I buzzed my hair off a couple of months ago. It was something I’d been wanting to do for a while. I think my curiosity was ignited as a girl, when my mom used to threaten to shave it all off and send me to a Buddhist temple in China if I didn’t smarten up and behave. It terrified me, but not enough to make me obedient (much to my poor mom’s chagrin). Though now, I’m tempted by the idea of seeking solace in the cliffs of the land of my ancestors, meditating and practising levitation and kung fu. Oh wait, that’s just Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon which, sadly, is not a documentary
My man unexpectedly suggested that I do it. And when asked why, he replied that not only was it something I’ve been casually contemplating, my femininity was not dependent on my hair but rather my carriage and personality. I texted my hair stylist Camia (whom I’m convinced is my spirit animal, I love her to bits!). She was stoked and said she’d do it for free because she’d be proud of me.
I didn’t shave my head with the intention of blatant expression. I was just simply itching for change. Last year threw me into a purgatory of self deconstruction and subsequent metamorphosis. And while I didn’t wake up as a cockroach and mutter “shit, is my name Gregor now?” shaving my head just felt like part of the fresh start that I needed.
The response has been amusing. People either love it or they hate it. Bindu, one of my favourite kitchen ladies at Vij’s Rangoli, actually ran up and punched me in the arm, screaming “WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?!” before giving me the biggest hug and kiss to welcome me back after almost two months away from work. The ones who love it express it just once, and the ones who don’t seem to repeat themselves as if they weren’t sure I heard them the first time. Mostly, people just want to touch my hair. I don’t blame them; feeling my fuzzy hair has proven to be as therapeutic as child’s pose.
Beyond the superficial however, it’s been a heart-opening experience. My hair has always been a prominent defining feature, having gone through numerous transformations. Stripping it away ironically still defines me, as its near absence and unusualness garners second (often confuzzled) looks. Halfway through the shave, I was resigned to having to wear a toque for a while and dealing with a bad decision. As riveting as it was watching Camia buzz my hair off, I was faced with a hodgepodge of emotions.
First, I felt exposed and had to have a good look at myself and accept that this was what I had to look like for a while; I was convinced my head was cube-shaped and that I looked like a block of Lego. Second, I had to step out of the hair studio and face the unknown of how people would react. I could have sworn everyone on the bus parted like the Red Sea on the ride home. But what it all really came down to was the simple fear of the gaze of others. While it was been mostly positive, dealing with the negative has taught my bones to shake less in the face of rejection. I knew the ladies at Rangoli would hate it…they remind me at any opportunity that I look like a boy: “your face look beautiful but your hair? Look like boy.” As for friends or strangers who have expressed disapproval, I’m learning not to take it too personally. For a while I compared it to other forms of body shaming. And really, it is: the length of my hair is just as superficial as the size of my arms or state of my complexion. I’ve realized that the reaction likely derives from something internal on their part rather than mine, which is not for me to meet in turn with defensiveness or judgement. Because ultimately, I love it. Beyond the fact that it takes me no time to get ready in the morning and I don’t have strands of hair hanging everywhere and clogging my vacuum or drains, having almost no hair has forced me to embrace my choice, celebrate it, and wear it with confidence. With no hair to braid, twist or curl, I have nothing to hide behind or fiddle with. I’ve started to force myself to wear hats less and to extend my confidence and energy beyond my hair, with an acute awareness of rooting my connection to others with my eyes first, carriage second. Do I still have trouble affirming a sense of self worth? Naturally. I am devastatingly critical of myself in all aspects of life and am desperate to please or right things. People keep telling me I’m brave for shaving my hair. I don’t see or understand it as bravery at all, but rather a liberating exercise or daily meditation in letting go and continuing my quest to feel comfortable in my own skin, or perhaps, kicking off the armour I’ve stacked up over years of scars and hurt in order to learn to embrace vulnerability with fearlessness.
Middle image from Meadow Gifts and Apparel; @meadowgastown
I’ve held onto this for a bit, unsure of whether to share this here. Upon further thinking, I’ve decided that it is important to me that we acknowledge that the Valencia-filtered facade of perfectly organized preciousness that we all create, encourage and in turn envy of others on social media is not wholly honest or healthy. Behind every facade is a silent struggle, big or small, and we tend to neglect this element of humanity due to stigmatic reservations. So let’s get candid.
Two summers ago I returned to ballet after having quit at 12. Between violin, piano, swimming, and dance, something had to go as keeping up with all of them in addition to school became increasingly hard. For various reasons it had to be dance. I have missed it ever since.
When I casually told my mother, she didn’t understand. She asked why I didn’t go for something more useful like ballroom dancing (I’m still struggling to think of when I’d find myself fox trotting or in a heated Argentinean tango). I realized it didn’t matter whether she approved or not; in my mind, I was gifting myself the opportunity to take off from where I left and close the gap between regret and longing.
The thing about ballet is I’ve had to return to the basics. I didn’t expect the road back to be such a hard test of patience and diligence. As an adult, I’ve quickly learned that my body at 28 is not as capable as it was at 13. Nothing moulds or responds as quickly and if I don’t focus on properly training the basic building blocks, I will be vulnerable to injuries. I found an awesome teacher, Debbie Lee, who was just what I needed: she doesn’t let me get away with jackshit and when I doubt my potential and take a step back, she pushes me to go for it. I feel like a giant ham most of the time as every muscle feels like a bag of sand, but as opposed to being the painfully shy and nervous student I was as a girl, adult me goes to class eager and determined, unabashed to admit that my Adagio was a hot mess or that my Petit Allegro was a pity. Lately the two-hour classes twice to three times a week are the only times I feel truly happy and in my own skin, where I don’t see my mistakes or mishaps as badges of shame despite having left classes in tears, feeling utterly defeated and anguished yet hungry to go back and make things right. One night, a colleague pointed at me and exclaimed, “Debbie! You broke her!” I panicked; I was worried that Debbie would go soft on me and leave me complacent rather than challenged and fired off an email that night, urging her to keep cracking the whip on me.
I’m telling you this because in the last five months, while dealing with my biggest caramel season to date, I’ve also weathered one of the most difficult periods of my life. I’ve had to deconstruct and revisit foundations and remind myself the importance of maintaining perspective and remembering my strengths in the face of an impending shitstorm. Ballet has offered me a disciplined way to translate this mentality and keep sane.
All my life, I have been running. Usually away from rather than towards things. If pushed against a wall, I would dig in my heels and push back but ultimately, I would still leave. At 17 I decided to abandon my musical studies because I was sick of the toxic environment and was not confident in my talent or abilities. At 19, I abruptly left home and waited tables to support myself and pay tuition, which I still do to this day. At 23, I left UBC with 9 credits to go because in the midst of cramming an average of seven texts a week, I burned out and was over-saturated in literature that I ceased to care for. My dreams are pregnant with incessant running from people and situations and I wake up exhausted. When it comes to skills or tasks, I usually figuratively run before I walk; unlike my brother, who excels in his endeavours because he breaks things down and relentlessly perfects each component, I operate backwards, stubborn about passionately diving into things and letting them blow up in my face to my bewilderment. I am someone who, once convinced of purpose, will commit beyond expectations but if left unconvinced, I could not be motivated for all the tea in China.
The thing about operating in extremes and running from things or taking the fast track is that eventually you burn yourself out. Or in my case being a total klutz, you trip over your feet and eat pavement. All of a sudden, you hit a threshold and are forced to stare into the abyss and have a hard look at yourself. This sums up my 2015.
I made huge changes thinking they were grounded in confidence and power but in a sense, I was still running from things. I left my partner of 7 years, dived back into university after a 5 year hiatus, moved in with 2 roommates (I haven’t had a roommate in 8 years), cut back on work to free up more time for the business (which meant unpredictable income), and briefly launched into the ridiculous circus of online dating (where I confirmed that polyamorousity, incessant intellectualism, or voracious vegan/vegetarianism aren’t really my jam. Yea, no thanks). I took off to Europe for a month and while I enjoyed it for the most part, I found myself desperately hanging to remnants of who I thought I might be as all the changes started to unravel me and leave me grasping at air. I was disengaged and disjointed. I was emotionally and physically exhausted and spent train and car rides asleep rather than taking in the amazing scenery. It all caught up to me. Come the end of summer, I felt as though the ground beneath me had been pulled away and I was free falling into nothing. For almost four months afterwards, it felt like my world I thought I had tirelessly built had dissolved and was crushing me under all of its weight. I was able to make it to class and work and seemed functional but in between, I locked myself in my room with the drapes shut, engulfed in shame.
My closest friends and my brother were left to pick up the pieces. Every morning, one would call or message to wake me up and help me set the goal for the day. Sometimes it was as small as getting up and having breakfast. I was mentally imprisoned in a place void of light, mind washed over with persistent white noise. My best friend Tiffany called me one afternoon mid October and I physically could not get up; it felt like a grand piano had come crashing down onto my back and my head was pinned down with cluster chords of dissonance. Yet throughout all of this, ballet continued to serve as a constant as it slowly refamiliarized myself with my physical body, reignited my thirst to succeed and cradled my beaten and bruised heart.
I’m sharing this because despite having made a record number of caramels this past season, its success is really because of a small handful of amazing friends and family who showed up big time and carried me. Recognizing the vitality that ballet brought to my well being, they insisted that I kept up with training even if it meant they were left to work alone for half a day. It is with absolute certainty that I would have thrown in the towel were it not for Tiffany, who, despite going through her own heartbreak, managed to still boss me around like a tiger mom and have me in tears from laughter. Or Madison who, despite being busy with grad school, donated countless hours wrapping caramels and yelled at me every time I panicked because I got another order to put on my massively backed up order board. Or Natalia, who shared as much heartbreak and disorientation in the last year but showed up to help with the most beautiful energy and confidence. And of course Neal, this year’s delivery boy (apologies to those who miss Josh ). My colleagues at Rangoli helped me in any way they could as per usual and the Wongs (Clinton, Jen, and little Ethan), my second family, helped with emergency ingredient runs while Ethan gave moral support. Riadh, Vanessa, I haven’t forgotten about you either.
I’ve come to appreciate the value and necessity of community now more than ever. I’ve chosen to work exclusively with small businesses for now due to the simple fact that as small business owners we all share similar trials, tribulations and stresses and have created a loving, supportive network for ourselves. Whenever possible, I try to deliver in person to say hi and catch up as this connection maintains meaning behind what I do.
I’m writing this because all of you, my awesome caramel collective, keep me going. Your comments, Instagram posts and emails do not go unnoticed and it humbles me to know that my little business, despite contributing to the global pandemic of diabetes, actually makes a positive difference. People always tell me how amazing they think I’m doing. I don’t feel the same and I don’t know if I will ever feel I’m adequate though I am working on it; I hope that in sharing my personal struggles with depression and anxiety, which are not easy to talk about, you can recognize that my life is not without darkness and that I recognize the same is possible in yours. When I reach out and bitch about life with sarcasm and dark humour, I intend for it to spark the same humour in you in the face of life’s absurdities. I hope that you too are as lucky as I am to have amazing friends, family, and community from which to draw borrowed strength while rebuilding my own and getting reacquainted with what it means to slow down and walk. Ultimately, I’m hoping that one day, we can all perfect what it means to be candid confectioners: how to make lemonade out of lemons and laugh and know it’s going to be okay when shit hits the fan. I acknowledge that life gets messy and fully concede to being human.
Love and thanks from the bottom of my heart to all of you.
It was brought to my attention recently that members of my covert caramel collective look forward to my posts, whether on Instagram or my blog. A messenger overheard someone at a cafe commending my frankness and sinister humour. I realised once again that I had neglected this casual life archive. Before I left for my trip to Europe this past August, I had promised several to muster out some posts. Believe me, I tried to make an effort, but nothing made it past my moleskine…
Last spring, my friend James admitted that he had been following my progress as the candid confectioner and was admittedly “impressed.” I was caught off guard. James of the Cudmore’s, ever elusive, lives according to his own rules and unique expression. I had the pleasure of meeting him through my former partner. Our first meeting was outside the UBC Law building; James was standing alone, contemplating over god-knows-what with a cigarette in one hand, wearing shredded jeans, face adorned with aviators and a giant untamed beard. I liked him immediately and we bonded over our love for my then-partner’s ghetto shitmobile of a Dodge Caravan. We still miss that thing, spiderwebs, rust and all
I asked how he knew about my business.
“Well, Steph. You have this thing called a blog. You update it once in a blue moon. And I read it.”
I admitted that I had once again abandoned my blog despite intending to update it regularly.
“Yeah. Well! You’re failing.”
Here’s to you, Cudmore. Shall I uncover the meditations and tribulations of my last eight months before the dust settles?
January was definitely a month of new beginnings and growth, with a strong start to the new year, another new retailer (and 2 more in the works!) and a few shifts in my personal life.
photo from Fox & Flourish
I was asked to provide delectables for a calligraphy workshop hosted by Hunter & Hare and Fox & Flourish. I just couldn’t say no to being a part of this event! I may hate Valentine’s day but I’m a sucker for romance, especially if it’s laced with (sarcastic) humour. Written letters are such a lost art, especially amidst the frivolous swarm of texts, social media, and whatever other methods of connecting over the internet of which I too am a victim. There is something soothingly intimate and grounding about taking some time away from all the white noise to sit down with our selected stationary to compose a letter for a loved one. Each calligrapher was given a duo of raspberry and passionfruit caramels wrapped in red and white twine; move aside, Proust! Mels just might replace madeleines one day. I hear they don’t crumble the way he remembers anyway.
We also saw the launch of our newest flavour: Passionfruit with Black Cardamom and Ginger. These can be found at Cafe Bica, Meadow Gifts and Apparel, and Kali Trading. I’ve been super eager to hear feedback after a succesful trial run last Christmas. So far, it seems to be a hit! I’ve even gotten pleas from as far as London UK, South Africa, New York city and Japan to restock personal caramel stashes. To whomever my covert caramel fairies are, thank you for spreading the love and expanding my caramel collective =).
Last but not least, I am finally back at UBC after a four-year hiatus! I am only working twice a week now at Rangoli and sneaking into the kitchen when I have some hours to spare. I am just a few courses short of my degree in Political Science and English Literature, but am taking my time to melt back into the pace of studenthood. I figure if I’ve waited this long for the right moment to go back I should do it on my own terms. To usher myself back to school, I got a stellar Archival rolltop backpack from Eugene Choo Annexand an UASHMAMA lunch bag from one of my favourite caramel retailers, much & little. I swear, they were listed on my required readings and materials list. Okayyyy not really, but oh boy, I have never been this content with going to school, nor have I ever been so committed to waking up at 6 am to make it to early morning class, fully equipped with my lunchbag stocked with brain fuel. Keener much? Perhaps, but I’m enjoying this positive perspective and it sure feels good to know that I have made these decisions for myself rather than succumbing to the pressure of the opinions and judgements of others in hopes to please. But that’s enough about me, and mels, it’s time to polish off my coffee and tuck this blog away until next month so I can curl up in this chair, in my favourite reading room on campus, and continue to perplex over what the heck Hegel was talking about.
I seem to apologize for my absence every time I write a post. While I abhor New Years resolutions, I’ve decided to make a concerted effort to post here on a more regular basis. Regular, meaning once or twice a year…
I’ve just recuperated from the biggest month yet for the candid confectioner thanks to an amazing team of friends, family, colleagues and fellow small businesses. Juggling between working at Rangoli, being in the kitchen, running errands and remembering to sleep or eat in between became increasingly chaotic but we pulled through! My mom was caught sneaking into the kitchen while I was at Rangoli, wrapping and packing away with my aunt and giving me text updates. Friends came in between their busy school and work schedules (one of my best friends even drove 4 hours!) to help me package, deliver, and do whatever else I needed done aside from cooking. At one point Carole, who continues to help me turn my wee company into a physical reality, glued herself to her living room window at night, urgently anticipating the delivery of my new banner. The day before Make-It show proved to be most stressful for various reasons and I was closely reaching my breaking point, but the girls at Garden Party Flowers showed up last minute as a surprise to help me set up and magically transformed my booth into a whimsical nook. Even my managers at Rangoli did whatever they could to help, from covering my shifts and catering to my schedule, to showing up at Make-It to “sling mels”. The list goes on and on, but I think what is clear is that the success of my little business is only as strong as the community of which I am a part of, from the small business owners who understand my stresses and give me the space and operational flexibility to grow and succeed, to my friends and family who contribute in any way they are capable of. Engaging in this “artisanal affair,” as I like to call it, is not only revealing to me who and how many will truly go to bat for me or how the simple act of making a confection can connect me with others in ways I could not have imagined, but also the importance of recognizing or discovering my strengths and values as a colleague, friend, partner, family member, and business owner. When I feel like I am losing balance or perspective, these revelations serve as pillars of strength; as I find myself staring at a caramel, bound by 2 quarter-twists on each end of its parchment cocoon, questioning the absurdity and or purpose of this journey, I am reminded that the bigger and much more fullfilling picture extends far beyond its objective presence and that I am not alone.
Written by stephchanie, January 09th, 2015 | 1 Comment »
Since the start of this caramel affair, my mom has urged me to let her help with my caramels. She’s asked me to let her cut paper, wrap the caramels, and anything else that does not involve cooking (don’t be quick to judge, she is a killer cook at home). I’ve always refused…partly because I’ve been too embarassed and or proud to accept help, but moreso because the work is physically taxing. I did not want my mother, at her-age-which-I-shall-not-disclose, to be stuck at my commissary slaving away with me like Charlie Bucket’s dad screwing caps onto tubes of toothpaste. I was also ashamed that unlike many of my peers and two cousins who share my age, I was not a doctor or lawyer like I said I would be or some other sort of successful professional. One night, I woke up from a nightmare that my dad had passed away while my mom screamed at me that the last thing my dad did before his last breath was wrap my damn caramels. I later confessed this dream to my mother, who was amused enough to tell my dad. His response: “Well? Did you ask her how she felt about that?” It’s a good thing they have a sense of humour.
Mom and I, age 1.5
The truth is, my dad and I are kindred spirits but I have never really gotten along with my mother. Up until recently, we have shared the most tumultuous relationship. Those who know me well are aware of this fact. The older I become, the more I realize that it is partly because while I share my dad’s temperament, my mom and I are more similar than we like to admit. But because of our relationship and history, which would require conversation over several nights and bottles of scotch to explain, I have kept her somewhat distant.
A few weeks ago however, I finally gave in and accepted my mom’s offer to help. I called her up one day, overwhelmed with my workload. She replied “Oh Steph, I know. I already cleared tomorrow just for you!” and arrived the next day ready to work, showing off her bag of gadgets and snacks, which hilariously included a handheld fan as well as a cleaver. Last week, while I was at a craft fair all day, she insisted on going into the kitchen with my dear aunt (and her best friend) to wrap the latest batch. When I told her I was incredibly sorry I could not be with her that day (I hate leaving her alone in the kitchen), she replied that I shouldn’t be sorry because at the end of the day, my family just wants me to be happy. That sure didn’t help with the guilt or the resulting waterworks on my end, but it has reminded me that regardless of the years of fighting and heads butting, there is nothing as unwavering as a mother’s love and this is something I know I won’t fully understand until I too, one day, am a mother.
I still feel incredibly guilty that she is helping me, but something else tells me that this experience is good for both of us. For one, I now get to practice my Cantonese again, which means that soon perhaps, my grandmother won’t hang up laughing every time I call her and I won’t be left frustrated that I have lost almost all grasp of what was once my first language. Secondly, I get treated to my mom’s home cooking, which I dearly miss; her recent culinary obsession is black garlic, and like the Frank’s Red Hot lady, she puts that shi*t on everything and urges me to do the same. Most importantly, I believe that this experience is helping us heal and bond (Yes, Jon. If you’re reading this, we always gossip about you! We love you and are so proud of you!). Every time she comes into the kitchen, she has new ideas about what I can change to improve my business. When I get anxious or freaked out, she tells me to calm down and focus on one thing at a time (and eat more black garlic while I’m at it). ”Less talking, more rocking” is our motto, but I don’t remember ever laughing so much with my mom or working so well as a team as we do now. One time even my dad surprisingly helped (I held my breath in fear when he reached for a bag of caramels, recalling that horrible nightmare) but it gave us a mild heart attack when we realized that he had mislabelled several bags upside down. We laughed about my dad’s “trial shift” afterwards: “Aiya, Stephahnee! Your dad means well but he doesn’t pay attention like me! Even when I cut the parchment papers I do it with all my heart!” I believe that while my mom takes solace in the fact that I finally admit that I need her and she is able to respond and help, I have finally accepted her advice that taking help is not a sign of weakness. I’ve perceived myself as such a disappointment or embarrassment for most of my life that I never anticipated that my mom would become my biggest cheerleader, as we’ve caught her scowling at a customers when they walk away at craft fairs without buying and she’d text me for hourly sales updates. Most of all when I watch my mom work with me, I am reminded what it means to act fully from the heart, even in the face of fear and uncertainty.
Me, my aunt, and my mom after a long day at the caramel factory.
I think most of us don’t realize how human our parents actually are. It wasn’t until my grandfather’s health started to deteriorate that I saw my mom in roles as a daughter, a sister, a partner, and a human being with flaws and struggles like the rest of us rather than an overbearing tiger mom with old school methods. That iron fist that she raised my brother and me with was really just a hard exterior masking a sensitive and compassionate interior. Ultimately, life is too short to waste energy on resentment or being hung up on who is right or wrong.
As I look around me at the commissary, I see that I am not alone when it concerns the company of mothers. My colleagues’s mothers are seen filling pies, delivering cakes, infusing hand-crafted honey, and being our most trusted critics. I hope that when you enjoy your next artisan product, you will be nourished by the sincerity and love with which it was created To all the amazing mothers out there, Happy Mother’s Day. We love you and would not be able to truck through each week without your dedication and support.
P.S. grandpa (gong-gong) wherever you are, if you’re reading this too, I finally understand what you meant about mom and me. Thank you. I miss you.
I have been M.I.A. blogwise, lately, I know. I’ve been super busy slinging curry at Rangoli, making plans, and pumping out caramels. Things are progressing quicker that I can anticipate, so apologies for the lag in rhythm.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m using this blog primarily as a way to document my journey as “the candid confectioner,” so the next handful of posts will likely be retrospective. Who doesn’t like a trip down memory lane? I do…a habit that I have inherited from my very sentimental father. Let’s start from the beginning.
Vikram and me, 2012 Xmas party.
As most of you have likely heard my boss, Vikram Vij (pictured above in one of his infamous tunics), is going to be one of the new dragons on Dragon’s Den. Folks, that dragon is the one who, in the middle of a busy lunch service, told me to sell them at Rangoli’s in-house market. Two Christmases ago I wanted to make something for everyone at work. Why caramels I can honestly not remember, though I imagine that it had something to do with missing these amazing apple spice caramels that I used to look forward to getting at one of my favourite local spots, Finch’s Tea House. I did not grow up with handmade candy, but something about unwrapping that treat and savouring it after my usual blue brie and prosciutto sandwich gave me a sense of odd nostalgia. Before I settled on caramels however, I consulted the ladies who are behind the awesome food at Rangoli. Raj, one of my favourites, replied “no, we don’t like caramels.” I had a feeling that she had no idea what I was talking about and having had some of their own homemade sweets, I was sure they didn’t know what they were missing.
In general, I have never taken no for an answer very well. Determined, I looked up caramel recipes. I came across an earl grey one and thought, “if I can use earl grey, why not Chai?” I went to work, and went through a few batches of wasted caramel before I was satisfied with the product.
The next day, I brought a mason jar with a label saying “To all you lovely Rangolites: Merry Christmas!” and offered them first to the ladies. Raj looked at them with a sense of doubt, nodded with thanks, and went back to her mise en place. Dejected, I went on to open the restaurant. A while later I went to the pass to grab a caramel, but the jar was missing. Out came Raj, cradling the jar in her arms with a huge smile on her face (Raj is always shy about smiling presumably due to her gap teeth, but I’ve always thought that she was absolutely gorgeous). Bindu, one of my other favourites, came up to me and exclaimed, “Stephanie! Sooooo tasty! I ate TWO!” In that moment, I felt super proud. Every day, the ladies make me food as if they were cooking for their own daughter. For the first time, I made something for them that they enjoyed.
Perhaps I got a little cocky after that. Normally, I say very little to Vikram other than “hello,” “lunch was good,” “sorry, I’ll get it done,” and “Vikram, someone would like you to sign their cookbook and take a picture.” That night, as he walked in, I perked up and offered him a caramel. His response? “Stephanie! Do I look like I need a caramel?! I’m trying to lose weight!” I murmured “erm…ok, have a good night” and went home. I shook my head at myself for being so silly as to offer a celebrity chef my homemade candies. In fact, I even had a sigh of relief because I felt that maybe I had saved myself from embarrassment at having Vikram consume a mediocre creation.
The next day, we had a crazy lunch service. At around 12:30, when shit was hitting the fan, Vikram came in, pointed to the bar area (where the jar of caramels was) and yelled, with those crazy green eyes, “STEPHANIE!” My face went red, and my heart jumped to my throat. I thought, “ah shit! what did I do?!” He continued, “those caramels, ARE FUCKING KILLER! I took TWO! And brought some home for my kids!” Caught in my initial reaction, I asked, “What? Is that good?” He replied, “They’re awesome. You should sell them in the market!” Gobsmacked, I stared at the food that I was about to run from the pass. Bindu yelled, “Steph! Wake up! Cheti Cheti! (quickly!)”
I didn’t think Vikram was at all serious. There was no way someone like him would think something that I made was “fucking killer.” I laid it to rest. But apparently, he was as serious as he was about curry. And I thought, what the hell else am I doing with my life right now? Mike Bernardo, Director of Operations and Wine Director at Vij’s (and this year’s Sommelier of the Year!!!) generously helped me set it all up while his partner, Carole Morton (my absolute life saver) helped me come up with the branding. Within months, I was up and running, making caramels in the corner of the Vij’s kitchen on two small burners. Last I checked, the caramels are one of the best sellers in the market next to the naan bread, not skipping a beat in sales from the first week they landed on the shelf.
You won’t see me on Dragon’s Den or Recipe to Riches anytime soon, asking Vikram to invest. I am much too shy for that. Frankly, letting me take on this opportunity was something I never expected, and I’m learning things I never thought I would learn. I am exhausted and terrified most of the time, but I have a feeling that that’s a good thing, otherwise my gut would have said no (a no that I would have taken) a long time ago. My friends, colleagues and new-found community, who have been nothing but supportive and encouraging, have a lot to do with that nagging urge to keep going.
Thanks guys. And thanks to Vikram, who decided that he did need a caramel after all.
Emilie here. Also known as the Deputy of Caramels, Corporate Caramel Engineer, Junior Implementer of Granulated Sugar and Bourbon… we haven’t quite worked out the title yet. I work here doing various behind the scenes tasks, so I thought I would introduce myself. That’s me with Stephanie (above) from a little segment that was filmed for Shaw TV. (You can tell it was a special day because we are wearing make-up and do not have our hair in top knots).
I have had quite the year. I am a recent art school graduate which predictably lead me to career serving curry. Delicious curry I might add, but after a year of letting the old right brain rust over, I decided to run away and see a bit of the world while I still am young(ish). So I did. I saw Germany, Italy, Croatia, and Greece in five weeks. I did not have a metaphysical epiphany as I had planned, but once home I was ready to pursue a career ultimately about creation, collaboration, beauty, and quality.
When I met up with my good friend Stephanie (the candid confectioner herself), she told me her caramels were selling even better than anticipated and that she was going to go for it — make the Candid Confectioner into a business. Now I’m not sure of a lot of things in life, but I have great taste (beyond my means most of the time) and these are the best caramels I have ever tasted . I knew premium caramels paired with Steph’s gregarious personality, and the fact that she puts booze in most of her cooking, would ultimately lead to great success.
So here I am. Diving into the caramel sea. Christmas was a sugar burn laden season of learning experiences. And now as we are branching out into stores we love and respect, creating Valentines day treats and Wedding favours, we are both so excited. I can’t wait to make more tasty and beautiful treats for the lovely people of Vancouver (and eventually the rest of the world)
And since Stephanie disclosed her life lessons of 2013, I thought I would share my favourite which is from the CC herself…
Happy New Year, friends! Last week we reminisced 2013, uploaded our last seizure-inducing Flipogram videos before the clock struck midnight, and toasted to the new year. Which, we always say, will be the greatest year yet. At least this is what I gathered from my Facebook and Instagram feeds. As for myself personally, I had one last meeting with Emilie to discuss ideas for this month, grabbed a bottle of scotch, invited friends over, and spent the night hosting in my pyjamas.
I have never been into recounting the latest year and welcoming the new one with optimism or anticipations. I’ve barely kept track of my birthdays or age, let alone catalogue or archive my life events. However, this past year was truly unexpected. This blog was started not only to serve as a platform for my friends and me to share our voice and exercise our creativity, but also to provide a way for me to document my journey as the candid confectioner (yes, all lower case) and to share my trials and errors as I start and grow this small business. So! In the spirit of ringing in the new year with lists and new beginnings, here is my selective list of five things that I have learned in the last half year as a small business owner. Forgive my lacklustre prose for now, as I’m rather rusty; the last time I wrote anything public or reflective was as an angry, emo teenager, clad in tattered threads, too much pewter jewelry, and obsessed with duct tape and red eyeliner.
1. You are too young to be overwhelmed.
I was brought up to view mistakes as something to be avoided and not welcomed. When Meeru Dhalwala, the mastermind behind the Vij’s and Rangoli menus, first heard about my caramel venture, she sat down with me briefly and asked how things were going. I said I was having fun, but was overwhelmed. I was eager, but felt I was diving into something completely unfamiliar, yet was also touched by the wealth of support and love from my friends and colleagues. Meeru replied, “Stephanie! You are far too young to be overwhelmed! If you’re overwhelmed with even this, forget about having any sort of future! It’s pathetic! Just deal with your shit now!” At first, I thought she was disgusted with me and felt embarassed. But, rather than get caught in my initial reaction, I recognized that Meeru is very much a fearless, no-bullshit, dynamic kind of personality. I realized that this was her way of giving me a nudge or pep talk. She later added that I really had nothing to lose and whether I succeeded or failed, she was proud of me anyway. “Just go for it, and deal with it now,” she urged. She was right. Whenever I feel that I’m in over my head, I take a deep breath and remind myself that I am too young to be overwhelmed, that I’m gaining valuable experience and knowledge regardless of the outcome, and the time to figure it all out is now.
2. If you don’t know, ask. If they don’t give you an answer, keep looking and asking.
I always joke that I never learned about “caramelling” in Political Science or English Literature. Everyone who has started a business has gone through the same or similar process. Some have gone through it alone, others were fortunate to have help. I’ve had a mix of both. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be part of a company that has a wealth of individuals and resources within reach. However, that didn’t mean that I knew exactly how to package my caramels properly, how or what to apply for in terms of licensing, or how to determine my shelf life. I emailed, called, and approached people personally whom I felt could be of help. If and when I did not get a reply, I either tried again, or found someone else who was more willing to share information. There are no stupid questions. Be persistent, be confident, be receptive.
3. Take command over your decisions with respect and integrity.
Everyone, especially friends and family, will have their own oar to put in when it comes to running your business. Some advice will be valuable, others will induce a series of eye-rolls. Don’t actually roll your eyes. Say thank you, and move on. Listen openly and respectively, and gather what you feel is valuable. The process of even coming up with my name took months. At first, I bounced ideas off others, hoping to reach a decision by consensus. This was silly, if not lazy of me. Trust your gut and do what feels right to you. If you spend your energy trying to make absolutely everyone happy, ultimately no one will be happy, and you won’t be serving anyone. Especially yourself.
4. Build your community.
This has been one of the biggest highlights for me so far. I have really only just started, but building relationships with local businesses and colleagues has proven to be incredibly rewarding and inspiring. It keeps my work feeling purposeful, meaningful, and personal. It also keeps me from feeling lonely when I’m actually alone in the kitchen at 5 a.m. on an all-nighter, hand wrapping the 567688394615363782816th caramel with two chefs knives within arms reach in case someone breaks in.
5. Take care of yourself.
There have been countless nights where I’ve taken a cab home at 6 a.m. (Often after having worked at Rangoli during the day before heading to the kitchen) and crawled into bed just as my boyfriend was waking up to go to work. There is no time for self pity, and I believe strongly against the idea that “if you build it, they will come.” I believe that if you build it, you have to hustle at least twice as hard to make things happen. However, this doesn’t mean throwing self-care out of the window. Make time for yourself, even if it’s just a few hours over a couple of weeks to indulge in your favourite activities or have coffee with a loved one. Your sanity will thank you. Your work will benefit from these acts of kindness to yourself.
For those of you who are going through a similar process, I encourage you to share your journey with us. I look forward to sharing my thoughts and experiences with you and hearing your stories.