There are so many women out there changing the world around them but we have exciting news here at Darling: Valerie Gordon, owner and founder of Valerie Confections, is now signed on as our Guest Food Editor for Darling in 2018!
Coming from a diverse background of acting, yoga instructing and restaurant work, Valerie turned her childhood passion for sweets into a career while managing Les Deux Café in Hollywood alongside Michele Lamy. Along with being a successful businesswoman, Valerie enjoys dedicating her time to food writing and other various media projects and collaborations.
She was featured on the Cooking Channel’s Unique Eats and the Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate and made appearances in the series Top Chef: Just Desserts. Valerie has also been acknowledged within various publications such as Vogue, Newsweek and In Style. If you’re starting to think that she has enough going on, you’re wrong – she also became a published author in 2013 with her cookbook, Sweet: Inspired Ingredients, Unforgettable Desserts.
After talking with Darling’s Teresa Miller Archer, Valerie revealed how she overcame her obstacles while continuing to do what she loves.
Teresa Miller Archer: Tell me how you got into food and specifically, into chocolate and sweet making?
Valerie Gordon: I started baking when I was eight years old, and I always found that the craving of sweets and being in an environment where sweets are created – meaning a bakery or a chocolate bar – is the most comforting place for me. I found that it gave me a sense of wholeness and relaxation and really sort of soothed me on a fundamental level from childhood. So, I would say that sensation is what drove me to do what I do. Valerie’s Confections was founded in 2004, and it started for a few reasons.
At the time, I was 33, which I think is interesting because I wasn’t 20 – this was definitely a career switch for me. I really had to think about, “What have I always loved?” And it was dessert. It was a very clear decision, it was a very quick decision, and I’ve never looked back. You should do the thing that you can never turn off, that’s the thing you should do; the thing you can never clock out of because it’s just fundamental to who you are, and that is how the company started.
Stan [my husband] and I had been giving these very elaborate gifts to people under the banner of Tall and Small Productions, and people were just like “Where did you buy this?” I was sort of product developing without knowing that I was product developing.
Then a time came to make a choice. I had preexisting medical issues and was uninsurable, and because of these preexisting issues, the only option I was given was to declare myself permanently disabled. I was like, “Well, I’ve got two choices, set my life for total independence or claim myself permanently disabled; what am I going to do?” There was no question in that.
So, Valerie Confections started very quickly after Les Deux Café closed because I had to have health insurance.
TMA: Wow, I mean, not many of us are ever going to be faced with such an extreme decision. That propellant doesn’t necessarily exist in an obvious way. On the flip side, the pressure is on more and more for a lot of us, in terms of how we’re going to care for ourselves.
VG: And where health insurance issues are going right now, I’ve been more vocal about this because it is something we have never talked about. You’ve just got to create your choices sometimes; sometimes they’re not just given to you.
We were totally a homegrown little company, where in the very beginning, it was just the two of us in a small apartment. Me, testing everything, us figuring out packaging and doing it all there. It was a true self-made situation.
You’ve just got to create your choices sometimes; sometimes they’re not just given to you.
TMA: So, you already knew about yourself that you were very collaborative and creative? I mean, I find actors in general, not always, very creative people and they like collaborating and imagineering and sort of coming out of one space and into another – so you already knew those aspects when you came in but still, the confectionary world is very competitive, is it not?
VG: It is, it is very competitive. But I also had this weird obsession with specialty foods *laughs* which I’ve always had and this is the thing about doing what you love. I love the industry that we’re in. I love it. I’m completely compulsive and obsessed by it.
Packaging is a big part of our company and I love packaging. I love food products and the idea of gifting products is something that I am endlessly compelled by. It really was sort of a stand for packaged specialty foods before we started this company. Even while I was managing restaurants, I would always go to places like Dean and Deluca and just adore the beautifully packaged foods.
TMA: You get to do a combination of whatever you want to create, but when was the moment that you realized you had something that was really going to last?
VG: I wanted something timeless, and this continues within the brand and every recipe that I do. I never want to do anything that is on the nose where you can say, “Oh yeah, that’s so 2018.” I really try to stay away from hot moments.
My catchphrase is, “Is it perennial? Is this something that will still be chic, good and wonderful in 10 years, 20 years?” and it’s really a benchmark for how I develop products and how I work. [Those early years were] a very tough time, that was a time where I was equally challenged and invigorated and it was when I really dug in the kitchen.
Our company started as a chocolate company but then that expanded into bakery, historic desserts, catering and then we opened the cafes and we started doing savory food. We’ve always envisioned the trunk of the tree to be chocolate that has all these other arms coming off of it.
We really survived the worst fiscal dip, when we saw so many companies around us going under that started the same time as we did. I would say that we got through that because in business, as in life, I find you always have to be able to bend and look off of the track. If the track that you are on is starting to falter, then figure out how to adjust your track so that you can keep this moving.
The fact that we grew our brand in different ways for a couple of years is what kept us in the dialogue and kept us viable.
You should do the thing that you can never turn off, that’s the thing you should do; the thing you can never clock out of because it’s just fundamental to who you are, and that is how the company started.
TMA: So tell me, why are you taking on the food editor role for Darling and what do you love about food? Why do you love writing about it?
VG: One of the areas of my career that I really want to expand upon is food writing, and not just in developing recipes but in more macro-vision of what is happening around me. So, not just writing about my experience with food but what else is happening in the food community and how it affects the larger community as a whole. I am also an enormous fan of periodicals and I feel like if there is something you love, you need to contribute to it.
I’m a huge believer in the printed word, and when I started to see the publishing world shift, that was really interested in writing a book because, again, if you see something that you really want to help maintain in this world, be a part of it.
I would [also] say that the older I get and as the mother of a young girl, I need to expand my voice as one of a female business owner of mixed race that created her own path. The more I hear about younger women trying to set up their careers, the more I think that I can share about my experience and what I’ve seen and learned.
For me, it’s a great challenge; 14 years into running this company, 30 years in the food industry, this is a new role for me to take on.
We’re so excited to have you, Valerie! Stay tuned as she shares more in print and here online in the coming months. In the meantime, keep up to date on all things sweet via her Instagram @valerieconfctns.
Images via Valerie Confections