Cookier Close-up with hikainmel (vert), aka Our April Site Artist!

 

For a few weeks now, you’ve all been admiring our April site art (pictured in our banner and backdrop and directly below), so it’s high time we get to know the talented cookier behind it: @hikainmel (vert), aka Kaori Everitt-Hirota! In her quick intro in our forums earlier this month, we learned that Kaori originally harks from Osaka, Japan, but now lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and two children. She started decorating cookies about four years ago, at which time she struck up a strong cookie bond with fellow Cookie Connection member @mintlemonade (cookie crumbs). Kaori, a hobbyist cookier, currently works on cookies about once a week, in and around her primary job as a hotel chef. She also runs cookie decorating workshops once or twice a year when she goes back to Japan, but doesn’t currently teach in Melbourne.

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So with that brief background, I’m ready to delve deeper. Hold onto your pastry bags, and let’s go!

JMU: Hi, Kaori. First, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions today! I was so sorry to have missed you on my recent trip to Melbourne (I understand you don’t live very far away from Miss Biscuit, which is where I taught). That being said, I am especially glad to have this opportunity to get to know you here! First, I’d love to hear what motivated you to move from Japan to Australia? And how long have you been living in Melbourne?

KEH: Hi, Julia. Thank you for this opportunity to talk about myself here. Why did I come here? About 20 years ago, I just wanted to try to do something different than other people. I imagined my future, and I thought it would be boring if I stayed in Japan (that is only what I was thinking at that stage . . . I certainly don’t mean that Japanese people having boring lives). So I wanted to live somewhere outside of Japan. At first, I wanted to live in Canada, so I stayed in Calgary for a year to study English. I tried to get a working holiday visa to Canada, but there were too many applicants, and so I couldn’t get one. I ultimately decided to apply for an Australian working holiday visa instead. I got one, and that is the main reason I am here. After I came to Australia, I went on to study in a commercial cookery school to be a chef. I was granted a permanent residence as a chef after I finished my cookery course. 

JMU: I applaud you - not too many people have the courage to venture abroad on their own! Does your chef work at the hotel involve baking or decorating? Can you describe your typical work day at the hotel for us?

KEH: My hotel has pastry chefs, so I don’t do any baking or decorating. There are three sections that our hotel kitchen services: the restaurant, banquet functions, and in-room dining. At the moment, I work in the banquet area. Usually the banquet functions we do are for weddings, business breakfasts, and business lunches. They could involve everything from a buffet or plated courses to simple canapes. In the last ten years, I have worked in all three sections, so even though I am in banquet right now, I work in all the other sections when other teams don’t have enough staff.

JMU: When you make cookies in your time off from your hotel job, what’s the typical occasion? Are they orders for customers, or are you just decorating for fun, or to give something special to friends or family? 

KEH: I make cookies for seasonal events such as Easter, Halloween, Christmas . . . also for friends' birthdays, weddings, and new babies . . . and thank you cookies. At the moment, the cookies I make are only for fun and for friends.

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JMU: What’s your favorite cookie decorating technique, and why?

KEH: That’s a tough question. I like airbrushing, wafer paper, and stamping. Why those? I think, because, when I use those techniques, I get a better result, even though I don’t consider them to be complicated techniques.

JMU: Well, complicated or not, those techniques are displayed beautifully in your work! I especially love how wafer paper and airbrushing came together to create a truly magical effect in your deer cookies above!

Do you have a cookie Achilles’ heel (aka a cookie decorating weakness)? If so, what is it, and how, if at all, do you aim to turn that weakness into a strength?

KEH: After many long days and nights trying, I still can't make the consistency of my flooding royal icing quite right. I seem to have a lot of troubles like oil bleed and color bleed. Melbourne’s weather (high humidity) could be one of the reasons. I think that I should try out another recipe or change the consistency, but I am kind of scared to change. So at the moment, I more often do rough bases (i.e., spread hard-consistency royal icing with a spatula instead of flooding) so that I don’t have to worry about my current issues. 

JMU: Yes, I hear you on the humidity in Melbourne! We had to dry everything in dehydrators during my visit there to ensure consistent results. But, I love how you've improvised; your "rough" backgrounds perfectly complement your many nature-themed cookies.

So, you mentioned in your forum introduction here on Cookie Connection that you teach cookie decorating when you return to Japan, but that you don’t teach in Melbourne or have any immediate plans to do so. Why would you elect to teach in one place, but not the other? Is it that there’s more interest in cookie decorating in Japan, or is there some other reason? Do you think you’d ever teach in Melbourne? Why or why not?

KEH: The popularity of teaching cookie decorating is huge in Japan. I stayed in Osaka, Japan for ten months in 2015 (while my kids were in Japanese schools). At that time, cookie decorating was becoming more and more popular, so I was asked to teach during that stay by a few people. Since then, I have taught in Japan every time I have visited there. So I think I teach only in Japan because I have been asked to teach there. I have never been asked to teach in Australia, and I am not sure if I would teach here, but I would think about it when I get a request. 

JMU: Well, I hope you get one soon. I know several students there now who I know would appreciate your work!

How is your typical class in Japan structured, meaning how many students can you accommodate, doing how many cookies over what period of time? And, where do you teach there (at a host’s venue or elsewhere) now that you no longer live there? 

KEH: My classes usually include three to five cookies and last about three hours, and are designed for 15 to 20 people. I usually teach in a rented community center or someone’s studio.

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JMU: I love that you’re so multicultural! You have a unique vantage point on both Japan and Australia, which makes you perfectly suited to answer my next series of questions, all about global cookie decorating trends!  

In the last year, I’ve been seeing more and more Japanese cookie artists joining this site and posting their gorgeous work to it. Why do you think this is happening? Do you think this trend will continue? Why or why not?

KEH: Honestly I am not sure . . . so this is only a guess . . . Cookie decorating classes are everywhere in Japan now. The trend isn't actually cookie decorating; the trend is teaching cookie decorating. Plus, the classes in Japan are not just about decorating; they are also about how to be an instructor. There are courses for and diplomas given to cookie decorating instructors. So you can learn about course preparation, basic class formats, and how to teach. I think this business model (i.e. , giving people the necessary tools to become instructors and run businesses at home) was the key to fueling this teaching trend.

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JMU: Interesting . . . I know of no such courses for decorating instructors here in the US, other than those for instructors of the Wilton method. I certainly could have benefited from one (or more) of these classes when I started teaching, though maybe now there's a new business opportunity for me in here somewhere?! 

Are decorated cookies also growing in popularity in Australia? In which of these countries, Japan or Australia, do you think the market for decorated cookies and cookie classes is the largest and most rapidly growing? And why do you think this is?

KEH: I don’t have many cookie friends in Australia, and I don’t read Australian cookie sites or blogs (as English is my second language, and I am not as good at reading English!), so I don’t know much about Australian cookie decorating . . . sorry! But I think decorated cookies are not as popular in Japan as they are in Australia, because there are not as many occasions for which to buy or make cookies. People in Japan don’t celebrate birthdays, engagement parties, or baby showers as often as they do in Australia. So while I see a lot of cookie decorating classes in Japan, I don’t see many shops selling decorated cookies in Japan.

JMU: Again, so interesting, because, here in the US, it seems like just the opposite has happened - meaning that interest in the making or selling of cookies preceded the popularity of teaching the craft.

What’s the single biggest (or most important) cookie trend that you see in Japan right now? (This trend can be related to cookies of any kind, not just decorated cookies.) Why do you think this trend is occurring, and do you think it will continue for any sustained period of time? Why or why not?

KEH: Because there are so many cookie decorating lessons in Japan, instructors want to, and have to, teach something new or different than other instructors in order to get students. I feel like many people are already starting to teach something else in addition to cookies, like cake decorating or Japanese sweets, and are losing focus on cookies.

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JMU: What do you like most about the global cookie community, and why? What do you like the least about it, and why? (And don’t say cleaning up after decorating; that’s a cop-out! J) Also, what steps would you take, if you could, to correct the least-liked thing that you just mentioned? 

KEH: When I started cookie decorating about four years ago, I didn’t know about any cookie communities, but, now, a lot of people use Facebook, Instagram, and, of course, Cookie Connection. Cookie decorating wasn’t that popular in Japan then, so I would get all information about new stuff (i.e., wafer paper, airbrushing, etc.) from these great cookie communities. Also, people overseas seem to be happier to share their knowledge and techniques. I realized I could learn a lot from these people.  

The least-liked thing . . . People are starting to copy other people's work and taking credit for someone else’s creations, because it is so easy to see other people’s work everywhere online. I have not had any big troubles myself, but I have seen and heard of people copying someone else’s work. Most cookie artists I know are really nice and let people make similar cookies as long as they give credit to the original designer.

JMU: Yes, I agree - uncredited copying has become pandemic, and it's not something I like to see, though, at the same time, I realize it can be tough to pinpoint the true originator of any design. At some level, we all draw design cues from other people.

Lastly, if you could design your ideal cookie life over the next three years, what would it look like? What would you be doing? Please share with us your ultimate hopes and dreams!

KEH: One day, I would love to attend CookieCon and meet a lot of other cookie artists. I know it might be a small dream, but the US is far from Australia, and it’s hard to find the time right now to go so far without my family. 

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JMU: Well, I hope you get to realize that dream sometime soon. CookieCon is truly a great experience! Thank you for sharing so much of yourself today. I hope I get to meet you in person one day soon - perhaps on a return trip to Australia? I'd love to take a class from you there this time! 

To learn more about Kaori, visit her on Facebook and Instagram, and check out her blog (which is in Japanese, BTW) and her member profile here on Cookie Connection.

All cookie and photo credits: Kaori Everitt-Hirota aka hikainmel (vert)

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!

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It was so nice getting to know you better, Kaori! Very interesting the trend in Japan. I like the "hello autumn" set. I didn't remember about it so I went to visit your gallery to see why I missed it and it was a nice chance to view again your beautiful work. Your creations are amazing.

Manu posted:

It was so nice getting to know you better, Kaori! Very interesting the trend in Japan. I like the "hello autumn" set. I didn't remember about it so I went to visit your gallery to see why I missed it and it was a nice chance to view again your beautiful work. Your creations are amazing.

Thank you so much for your sweet comment, Manu. Love your work as well!

mintlemonade (cookie crumbs) posted:

It was interesting for me to read your interview even though I already know you well!

I think you knew everything what i said in this interview! Having cookie friends like you make my cookie life better! Thank you noriko. 

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