Yes, this month we’re talking to the Queen of Wafer Paper in Italy – if not the whole wide world! And that queen would be Lucia Simeone, owner of DolceLulÙ, a cake artist from Rome known the globe over for her magnificently sculptural wafer paper flowers and other cake decorations. As fortunate cookiers would have it, this cakes-pert is joining the cookie throngs at All in One's Cookie’sCool in November to show us her stuff - and hopefully the tricks to applying this sometimes intractable medium to cookies.
JMU: Hi! First, thanks for waiting so patiently for me to send you these interview questions. October has been a crazy month - what with National Cookie Month and the lead-up prep for Cookie’sCool and all. OK, so National Cookie Month is a little stretch, but I hope you’ll forgive me. It’s rare we interview a cake artist here, so I’m going to have to change up my questions a bit and most certainly be on my toes!
First, I understand you were a prima ballerina and painter prior to turning cake artist?!! Wow – is that right? What led you from a profession that surely doesn’t tolerate many sweets to what you do now?
LS: Julia, first of all thank you for this interview. I’m very proud and honored. Back to your question: I have to say that, as a child, I was looking for an artistic expression that represented me. My father is a former pastry chef, and my mother was a wonderful artist. She used to transform whatever she touched into art . . . So, certainly this love for sweets and decoration flowed in my DNA. But, I have to admit, I got there accidentally, trying [different things] and finally discovering my passion as an adult.
JMU: Do you make wedding cakes to sell or primarily for teaching purposes? I ask, in part, because I see on your site that you’re teaching about 20 cake decorating classes between now and February 2015! How could you possibly have time to bake?!
LS: You are right . . . there are many [classes] . . . and there are more coming, luckily! I devote myself mainly to teaching and I love it; the most beautiful thing is to share passion and, especially, something that has been created by yourself. I started working, almost immediately, with confectioners here in Rome, as I didn't have my own studio, and now I have major commitments around Italy and also abroad.
I continue, when possible, to work on cakes, cookies, and cupcakes when someone asks me for a special occasion, because there is nothing more beautiful than a smile behind a cake.
JMU: And how did you come to choose wafer paper as your signature form of cake decoration?
LS: Last year, I participated in a major national competition with a wedding cake theme. I was inspired by a wonderful Max Mara bridal chiffon dress with rose appliquÉs. My pursuit of perfection and of the perfect material led me to do a search on the web. By chance, I came across a Paul Bradford creation made of rice paper, and I fell in love!
I immediately noticed that wafer paper was widely used overseas, though not yet in Italy . . . it was virtually impossible to even find the material. But I tried to make my first cake decorated with it without having any instruction, because I am of a self-taught nature.
The result was incredible. I won the competition, and my cake was published on Max Mara's Facebook page. So I did not stop, and I began to experiment more.
JMU: Do you think it’s important to have a signature style or medium? If so, how did you go about developing yours in such a short period of time. I can't believe you've just been using wafer paper for one year!
LS: Absolutely, it is very important for decorators to have their own style! Precisely this need to have my own style led me to my technique! As I said, wafer paper was already used abroad; so, when I decided to use this material, I developed my own painting technique. Now I use the material like a canvas on which I paint my creations!
JMU: And what about cookies? You seem to have a preference for cakes judging from all of your cake work, but do you also have a secret fondness for cookies? More seriously, do you prefer one sweet to another for taste and/or decorating, and, if so, why? (Don’t worry, we cookiers won’t bite if you give us the wrong answer!)
LS: So, as I am a baker's daughter, I am therefore very demanding in terms of sweets. You may not believe me, but I don't like sweets that are overly elaborate or overly sweet. I love homemade cookies, tarts, and chocolate in general.
Cakes are my work, and on cakes, I apply my decorations. But I also experiment with cupcakes and comfits . . . and now, with this extraordinary event that is Cookie'sCool, I have discovered that, even on cookies, wafer paper is really nice. At least I like it!
JMU: It is nice on cookies! Let’s talk about teaching for a bit, since you do so much of it. It looks as if you travel to a different city in Italy to teach almost every weekend. How do you prepare for such a rigorous schedule and still have time for your two children and husband?! Are you doing the same projects from place to place? Are you working with the same schools from time to time? Any other time-saving tips?
LS: It is not an easy thing, especially, as you said, with two wonderful children, ages five and ten. I organize everything well in advance. I am a person who plans everything to the smallest detail, so before leaving, I set everything: home, husband, sons . . . luckily, I have my art where I let myself go! The schools that contact me are several, and very often, they contact me again for new sessions, as my work is constantly evolving. I always try to propose new projects, and that means, in my few free hours, [I am] studying and testing . . . but all of this makes me happy!
JMU: What are some of the biggest rewards associated with teaching? And what about the challenges – do you struggle with anything, or wish you could do something better or differently? (Hard to believe, but I just had to ask.)
LS: To teach is extraordinary; it challenges me and I love it. Each course is full of expectations - those of the the students who want to learn my techniques and my own of the people willing to learn. The challenge is to find something new every day that excites me. Art itself is emotion. If art is combined with cake, which in itself is a source of joy, the union is immense!
JMU: For those readers interested in getting into teaching, can you describe the most important steps needed to organize a successful decorating class?
LS: I admit that I am a special case, because I teach something that is mine, that was created by me. Surely it is easier because I know my technique perfectly. What I can say is that before teaching, you must be aware of your - and others' - abilities and limitations. You must be able to manage and deal with a class full of different people, with different habits. Sometimes we think that, by participating in a class, everyone will acquire all techniques, and that it's a short step from learning to teaching . . . but it is not so easy! Not everyone has the same capacity for learning and, above all, you must be quite clear that sometimes what seems easy and natural to you is not the same for others. So I recommend that you study and test and, only after [studying and testing], to start [teaching].
JMU: I asked Francesca Belfiore this same question in our last Close-up, as she works with wafer paper on cookies. But I’m interested to hear your response as well. As you know, wafer paper can be tricky to handle. You need just enough water to make the paper bend, but it is easy to over-wet the paper and dissolve it. That said, how are you able to control the paper to create flowers as exquisite and life-like as these . . .
LS: Yes, it's true, it is not so easy to work with, at least as I use it. I don't use printed or colored sheets, but I paint, applying different colors, powders, and gels in different ways depending on the outcome I want to achieve. It takes patience and a certain familiarity with brushes.
JMU: Are there any additional tricks that readers should know when applying wafer paper to cookies rather than cakes?
LS: Paper decorations are very light and so they can be applied to every kind of sweet or cookie, but they should not be applied directly on moist or wet icings.
JMU: You’ve done at least a couple of cake competitions, if not more, am I right? Can you tell us a little about your most recent competition – what it was and how you prepared for it? How is that sort of preparation similar to, or different than, preparing for one of your weekly cake decorating classes?
LS: My last competition was in February: an Italian cake design championship organized by FIP (Federazione Italiana di Pasticceria). Participating in a competition, especially one so important, was a great test for me. It is not the same as preparing for a course, where you have an established program and a project, of which you are sure, chosen by participants. In a competition, it all ends in a few minutes with the jury studying your work and evaluating it according to their opinion - work that has occupied days of tests and attempts. I started working on my cake [pictured below] two months before, creating every single flower and painting each with coffee, and trying a new way of using the paper as if it were papier-mâchÉ. The cake was called "Dentro un Sogno/Inside a Dream" and the second mask [from the top] was made with this [new] technique.
It [the work] was worth it: I won the Premio per l’Innovazione (Innovation Prize) for my innovative way to use a product as simple as wafer paper, and I joined the excellence team of FIP.
JMU: Wow - congrats on that big victory! So, tell us how you got involved with Cookie’sCool, as it’s certainly not the typical cake class or competition, is it?! What do you plan to teach to the Cookie’sCool students and why did you select those projects?
LS: In June, I was invited by All in One to teach a [cake decorating] course at their school, and so the idea was born to participate in Cookie'sCool, applying my flowers to cookies. During Cookie'sCool, I will show how to turn this fantastic paper into something beautiful - a simple and light decoration that can make a cookie something precious and unusual. [Below are pictures of some of Lucia's planned Cookie'sCool projects.]
JMU: Since you live in Rome and I know you’ve taught in Genoa (oops, Genova, to those living in Italy) where All in One is located, can you name three places or sights that Cookie’sCool-goers must experience when they visit the city? I asked Francesca this question too, so I could compare notes!
LS: Unfortunately, I have not visited the city enough, but I was lucky to have some great guides that permitted me to appreciate the streets near the port. Genova is rich with little treasures, and I hope I will have much more time to visit it next time.
JMU: One last question, which happens to be one of my favorites to ask: After you finish your last scheduled course in February, what’s next or new on the horizon for you in 2015?
LS: In 2015, I hope to continue to teach and to open doors abroad. But, above all, I hope to always feel new emotions turning into new ideas.
JMU: Well, I could go on asking questions all day, but I’ll hold off . . . at least until I get to Cookie’sCool, that is! I can’t wait to finally meet you then. Thanks so much for sharing your valuable time and expertise with me and all of our readers today! See you soon!
LS: Thank you . . . it was a real pleasure to share my story . . . and I look forward to meeting you in Genova. Greetings to all of your readers!
All cookies and cakes designed, crafted, and photographed by Lucia Simeone.
Cookier Close-ups is the place on Cookie Connection where we celebrate the change-makers of the cookie decorating world. Whether forging new enterprises, inventing novel decorating techniques, or consistently charming us with their cookie decorating prowess, each of our featured thought leaders has redefined in his/her distinctive way how we interact, create, or otherwise do business here in cookie space!
If there are other cookiers you'd really like to get to know, please post requests in this forum. We'll do our best to round them up for an upcoming Cookier Close-up! Thanks!