Hilary, of Food Lush, started developing her business at age 13 when she baked her first cheesecake for her own birthday. Her consummate skill in the kitchen had her friends encouraging her to explore cooking as a career option. Now Hilary does more than bake for herself, she bakes for a living. One year into running her own business, Hilary makes more than 16 dozen of her bite-sized cheesecakes a week.
Making cheesecake, exclusively cheesecake, might sound routine and prescriptive, but Hilary avoids the pitfalls of boredom in the kitchen by continually experimenting with new flavors. She’s even pioneered savory cheesecakes. Hilary pushes the limit of the palate with concoctions like Leek and Gorgonzola cheesecake, Maple Bacon, Roasted Red Pepper and Sun-dried Tomato Cheesecakes. You can also find more traditional cakes like Cardamom Cinnamon or Lemon Blueberry. But in one sense, her cheesecakes will never be traditional. They are all gluten-free (since Hilary is herself). Hilary also makes an effort to buy local and organic. At least 50% of her cakes, by weight, are local and organic. Her eggs are from weekly farmers market, the sugar beets from a farm in Washington. She buys Dagoba chocolate and Bob’s Red Mill flour mixes.
All the different potential flavors are vetted by a board of veteran tasters. Hilary hosts tasting parties where she introduces her newest flavors to a group of friends and colleagues. She’s never shy about showing a rough draft of a recipe. It’s hard to find a group of people who could overcome the divinity of a cheesecake and critique it, but she’s trained her friends to be honest and discerning.
And the unique flavor profiles? They come from a wellspring of internal inspiration, as well as from suggestions from friends, clients, and strangers. Her most recent addition to the annals of flavors is the Cinnamon Cardamom that was inspired by a stall-mate at a Farmers Market. She was tweaking the recipe when she gave us a tour of her home kitchen. Spoiler Alert! It was elegant and light and delicious.
Even though her business is still young, she’s anticipating eventually having a storefront. Her home kitchen, which she certified recently for commercial cooking, is very small and forces her to exercise economy of space. The kitchen suits her needs for now. In fact she shares her workspace with other food artisans; her friends and neighbors, the owners of Fatdog Mustard.
Even though an artisanal cheesecake business sounds like the baby of Portland, which has become synonymous with good food, Hilary still struggles. She keeps a part-time job, even though baking is a full-time job. She can’t count the hours she devotes to Food Lush. In her mind, they don’t always fall under the purview of work because it’s her passion.
Hilary has a hard time paying herself well. Like any artist she has to factor into the value of her goods the quality of her craft making. It’s hard to sell an artisan good in a market that doesn’t know its true value. She struggles to find the sweet spot, the point at which her art is valued, but not so exorbitantly priced that it becomes prohibitive. She’s currently taking a business seminar and what she is learning is that if you make a valuable product, you’ll find your niche market.
Fall 2011 Portland Food Warrior
This post is from one of the interns in the Real Time Farms Food Warrior Fall Internship Program. These interns are in Asheville, Austin, Nashville, Portland and San Francisco, collecting data, pictures, and video on the growing practices of our nation’s farms, gathering food artisans’ stories, and documenting farmers markets. We all deserve to know where our food comes from!