interview, people
Comments 2

When Confections Get Groovy, Baby

I f you’re not into sweeties, you’re certainly of a rare breed. Or very strong-willed. As all pastry obsessives will likely concur, there’s something in that first taste of sweetness. I like to slowly wrap my tongue around it. Savour it. Ever. So. Slowly. Experience the heady rush of sugar. Be it an an affinity for layer cakes, tarts, or truffles, or, as it goes with the likes of Lisa Wolf, lollies and biscuits and marshmallows (oh my), sugar aficionados are united in searching for the next perfect bite.

Beyond baking up nirvana, Lisa is one of the most sassy, intelligent and creative people I’ve been blessed to meet. Ever so eloquent, too. I absolutely adore the way she replied to all my questions. So much so that you know what? I’m simply going to copy/paste her responses here because they’re that epic.


Mundane but necessary nonetheless, tell me about yourself.

I’d describe myself as an oddly anachronistic character who tends to speak in a sort of backwards, slightly loopy and overly formal way.

It was probably pretty obvious I was going to be a chef when as a young child, I’d sort through my Halloween candy, pick out the Hershey Special Dark, and throw the rest away.  This fact makes me long to go back in time and ‘high five’ 5-year-old Lisa with a ‘you’ll be okay, you’re absolutely right, this candy is kind of mediocre.” I’ve been baking literally since I can remember. Always thinking “I can do better than this” when presented with store-bought anything.  At age 9, I’d routinely declare “I can make this better” and, according to my mom, I would!  Though she may have been slightly biased, happily I now have customers saying the same thing.

My mother would describe me as a kid that always loved “cooking and old things.”

So, in true form (and as no surprise to anyone who knew me), I’m now a Pastry Chef – Medievalist – Classicist in training. I’ve been in professional kitchens my entire adult life and, these days, I divide my time between creating sugar alchemy and studying ‘actual’ Alchemy.  After gilding a wedding cake, I briefly considered apprenticing with ‘the guilders’ in NYC, but the adhesives aggravated my asthma too much.  I remain gilding lollipops and cakes, though sadly, not statues. I make candy, bind books, ponder manuscripts, seriously study Latin and believe cheese is a religion. { note from Sheela: I think the vast majority of the human population would concur with that last bit }

Chombard Chocolate Caramels

I’m certain you saw this coming – certified to teach food handler’s sanitation class? Has this (unique) aspect helped you from a business perspective? If affirmative, how?

I know how to handle food safely so people don’t get sick or die thus increasing my repeat customer business 😀

What are your thoughts on American children binging on processed snacks and candies today? I understand this is a tricky one given what you do but I believe that your creations are, in truth, the health food of sweets.

I honestly feel the way we ate as kids was much worse than how kids eat now. Kids in my class regularly had Pixy Stix, Yodels, Ecto Cooler and Bologna sandwiches in their lunches and I think that might be a cause for calling child services today.  The difference (in my opinion) is that afterwards we’d go outside to play and burn it all off. I appreciate your thinking my products are the ‘health food of sweets’ but our bodies view things much more black and white.  In reality, sugar is sugar.  Everything in moderation. Just my $.02 though.

Cannoli Lollipop

What 3 items are invariably present on your kitchen counter, no matter what?

Bills, crumbs (where do they come from?! How do they multiply?!) and a pot of coffee.

If you could choose three destinations (fictional ones count too) from which to draw inspiration, where would you go?

Hades, Pompeii (before the volcano) and Wonderland.  I actually have a ‘Persephone’ lollipop that’s a pomegranate flavor and a Pompeii that’s a vanilla honey fig with a bit of back pepper for ‘ash’ ~ I’ll have to work on Wonderland I suppose, but if you remember the version from the 70’s where Telly Savalas was the cat – Telly (Kojak) was into lollipops, so maybe I have that covered?  😀

Strawberry Rosewater Marshmallows

You have SUCH diverse interests and habits that it pains me to ask you to narrow things down to the top 4 things on your bucket list.

I’ve made a point *not* to have this looming list of unfinished business pendulously swinging over me and try to just live my life.  That said, I’d really love to go diving with Great White sharks, and three other things I’m not really sure of.

You’ve cut your teeth, in various pastry kitchens, from ground zero to Martha Stewart, Rachel Ray, Huffington Post, Real Simple. Wow. How does it feel?

These are actually publications my products have been featured in, not kitchens I’ve worked in.  Though for the record, ‘cutting one’s teeth’ in any kitchen, regardless of its perceived status feels exactly the same:  aching back, aching feet, aching wrists and a huge smile.

Earl Grey Tea with Roses Shortbread Cookies

Why an e-commerce platform? Why not a physical patisserie?

I am a physical patisserie, though it isn’t open to the general public.  Regarding e-commerce,  I think it’d be foolish to ignore an online component to my business in this day and age.  I also love that I can sell to people all over the world via the internet, I’ve met some really interesting people that way.  Etsy is a fun way to try a small sample of my lollipops, have some cookies delivered as a thank-you gift or stash some caramels away for late night snacking. I won’t tell.

Much has been written and spoken about sexism in the kitchen, pastry or savoury. Your thoughts?

Kitchens are unique environments in that they’re high pressure, super-stressed and everyone spends long hours there crammed into weird, usually uncomfortable places.  If someone isn’t doing their job, others are going to resent them because the work still has to get done and they’re already swamped and exhausted themselves.  Generally, everyone’s too busy working to actively resent someone else for any reason.  In kitchens as everywhere else,  if you’re being discriminated against, go in there, kick-A$$ and earn everyone’s respect.  People whining about not wanting to lift 50lb bags of flour are going to be disliked, male or female.  If you’re not part of the team, you’re a jerk. Period.

I had a situation once where a Guatemalan cook said to me “Damn mommy, you work like a MAN” – I could’ve gotten all flustered over it but instead chose to focus on what he was saying, which he intended as a huge compliment and so I took it as one.  This same cook saved my butt once when I had a pan of caramel overturn (!!) by grabbing my coat and practically lifting me off the floor.  He was a good guy.  Kitchens aren’t exactly a bastion of political-correctness.  Accept that fact and maybe even embrace it, these people are your new family.  In general, stop complaining, everyone is just as tired and aching as you are.  Pull your weight and you’ll be okay.

I would like to place an order for a spontaneous ditty NOW …

There once was a baker from Nantucket – who threw up her whisk and said f*ck-it – I’ve almost gone mad; there’s no cream to be had… All of you now can just suck it **hands over lollipops**

Watermelon Lime Lollipops

You’re such an independent, free soul. What would your spirit animal be?

Just one?  Cripes, how about I refer to the classical elements and choose one for each?

Air – Snowy Owl
Fire – Phoenix
Water – Great White Shark or Octopus
Earth – Mouse
Aether – Manta Ray

Europe, huh? Where? Which were your IT spots?

I absolutely loved both Romania and the Czech Republic.  Romania is simply gorgeous,  painted monasteries, amazing mountains for hiking/skiing and castles! The downside was being mugged by children, attacked by wild dogs and breathing Diesel smoke, but I suppose all of life is a tradeoff. { amen, sister, amen }

Grand Marnier & Dark Chocolate Caramels

What do you think of the Picasso of Pastry himself, Pierre Hermé? Who are your idols in the world of baking?

I don’t think I’m in a position to judge anyone else, especially someone as accomplished as Pierre Hermé.  Though, if I must, I think he’s amazingly accomplished and excellent at what he does.  The irony of being such an enormous ‘brand’ is that it has pulled him away from what he’s known for (for instance, it’s not Hermé himself making those macarons anymore).  I congratulate him on his international success. French pastry is deceptively difficult; he executes it perfectly and clearly knows how to sell it.  I should hope to be 1/1,000,000,000 as successful!

My idol when I was in pastry school was Elizabeth Falkner, she was really one of the first to take pastry and shake it on its head a bit. I loved how she would base her desserts on a song or a movie scene, etc. I did that myself later when I had my own kitchen and I believe her influence was direct.

My chef idol (not pastry) is Marco Pierre White.  I mean, he isn’t even human, really, he’s just 100% pure chef.  He’s simply an amazing cook – I even watch his Knorr commercials!  I love them, they’re so full of awesome information.

I also get a huge kick out of the Vegan Black Metal Chef.  He’s a riot.  It’s about time someone combined Veganism and Black Metal. I mean, sheesh!

Chocolate Lavender with Sicilian Orange, Cinnamon & Honey

Which is your signature confection?

I’d have to say now that now I’m most known for my handmade lollipops though personally I love making bread.  Bread from a stone oven is like a religion, I’m not even kidding.  I have this fantasy world where I have a stone oven by the sea and craft maybe 10 loaves of artisan bread a day.  Amazingly, I manage to support myself with such a set up.  😀

Jupiter Lollipops

How important is uniformity in creating a batch? Or, in the case of handmade artisan sweeties, is there perfection in imperfection?

Consistency is one of the most important features you can offer your customers.  If someone loves something and purchases it again, they expect it to be the same thing they fell in love with. As a chef, I know how food performs (given humidity, so forth) so I can adjust what I’m doing to compensate for external situations. However, with artisan sweets as with anything handmade, there’s always going to be a slight variation from batch to batch.  I say embrace the perfect imperfections in that case.  A person will ‘buy handmade’ because they’re looking for handmade, not perfectly machine made. Though I do often get asked “that’s real? Can I eat it?”  So I’m hoping that indicates that my perfect imperfections are slight.

The birth of a lollipop – spill. How does it begin?

Turn off the computer, tear myself out of the kitchen and get outside.  The rest will happen.  I’m inspired by everything from mythology to toothpaste.  What I do is actually an extension of me, I can’t just ‘leave‘ it somewhere. Inspiration is everywhere.

Pink Sugar Lollipops

How creative can you get with a lollipop, which is a rather simple object, with a constraining shape?

Like everything else, lollipops are only limited by our imaginations and perhaps the laws of Physics.

Have you ever created a new flavor because someone asked for it?

Yes, of course.  Though very often, they simply provide me with a list of ingredients or a starting point (i.e., Blue) and I pick out what works and create from there.  To explain, flavors don’t necessarily work together simply because one puts them together.  In food, there’s fun and funky, and there’s just plain wrong.  I see a lot of ‘just plain wrong’ out there *laughing*  though hopefully not in my own shop.  Things are there for a reason, and my training actually matters.

Correct me if I’m wrong but ever so often, there appears to be a trending pastry item. Like the fad for fancy cupcakes. The mighty macaron. And, of course, those decadent whoopie pies. Do you feel as though lollipops are currently hitching a ride on that bandwagon?

Not really, lollipops take a certain amount of skill and are actually a bit dangerous to make given the high temps required. I think it takes a special person to choose to play with molten sugar-lava.

Chocolate Orange Cardamom Shortbread Cookies

The traditional thought process has always been to go big on the sugar level. Of late, though, salt appears to be gaining traction in dessert recipes. What are your personal thoughts on sugar – condiment or essential? How much is too much?

It saddens me when bakers use too much sugar to compensate for a lack of passion and I wish the public would demand more from them.  Personally, I prefer to let the real flavours of nuts, high quality chocolate, toasted spices and fruits shine through.  The ingredients are already perfect, I’m just arranging them, you know?   One of the most common compliments I receive is that my products “Aren’t too sweet” and I think that’s fantastic, and I’m very appreciative that they notice I’ve taken the time to layer and balance flavors.  My products being ‘good’ isn’t a mistake, there’s a lot of thought in there, trust me!

When it comes to baked goods, the heart of the matter is good flour. I personally use King Arthur and King Arthur only at home. How does it work with lollipops? Smores? Caramels?

I think everyone says they use “The best ingredients” or “restaurant quality” or “All Natural”,  etc., ad nauseam.  So much so that it’s lost any real meaning.  In our world, breakfast cereals now labeling themselves organic?  Seriously!? So to just break things up a bit I’ll (jokingly!) say “Naw, I don’t think about it at all, I just throw stuff together and sometimes I get lucky”  *wink*  But to be serious, while I’m making candy, I’m doing so with pure cane sugar, whole cream, butter and vanilla beans.  Also?  Lots and lots of LOVE goes into my products.

Poison Apple Lollipops

RAPID FIRE ROUND (Lisa was sporting enough to take this on too)

What would your rock band be called? Vanilla Fudge or Cream.  Oh, wait, those are taken. How about Led Zeppoli?  I’m a sucker for Classic rock.

Weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten? Hákarl (fermented shark) while I was in Iceland.  It tastes exactly as one would expect.  I believe I might rather starve or resort to cannibalism than eat it again though I’d prefer not to test that theory.

Nicest thing you’ve ever eaten? A bowl of stew while traveling in Romania.  I was cold, exhausted and travel weary as I’d been backpacking for several months at that point.  It came with some bread, a hot pepper and a smear of sour cream. It was so warming, satisfying and perfect.

Hash or Fries? Fries, with salt and malt vinegar, please.

Guimauve, French Style Marshmallows

Hedgehog or Porcupine? Porcupine, I really respect their innate defense system. Hardcore.

What time do you start work? HA! *As if* I ever stop.  Seriously, I think my friends are planning an intervention.

Midnight Raspberry Rose Lollipops

How do you come up with those unusual concoctions? I allow reality to swirl around in my brain for a while and then I reach out and grab something interesting as it floats by.  The world is so much more interesting than fiction.

Chardonnay Lollipops

Crickets & Champagne, yea or nay? As a rule, I don’t do exo-skeletons, though I do respect them as being sort of arthropod-knights of the insect kingdom with their armor on (!!) clearly they live by the mantra ‘be prepared.‘   Champagne, however, with a capital C is a thing of glory. Champagne is always appropriate and appreciated. I think I might literally bathe in it when I finish school.

Favourite ice cream flavour? If I’m making it, Armagnac Fig. If someone else is making it, Carvel’s soft-serve vanilla with rainbow sprinkles (I’m such a Philistine, yet paradoxically, too much of a chocolate-snob to get the chocolate anymore). A Carvel vanilla cone is actually what I get every year on my birthday, this way nobody has to stress out about making me a cake, and I don’t have to make my own.

Candy Appple Lollipops

Opera or musical? Opera, sung in its native language please.

iPhone or Android? iPhone. Square changed my life.

Heels or Flats? Fluevog heels, Doc Marten flats.

Macy Gray or Grace Jones? I’d listen to Macy while I pondered what Grace was singing about.  I think Grace Jones is kind of a female Bowie c1975.

What makes you laugh? My career choice when I’m still working at 3am for the millionth day in a row.  Living the dream, baby, living the dream.

What makes you mad? Arrogance and entitlement.

You do a mean impersonation of … A turkey. It’s how I wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving every year, by leaving turkey ‘gobbles’ on their answering machines.  It’s because I’m working and won’t be joining them and it’s easier than actually forming words.  Plus, I’m (probably) exhausted, so just making some noise is about the extent I can manage.

Sugar Flower Bouquet

The book I’ve learned the most from? In Pastry, an out-of-print sugar blowing instructional book by Ewald Notter that I was thrilled to get my hands on and paid through the nose for.  It was (happily) worth every penny.

In Literature, Divina Commedia by Dante Alighieri (the whole book by the *real* author, though not in it’s original Tuscan dialect). When I finished it, I knew I had read a BOOK.  That book was ponderous and difficult to get through, but I did it.  The multiple levels of Paradiso were especially tedious, ironically.  “Ugh….MORE Paradise?!”  Cripes.

In Life, Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo.  The hunchback has a heart of gold and everyone else is a selfish jerk.  The lesson?  Look for beauty in unexpected places.  Sadly, when I was in Paris and tried to visit the bell tower, all of France was on strike (!!) and I couldn’t get in.  The lady at the ticket window thought I was a complete idiot for asking if it was Quasimodo’s day off.  I’m sure her opinion of Americans is permanently lowered because of me. Sorry, guys.

Children’s Book, The Lorax by Dr. Seuss.  Just perfect. { agreed }

Rice Krispie Treat Lollipops

I also won an ice cream book in a competition where I had to create an ice cream flavour, so that’s awesome.  I honestly have no recollection of the flavour I submitted, though I think it was chocolate/merlot based!

Ever entertained the thought of joining competitions? Why? No, I’m actually a very private person and I really only want to be known for doing what I do well by the people I do it for.  I’m not interested in awards or accolades and I assure you that I judge myself much more harshly on any given day than any judge on a specific day ever could.  I know what my personal best is and try to hit it every day with everything I make, no formal competition or other opinions needed.

Cinnamon Pear Caramels

What would you serve the Queen of England for an unforgettable dessert?  A Root Beer Float.  The reasons?  i) People always forget how awesome they are until they have one and then they’ll usually have a second one; ii) People have invariably tried to impress the Queen by being super-fancy so more of the same would be, well, more of the same; and  iii) It’s completely unexpected and thus, memorable.

Which country have you not been to yet but am dying to visit? India.  Gorgeous and amazing plus, homemade Indian food is actually my favourite cuisine. Yum. Though it’d  probably inspire me to toss off my pastry-chef uniform and go to medical school so I could save people from Leprosy.  I’m not joking.

Cupcake Lollipops

Trust me when I say that if you haven’t had a lollipop from The Groovy Baker, you haven’t lived. You need to head on over, like now, and order yourself some. And grab some biscuits too while you’re at it. I’ve purchased loads of her lollies in the past (they make for fabulous ice breakers) and I know I’m so ordering more right after this (and then some).

Love, Sheela

All photographs courtesy of Lisa Wolf, with many thanks.


  1. Daniel Fahringer says

    I know Lisa personally, and please note that the Root Beer Float she would make the Queen Elizabeth would feature homemade root beer made from a sassafras root, from a tree she is probably now cultivating now that you made her think of it.
    She is as awesome a friend as she is a baker.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s