We marvel over her delicate handpainting. We mutter oohs and ahhs at the sight of her intricate piping work. Heck, we stop dead in our tracks nearly every time she posts something to this site! Yes, I’m talking about Evelin Milanesi, aka Evelindecora, another of the talented cookiers who will be teaching at Cookie’sCool in November. (BTW, the Cookie’sCool team has published their final class schedule, so be sure to stop on by their Facebook page, peruse the offerings, and sign up while seats last!)
Believe it or not, Evelin has only been decorating cookies for two years, so I’m particularly eager to learn how she became a master of so many methods so darn fast!
JMU: Welcome back, Evelin! It was wonderful to host you for a live chat a few weeks back. Even though we covered lots of ground there, I’m still full of questions for you.
First, I’d love to know a little more about you personally . . . Where do you live? What did you do before you started cookie decorating two years ago?
EM: Hi, and thank you so much for this great opportunity! So, I live in Milan nearby the center. I am a painter. Two years ago, when my son Alessandro started going to nursery school, I decided to again dedicate time to myself. I've always loved to bake, so I opened a blog where I could edit my recipes and photos. In that period, for the first time in my life, I saw on the web a picture of a cookie decorated with royal icing. It was a SweetAmbs' one. It was love at first sight!!! From that moment, I've completely changed my way of thinking about cookies - they can be good to eat and beautiful as art work. What I like the most is that they are so small and quick to realize. I've always painted copies of famous works and decorated huge murals; now I can do the same in less time and at home!
JMU: What are your favorite things to do when you’re not cookie-ing? After all, we all have non-cookie lives!
EM: My primary occupation is, of course, to be a mum. After Alessandro, I have many other passions: classical music, books, painting exhibitions, embroidery, and cooking!
JMU: In your chat, you mentioned that you started painting murals as a little girl. This seems like a super ambitious hobby for a youngster! I might have been doodling at that same age, but I certainly wasn’t painting much of anything then unless, of course, you count my own clothes and hands. How did you get started with mural painting and how has that experience influenced your current cookie work? (NOTE: Those are Evelin's wall paintings below.)
EM: My father is a hobbyist landscape painter. When I was a kid, it was usual for me to play with his oil colors and mess in his room while he was working. Maybe I have a special gift, but since the first time I tried [painting], it has been very easy for me to paint and use colors, more than words. The passage from canvas to cookies was instant.
JMU: So what caused you to move from painting to cookie decorating? Was it simply that cookies are faster to do than big murals, as you alluded to earlier, or was it something else?
EM: Indeed, I am trying to do both work together, but it is difficult. Time is never enough - 80 percent of my time is dedicated to organizing cookie decorating classes. In Italy, this is a very new trend. I hope people are going to appreciate more and more this new kind of art.
JMU: And how did you hone your cookie decorating skills so fast? Was it all by trial and error on your own? Did you take classes? Or did you do something else?
EM: The most difficult thing was to make a perfect run-in icing on cookies; after that, the fun started. When I have an idea, I want to realize it immediately - no time to make patterns or do trials. It is funny, but I became a teacher without being a student. I am an autodidact both in painting and in cookie decorating. Rarely do I prepare a drawn project before starting; it is easier for me to follow my creativity than a pattern!
JMU: You mentioned that you spend 80 percent of your time prepping for cookie decorating classes. Do you also make cookies for sale? Or is teaching cookie decorating your sole cookie occupation?
EM: I don't sell my cookies; I am just teaching how to do them. It's hard to find people ready to spend a fortune on them!
JMU: How have you been able to secure such regular teaching work and to keep up with all of the preparation for it? It’s a challenge for me to do more than one cookie course per month. And even more challenging to have to produce new projects for each new class. What are your secrets for managing this intense teaching pace? For instance, do you always do new projects, or do you have a “stable” of projects that you teach more than once?
EM: This question is really hard!!! The truth is that I don't know where I find the time to do all of this. As I teach often in Milan, I must change projects every time. It takes three days to realize a project, take pictures, make posters, and so on, and three days to bake cookies and prepare all of the materials for the classes. In my city, there are many cake decorating and pastry schools, therefore my teaching work is so regular and intense. When I teach in a different city, I use an "old" project, so I save three days to paint on canvas and play with my son. Almost all of my cookie clips on Cookie Connection have been or will become a course.
JMU: Let’s talk a little bit more about teaching, as I know several of our members are interested in doing more of it themselves. How do you set the curriculum or projects that you are going to teach? And the class format (size, length, hands-on versus demo)? Does the venue dictate both the format and projects that it wants? Or do you determine these things?
EM: I usually determine all of these things. It depends on the project, but often my classes are four hours long.
JMU: Do you have a typical class format, aside from the length of the class? If so, what is it and why?
EM: During the course, I prepare a small quantity of royal icing (different consistencies and colors) with my students. They work with pastry bags already filled, so they just have fun and don't get bored too much. This is another hard thing to do before classes start: fill 50 to 60 bags with different tips, colors, and consistencies! Students try the techniques a few times on samples; then they start decorating on real cookies. Usually, they take home four to five cookies.
JMU: And about that preparation! It is often the most time-consuming part of teaching. Along with filling 50 to 60 pastry bags each time, can you tell readers what the typical cookie/icing prep is for each class? Do you do all of this prep yourself or does the venue assist with any of it? If so, what parts?
EM: I do it all by myself, with no assistants at the moment! Classes usually start at 2 pm, and I begin working on class preparation at 9 am at home and continue at 12 pm at school.
JMU: The work I’ve seen you do and teach is very advanced. How do you go about ensuring that everyone in the class completes your projects and ends up happy with their results? What tips do you have for teaching to the different skill levels that are invariably in each class?
EM: Maybe I've been very lucky in having very good students, but my priority is that people enjoy themselves and finish the projects completely. And I can say they usually do that! Some students have taken home cookies that were more beautiful than mine. Usually I have eight persons per class, so it is easy to move continuously around the table and personally follow everyone.
JMU: And what about your fees and other class terms, such as required deposits, cancellation fees, exclusivity, etc.? Can you share how you go about setting your conditions so that you end up adequately remunerated for both teaching and prep time? And so that you don’t have any surprises before, during, or after the teaching of the class?
EM: Fortunately, schools think about these boring things. They pay me per person after the class.
JMU: Interesting . . . my classes are usually formatted very differently, but I think our discussion just highlights the wide array of teaching opportunities that one can make for oneself . . . classes don't need to be structured the same way to be successful or useful.
What resources or tools, if any, do you use to help hone/continuously improve your teaching skills?
EM: Every day I search for inspiration on websites like Cookie Connection. I use always the same tools: plastic pastry bags, PME tips (mostly 1 for lace and 3 for run-in icing). I save the pictures I like the most and "study" them; that's all.
JMU: You seem to have mastered so many decorating techniques. Do you have a favorite, if so, and why? A least favorite, and why?
EM: Of course, painting because it is easy and quick. Needlepoint is another technique I like very much. The first time I saw it was in a Julia Usher cookie, a Christmas sock one. I said: "I want to try too!" My cookie was nice, but very difficult to do because I used 6X sugar with a PME 0 tip! I love virtuosic works, therefore I like needlepoint; I think it gives a very elegant touch on cookies.
JMU: Well, I'm honored to have inspired you to try needlepoint! It was actually My Little Bakery who inspired me to give it a try a few years ago. It's a small cookie world! But looking at that cat cookie, I would hazard a guess that not many people would find it "easy and quick" to paint like you do.
I see you maintain a blog and an active online presence in various groups like Cookie Connection. Have you ever thought about doing more online teaching, either via YouTube or another online teaching platform?
EM: Okay, you must know I am a disaster with a PC and video shooting! I would like to [do more online teaching], but I am still thinking about it . . . more time needed! I filmed a video, but I am waiting to edit it because I think it is boring and not useful. I still have to work on it, so I'll let you know!
JMU: I doubt it's not useful, so I'll be waiting . . . How do you think your upcoming Cookie’sCool teaching experience is going to be similar to or different than how you teach your classes each weekend? Do you anticipate any unique challenges with the Cookie’sCool classes, and, if so, how are you preparing for them?
EM: They will be different because there will be 15 people and not eight as usual, and people will speak different languages. But no worries at all, because I will have an exquisite assistant who speaks English, French, and a little bit of Spanish, and most of all she is a fantastic cookie decorator too. So, I am sure those classes will be a great, fun experience for everyone. I prepared an advanced project (first photo, below) and a basic one (second photo), so people can choose the one that better fits their needs.
JMU: What are you most looking forward to about Cookie’sCool? Least looking forward to, if anything?
EM: I hope to have understood your question . . . I am looking forward to knowing all of the other teachers and to buying a lot of new cookie cutters and lovely stuff at the stands!
JMU: And, as always, my favorite question for all of my interviewees: After Cookie’sCool, what’s next for you? What one thing would you most like to accomplish in the cookie world? And beyond the cookie world?
EM: Oh, I don't know . . . let's wait and see, I am ready!!!
All cookies designed, crafted, and photographed by Evelin Milanesi.
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!