CAKES by Melissa
Life Is What You Bake It
By Melissa Ben-Ishay
Suzy Chase: Welcome to the Cookery By The Book podcast with me, Suzy Chase.
Melissa : My name is Melissa Ben-Ishay and my cookbook is Cakes by Melissa. Life is what you bake it.
Suzy Chase: You're amazing. You can do anything you set your mind to. Today is going to be the best day. Tell us the story about that phrase.
Melissa : So that phrase has become the fabric of my life, I guess you can say, and growing up my dad would drive me to school everyday, like elementary school before I took the bus or carpooled, all that stuff, and everyday on the way to school he would give me the same speech. You're smart. You're capable, and you can do anything you set your mind to. Everyday, the same exact speech to the point that I would actually mouth the words alongside of him, and I would always say "Oh, Dad, you're so silly," but what I realized as I grow up and experience life is that those words that he spoke to me every single morning and that, the unconditional support and encouragement gave me this inner confidence that has allowed me to do what I do and take risks and trust my instincts and my gut, and it taught me that love, unconditional love, is really important, and I think becoming a mother, so I became a mother about almost two years ago. My daughter is like one and a half, and I walk her to daycare in the morning, and she's 19 months old, but I already tell her, Scotty, you are so smart and capable and you can do anything you set your mind to because I want her to have that, too.
Suzy Chase: It's going to stick.
Melissa : Yeah, and I think that in baking or in life, we should build each other up and support each other and there's not enough of that today, so anything I can do to promote that through my own experiences, I'm going to.
Suzy Chase: I have to say that I loved your bite sized cupcakes since you were selling them out of the kiosk at Spring and Broadway, and I didn't realize that you were attached to Café Bari.
Melissa : Yeah.
Suzy Chase: And in the book you said "Who's going to stop at this hole in the wall and buy cupcakes from someone they've never heard of before?" Well, that was me and all my West Village mom friends who had toddlers at the time.
Melissa : Aw, amazing.
Suzy Chase: Talk about that time in your life when you were at the kiosk.
Melissa : So although I had amazing parents who encouraged me and my brother to do whatever we set our mind to, I was 24 years old and I had never done that before. It was outside of my comfort zone, and at the time when we opened that first location, I was working my butt off like 15, 16 hours a day, seven days a week baking, just making as much product as I possibly could, and I was scared and tired. I guess, I couldn't imagine the response that we got and opening day I was sitting at the bar. I was just scared, and you know what, I've learned since then is that feeling is amazing because that feeling means you're taking a risk, you're going outside of your comfort zone, and no matter what, it's going to be amazing. You're either going to make a mistake and learn and grow from it or you'll succeed and also learn and grow from it, and now I go after that feeling, like writing a book for example was very much outside of my comfort zone, and being able to recognize those opportunities, it's really important and I think being able to recognize opportunities to learn and grow myself and also Bake by Melissa is ultimately what has allowed us to grow the company.
Suzy Chase: How is this cookbook different from other cookbooks?
Melissa : This cookbook is different from other cookbooks for so many reasons. The way it's laid out is different. It really follows my creative process and what I do is I take a base recipe and then by changing one or two ingredients, I have a whole variety of recipes, so I do that with my cakes. I start with a vanilla recipe and by adding one or two ingredients then I have 47, I believe, cake recipes in the book, and then the same thing with icings. I start with my vanilla base icing and then by changing one or two ingredients, I have so many, like really the possibilities are endless. So the book is laid out cakes, so it has all of the cake recipes starting with vanilla, and then adding and taking away from that recipe, and then after cakes it does icings the same way, and then toppings and stuffings and I want to encourage the reader to bake outside the lines and what I do when I create, A, I'm very carefree because baking is like what I do to relax. It's not supposed to be like this crazy thing with a lot of rules. So, I kind of want to dispel the notion that it's like this exact science, and I want people to have fun with it, and when I bake I bake for people I love based on what they love to eat. Everything I do is either based on a nostalgic flavor or for someone who loves something very specific, and the act of giving what you create, wow, that's amazing, so I want people to create for people they love and give it, and that's what the book is all about. Go outside of your comfort zone, bake new and delicious things based on what you love or the people you love like to eat, and be creative.
Suzy Chase: In your classic vanilla cake recipe, I love that it calls for two teaspoons of vanilla extract, and then there's a written note next to it saying let it overflow the spoon if you want, so you can tell that you really put your personal touch on this cookbook.
Melissa : That's how my mom used to do it.
Suzy Chase: So your company, Baked by Melissa is definitely a collaboration. Who are your collaborators?
Melissa : My brother, my older brother, he's an entrepreneur, Brian, who started the company, me, Brian and Matt, his business partner at the time who was also our childhood friend. Matt is a creative genius. He was in business with my brother designing websites, but he also designed all of our store locations, our logo, you name it. So the three of us, the day I was fired decided to do this, and then I was fortunate to be put in contact with a caterer who started having me bake for his events and really helped get the word out, and he's also a PR genius, so then Ben was the fourth founder, and then Danny Omari the owner of Café Bari who's idea it was to put a booth Baked by Melissa in the holiday market was our fifth co-founder, and together we used our unique talents and experiences to start baked by Melissa.
Suzy Chase: We had my son's 11th birthday party last Sunday at Chelsea Piers and I got your happy birthday box 50 pack instead of a big birthday cake. What I was noticing was from the bite sized cupcakes to the layers of flavor to the packaging to this cookbook, everything seems deliberately curated. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Melissa : Yes. Yes, and yes. Of course, we do. We do everything for a reason, and everything we create is an opportunity to share the Baked by Melissa brand and vision to inspire and celebrate creativity. We worked so hard and we just look for opportunities to share happiness with everyone who comes into contact with Baked by Melissa.
Suzy Chase: You have a section called Melissa's Tips for Easy Delicious Baking, and one tip is don't stress over cracks or surface imperfections which is the most stressful part for me. How can we deal with those?
Melissa : Cover them up with icing or glaze. Some of the best cakes I ever made were just because I burnt the edges and I had to improvise, and being able to improvise and change things as you go, that's like just important for life. All of these little things are metaphors for life.
Suzy Chase: There are tons of flavor combinations in this cookbook, and at Baked by Melissa we can now buy six very special cupcakes. What is the dream team?
Melissa : The dream team is six flavors using recipes directly from Cakes by Melissa because it was super important to me that I was able to give our customer a taste of the recipes that are inside of the book. So the dream team are six flavors that are available a la carte in all of our retail locations, and you could also buy the dream team as a 25 pack on bakedbymelissa.com. You could get it in a gift box. You could get it just by itself. You could pair it with other flavors. You could create your own pack with all different types. Whatever you want, and we ship our product nationwide, guaranteed fresh. You can get it the next day, and yeah. I mean our goal is to continue to get people Baked by Melissa all over the country.
Suzy Chase: You wrote "With cake as in life, if you believe it, have confidence in yourself and work your ass off. You can do anything."
Melissa : Hell, yeah.
Suzy Chase: Amen. Thank you, Melissa for coming on Cookery By The Book podcast.
Melissa : Thank you for having me.
Suzy Chase: Follow me on Instagram at cookerybythebook. Twitter is imsuzychase and download your kitchen mix tapes, music to cook by on Spotify at cookerybythebook, and as always subscribe in Apple Podcasts.