04 December 2011

We're Back on the Train, Oh, Back on the Chain Gang

This past week I had a bit of a flashback to a former life and wow, was it weird. I worked a job for a client who was attending a European food ingredient trade show. I was engaged for 3 full days, most of which were spent on my feet (or stuck in traffic as I did the daily commute out near Charles De Gaulle airport), decorating cupcakes for people who visited their stand and talking up the company. My client has a broad international presence and so they had representatives there from all corners of the world - as far away as China, thought most of them were from Europe. All week long, I heard people babbling in a multitude of different languages - it was pretty cool - and the people I got to know over the 3 days were a really nice bunch.

The experience made me realize that I don't for a single second miss the business side of working in the corporate world. One of the drawbacks of working alone though is that you don't have any co-workers and there's something to be said of the camaraderie you share with them.

I saw some pretty cool stuff while at this show. There were a number of businesses selling all sorts of chocolates, sugar candies, sprinkles, marzipan, vanilla beans and other spices, etc. I had a 20-minute break each day in which I scoured the floor gathering brochures and contact info for potential suppliers for my shop.

I also saw some pretty disturbing stuff. As a mom, I am constantly reading the labels of stuff I put on my table. I obviously am aware that a lot of foods these days are engineered - colors added to make the food look more appetizing, stabilizers to prolong their shelf life, etc. But I also came to the conclusion this week that food manipulation is a lot bigger business than I had thought and there are so many additives going into the stuff we are eating.

I was a bit shocked by the number of bakery businesses that stopped by the stand looking to purchase preservatives and other gums, emulsifiers, etc. Maybe I am naive but for me, cakes are made with things like eggs, butter, sugar and flour - these give the cake their texture, their taste, their appearance....not chemicals. Or maybe it is the years living in France that have spoiled me - I know my baker downstairs has his team arrive every morning between 3-4 to bake up fresh croissants, baguettes, Paris-Brests and the like. I'd be really shocked to learn they were adding chemicals to their baguette to make it taste more fresh or stave off mold and bacteria growth.

I've always been a big proponent of baking with preservative-free, natural, fresh ingredients. I am aware that some of the other cupcakeries in Paris don't. Some use synthetic flavors in their cupcakes rather than using real fruit, nuts, freshly prepared caramel, etc. or they buy pre-made industrial genoise for their cakes. I really think you can taste the difference in the finished product. Now I am not trying to get all militant here - I'm just trying to make a point. On the Sugar Daze menu, I have only one cupcake that is made with a synthetic flavor and that is my Cotton Candy cupcake. I'd love to be able to provide a more natural version of this one day so I can't get off completely guilt-free for the moment! I'll be working on this though - that's for sure!

It was a busy week in addition to the trade show. Pictured are some of the orders that went out. Note: my calendar is starting to fill up for the holidays so if you are planning on serving cupcakes for a Christmas or New Year's party, please do get in touch now.

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