottom dropped out from the dot-coms in the late 90s, I had to look inward and ask myself what it was I really wanted to do. So I decided to go to pastry school and went to Tante Marie's in San Francisco, started baking cakes and cupcakes out of my little kitchen and the idea of Sprinkles was born in that I wanted to elevate this beloved American dessert with beautiful ingredients and elegant design.
How did you come up with the idea of making cupcakes rather than anything else?
I wanted to create something that could be, conceivably, a daily indulgence, because my philosophy is that dessert should be part of your daily life. It's one of life's greatest pleasures and you should indulge in moderation every day. That's essentially what a cupcake is - it's an indulgence in moderation.
I know you get asked this a lot, but what is your personal favourite Sprinkles flavour?
I could go on and on, but I will just limit it to one, which is the dark chocolate - my go-to favourite flavour - and I prefer it without the Sprinkles. I find that the frosting tastes even more creamy that way.
And was that the first flavour you came up with for Sprinkles?
The first flavour I came up with was actually the vanilla cupcake - chocolate was a close second. This is a little bit of trivia: I almost didn't do a red velvet cupcake. I didn't like the way the red velvet cakes were made, and my husband said, "You have to make a red velvet cupcake! I'm from Oklahoma and I'll be shamed at home if we don't have a red velvet in our bakery!" So I obviously owe a lot to him, as it's our number one selling cupcake.
Tell us a funny story from Cupcake Wars.
On this season, we had a guest judge on the show that said, "Well, this is going to be tricky because I'm a vegan!" She had said that her kids would have killed her if she had said no to Cupcake Wars, so she went against all her vegan principles and ate butter and dairy because her kids were such fans. I thought that was really cute.
Strangest cupcake flavour that you encountered?
That actually is coming up in this next season of Cupcake Wars and it has to do with mayonnaise!
Assuming you can't have any cupcakes ever again, what would be your go-to dessert?
Chocolate chip cookie.
What's your recommended daily allowance for a cupcakeholic?
I would consider myself a cupcakeholic and I try to limit myself to one - my caveat would be if you're pregnant, which I have been twice during Sprinkles' life, it can be two.
If there is one thing that you think made your cupcakes better than the rest, what would it be?
I think freshness, and the way we staff our bakery, the way we operate. It's a just in time baking idea, so that we're only baking what we need for each part of the day. When I started Sprinkles, the baking industry was such that the baker came in, baked what he thought he needed for the day, and if you came in at the end of the day, it's a crapshoot what was left, and whatever was left had essentially been sitting there for a whole day. So we really wanted to go about it our own way.
What is your philosophy with social media and rewarding customers using these tools?
The philosophy is just having that interaction with the customer - very direct interaction - we like to be able to touch them in the store but also get their feedback and address them immediately. The idea behind Sprinkles and cupcakes is that they're fun, so why not add a playfulness to our social media in terms of giving things away for free or play some question type games. So the idea is playing on the fun and playing on the customer interaction. (You can follow Sprinkles on Twitter @Sprinkles.)
Will you guys ever do anything other than cupcakes?
Yes, we will. And I'll leave it at that!