This month, we’re fortunate to be chatting with Miki Shibasaki of Atelier Detour, our August site artist, whose charming beach-themed cookies are brightening up our site as we speak. (And more of her charming beach cookies appear directly below! Woo hoo!)
We’ve already learned a bit about Miki in her recent forum introduction – such as she’s been decorating cookies for about three years; she harks from Chiba, Japan, close to Tokyo; and, in addition to making cookie gifts, she enjoys cartonnage (decorative box-making). But, as always with these interviews, I’ve got a bazillion more things I’d like to know about Miki, so it’s time to start asking!
JMU: Hi, Miki! Thanks so much for agreeing to do this written interview! I have huge admiration for you and others who so willingly and fearlessly commit to interviews conducted in languages other than their native tongues. My recent trip to Argentina underscored how sadly unilingual I am. About all I can summon in Spanish is “hola” and “gracias”. My Japanese is even worse . . . So, I thank you again!
Looking back at your forum intro in prep for this interview, I see you mentioned that stumbling across a cookie website was what initially piqued your interest in cookie decorating. I’m curious to know whose website it was and what, in particular, about those cookies caught your eye? Was it the designs, shapes, colors, or something else? And what was unique about those things?
MS: I found Ms. Yohko’s website Y&C Sweets. All of her cookie designs were very colorful and cute! Her cartoon character cookies especially caught my eye. They were just so amazing! I couldn’t believe they were made with icing.
JMU: Ooh, I see what you mean from looking at her site. We'll have to urge her to join Cookie Connection and start sharing here! It took you only a year to go from learning to decorate cookies to teaching the craft, which is a phenomenonally quick progression. How did you acquire your decorating and teaching skills so rapidly? Were there other sites, books, or resources that helped you get up to speed quickly? If so, which were your favorite resources, and why?
MS: I participated in many cookie decorating classes and learned the basic techniques. Some of my teachers included Y&C Sweets, mintlemonade (aka Cookie Crumbs), C bonbon, and RH.BAKE. Every time I came home from a lesson, I would review and practice what I learned on that day.
JMU: Well, you are certainly a tribute to the old adage that "practice makes perfect"! What are the top three tips you’d give to cookie decorators who want to start to teach cookie decorating?
MS: I think the most important thing you need to do is to find your original and unique style of cookie design that will attract people’s attention and make them want to join your classes. I think posting photos of your cookies on Instagram, for example, will help increase your name recognition. Before starting to teach, I gave my cookies to my friends. Giving your cookies to others is a good way to advertise your cookies.
JMU: Great tips! Thanks! Your bio mentions that you teach both out of your home and in shopping malls. First, I’m dying to know how you teach in shopping malls? Are you demoing to passers-by, or are you conducting structured, hands-on classes that people have booked in advance? What are the benefits (and downsides, if any) of teaching in shopping malls, as compared to teaching in your home?
MS: I teach in "culture centers" inside shopping malls, so I teach the same students every time. The benefit of teaching in shopping malls is that the staff in the culture center will advertise and do all of the class registration for me. BTW, "culture centers", sometimes also called "culture schools", are commonly found here in malls and department stores. They are small schools where people can learn many kinds of handcrafts - for example, tole painting, embroidery, and now cookie decorating! Most of the students are housewives.
JMU: Thanks, I hadn't heard of the term "culture center" before. Now I know! I like their benefits too! I only do classes when the venue does the organizing, advertising, registering, and cookie prep for the students. I have no time to handle those logistics on top of preparing my demo cookies and curriculum for a class!
What is the typical structure of your at-home classes, meaning what is the average number of students, price per student, number of cookie designs or techniques covered, etc. How, if at all, does this structure differ from your classes in shopping malls, and why?
MS: I teach around four students at a time - not so many because my house is small, LOL. Each class costs around $40 to $50 per person, depending on how many designs I teach in that lesson. I usually teach four or five designs in each lesson. The structure is the same in shopping malls.
JMU: What are the biggest challenges you’ve encountered when organizing and conducting cookie classes in Japan? How, if at all, have you faced and overcome those challenges?
MS: I haven’t faced any challenges yet so far.
JMU: Lucky you - I feel I am constantly challenged by things I never expected would happen! (Sigh.) We learned from Kaori Everitt-Hirota’s earlier Cookie Connection interview that the business of teaching cookie decorating in Japan is quite competitive, with more and more cookie decorators starting to teach, but not necessarily selling their work. Have you observed this trend as well? And, if so, why do you think it is happening?
MS: Yes, I’ve observed this trend as well. I think it’s because, in Japan, there are classes where you can receive a teaching license in just a few days.
JMU: Interesting. I would have thought that the extra hurdle of getting a license to teach cookie decorating might have deterred more people from teaching, but apparently it has stimulated interest instead. Here in the US, we typically don't get or need licenses to teach crafts.
How, if at all, has this increased competition affected your teaching business? Has it expanded the market for or interest in cookie decorating classes? Or has your demand for cookie courses diminished in the face of more competition? Have you had to design or market your classes any differently in order to ensure their continued success in the face of more competition?
MS: I don’t think the competition between Japanese teachers has affected my teaching business. I just love to make cookies. To be honest, I’m not teaching to earn money. I just want to spread the joy of decorating cookies.
JMU: Let's turn to the subject of design for a sec . . . I just have to ask one question about one of my favorite cookie sets of yours – the café collection, pictured above, and, in particular, the miniatures in it. How on earth did you make the tiny baguettes and bundt cakes? Did you pipe them with royal icing or form them in some other way? Details, please!
MS: The tiny breads and cakes are made out of cookie dough. I used a silicone mold to mold the dough. After I baked each cookie, I painted it with brown food coloring-paint to make it look glossy like real bread.
JMU: Clever - and so cute! Do you sell your cookies? If not, do you have any aspirations to do so in the future? Why or why not? If so, roughly how many decorated cookies do you produce and sell per week? And what’s your average selling price per cookie or per dozen?
MS: I sometimes take orders, but not so often, since I’m busy teaching cookie decorating and cartonnage. I charge around $3 to $7 per cookie, depending on the complexity of the design.
JMU: Do you think the selling of decorated cookies in Japan will grow in the future, just as the teaching of cookie decorating appears to be growing now? Why or why not?
MS: I don’t think selling cookies in Japan will grow, because Japanese people tend not to know the value of decorated cookies. So it’s very hard to sell them, as they can be an expensive thing.
JMU: Do you think that Japanese cookie designs or flavors differ from those you see in the United States or elsewhere in the world? If so, how and why?
JMU: Wow - that makes your work all the more impressive! I just have to ask about your cartonnage (box-making) hobby, seeing as I didn’t even know what “cartonnage” meant before writing your forum introduction earlier this month! (Everyone, I've included a picture of some of Miki's boxes directly below.) Do you think the art of cartonnage bears any similarities to cookie decorating? In other words, do skills, tools, or designs from your cartonnage work translate in any way into your cookie decorating? If so, how? If not, why not?
MS: The key similarity between cartonnage and iced cookies is the importance of how you use colors. The skills and tools are completely different.
JMU: Last question! As always, I’d love to hear all about your cookie dreams and aspirations. Where do you see yourself within the cookie world in the next three or so years?
MS: I hope I can make better quality cookies and learn more and more new techniques!
JMU: Well, those are certainly noble goals. I wish you the very best of luck in achieving them, and I look forward to seeing your continued success in cookie decorating. Thanks again for taking the time to answer my many questions!
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!