We first met Molly last February around the time she was planning the Galentine's Day pop-up in Charlottesville, Virginia. It quickly became clear she was a talent to be reckoned with, both as an artist and a baker. She creates beautiful wedding cakes, as well as portraits of couples, but her influence goes beyond the wedding industry. She has developed an artistic series focused on highlighting women bakers and chefs. While the kitchen may stereotypically be the place for women domestically, commercial kitchens have often excluded women and made professional baking and cooking a male-dominated industry. She wants to change that, and step one is to bring focus to the women who are already excelling in the professional realm. Read on to learn more!
1. What is your mission as a baker and an artist?
My main mission as a baker is to make delicious, nourishing, and beautiful food for others to enjoy. Food is such an immediate and gratifying gift. It makes people happy. We all need to eat, and if you know how to elevate a person’s eating experience, then that is a wonderful gift.
As an artist I also want to offer people a certain kind of beauty to digest, but through a visual channel. Illustration lets me explore my own visual connections to my subjects and showcase the expression and mood that comes from that.
Food and art are both vehicles for self-expression. You digest one with your eyes and one with your mouth, but they both hopefully help to feed the soul.
Portrait of Molly Yeh
2. How did you first get started with both art and baking?
I have always been an artist. I remember saying I want to be an artist when I grow up when I was four years old. While growing up and in school, I was always involved in some kind of art-based project. I don’t think I know how NOT to be an artist! But it took me a long time to own that title. I am still learning how to in fact.
I started baking when I was in college working as a barista at my sister’s gelateria in New Orleans. She and her husband opened an artisan gelateria called La Divina while I was a sophomore at Loyola University, studying studio art. At first I was just serving gelato and making coffee. I started making simple Italian cookies and sweets on the side and discovered I loved it and was pretty good at it. My interest kept growing, and eventually I became the full time pastry chef making all of the cakes and sweets for the shop. I am very grateful to my sister and brother-in-law for letting me explore that field because then I went on to bake for the next seven years -- and still am!
Baking and art are very similar. You get to use your hands for both, follow a process, practice steps and patience, and have an end product that you present with aesthetic, taste, and beauty in mind. They both require passion and focus and a knack for detail.
Portrait of Tara Jensen
3. What was the motivation/inspiration for your woman bakers illustration series?
While traveling last fall I was feeling a bit homesick and in need of a sense of place and home. The kitchen has always been my favorite room in a house. It is where everything happens: all the parties gather, the big conversations, the meals shared, the family grows. It is the heart, if you will. I also have felt a wonderful connection and inspiration through other bakers and chefs, particularly women, who are letting their passions for food lead them and are creating amazing work. It felt natural to start reaching out to those women and asking them if I can draw them doing what they love to do. I wanted to showcase these lady-bosses within their element, in each of their own kitchen spaces. We get to see the end products, the foods and dishes made, but rarely do we get to see what these women look like amidst the creative process of the making. I kept reaching out to the women I admired and they kept telling me about other women to draw as well. A series was born.
4. What is your favorite project that you have ever worked on?
Such a hard question!! I have loved a lot of projects. Most recently I got to illustrate some care card instructions for a local Charlottesville company called Blanc Creatives. They make beautiful forged cookware by hand. I illustrated how to care for the skillets that they make; drawing the process out with the pans was wonderful.
Baking-wise, I have gotten to do a lot of really creative work. This past winter and spring I got to help organize a couple of pop up shops at Old Met Hall in downtown Charlottesville. I organized with Arley of Arley Cakes (a wonderful local baker) and we created a Galentines Pop up Shop that included all local lady maker vendors and supported The Arbor, a local safe house for female trafficking. It was a very successful event all around.
Portrait of Arley Arrington
5. How are you a "wedding space disrupter"?
It is important to me to make sure I am always using real ingredients and making everything from scratch. I will never use fondant on my cakes. I don’t think it tastes good, and I don’t think it particularly looks good either. I want my wedding cakes to offer a natural aesthetic and highlight the simplicity and elegance of what can be a good cake.
I also love to do nontraditional wedding desserts such as pies or an assortment of cookies, bars, and sweets. I love to use herbs and interesting spices in my baking. Lemon and lavender are natural partners. Peach and rosemary as well.
Seasonal and local ingredients are not only more delicious but using them is also gratifying because you know that you are supporting the local economy and community.
6. What three things make for a great day for you and your work?
Good music, good atmosphere, and an abundance of time to get what I need to work on done. No one wants to feel rushed when they are creating. You need good space and peace of mind in order to focus and develop what you are baking/making naturally. Can I add one more thing? Coffee. Lots of coffee. :)
Portrait by Polina Chesnakova
7. What are some traits of your ideal clients?
Trust is a big one -- the ability to trust that I will adapt their dream vision of what they want out of a wedding cake/specialty cake or drawing.
Flexibility -- the ability to work with what unfolds. Life is always in flux, and sometimes there are change-ups when we don’t see them coming. The ability to be flexible and adapt to circumstances is really a true talent and makes working together so much easier.
Vision/passion -- I love when my customers have ideas of what they want or like when it comes to a drawing or a cake. It’s easy for me to make up something, based on what I think will taste good or look good. But it is even better when a person has a particular flavor they LOVE or a particular image they would like adapted forever into a drawing. Other people's love and passion feeds what I can create for them. That is a special relationship.
Molly Reeder is a baker and artist from Gaithersburg, Maryland with a BA in Studio Art from Loyola University New Orleans. She has worked in bakeries throughout the world, including New Orleans, U.S.A.; Melbourne, Australia; Wellington, New Zealand; and Sofia, Bulgaria. As well, she has created as a commissioned artist for individual portraits, gallery works, and published illustrations.
Inspired by the power of story and community, she loves to create and share narratives through the practices of baking and art making. Molly finds her place as a storyteller both inside of the kitchen with mixing bowls and outside in nature with sketchpad in hand. She hopes to use both art and baking as a connecting means to bring people together.