Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Got a Girl Crush On Joy the Baker

Written by Lisa Butterworth
Photos by Kate Miss

When I arrive at Joy Wilson’s charming, breezy house on an impossibly gorgeous day in Venice, CA, I’m greeted at the open front door by a cake. On the floor. “Welcome!” Wilson says as she emerges, camera in hand. I realize suddenly that I’ve stumbled into the middle of a photo session that is no doubt intended for her mouthwatering blog Joy the Baker.

This is where the thirty-year-old posts her triumphs in the kitchen (recent winners include peach cobbler scones and strawberry cream puffs with chocolate sauce), but it’s not only her tantalizing recipes and eye-popping photography that make her blog so captivating. It’s also her attitude. She’s got a sassy writing style and an infections lust for life that’s just as appealing as the magic she works with butter and sugar. 

Joy's first book, Joy the Baker Cookbook: 100 Simple and Comforting Recipes, was released last year, and she’s on the cover rocking a sleeveless dress that shows her shoulder tattoo, something she had to convince her publisher not to airbrush away. And that’s just another reason to love Wilson. She is unapologetically herself, whether you like it or not. 

The two of us recently sat down to chat just after she kicked her self-funded book tour. We dug into the cake—a cornmeal visitor’s cake (“It’s the sort of thing that you have every ingredient [for],” she says. “You can make it, put it in the oven, and go take a shower really fast”)—and fawned over her fluffy marmalade cat Jules Steven while we talked getting fired, late night baking, mean reviews, and Julia Child.

Lisa: Judging by the photos on your blog, your first book signing was a big success.

Joy: We had over 120 people. Isn’t that crazy?! That was exactly my reaction when I went to stand up in front of people. I was like “Oh my god! You guys!” And then I started to cry. [laughs]

Lisa: Can you tell me about the evolution of your blog?

It’s all super-haphazard. I feel like at any moment I might just have to go get a waitressing job, nothng is secure. I started the blog four years ago. I was working two jobs, as a baker and as a fromagier at another restaurant. So I would bake in the mornings, have a few hours off, go work a night shift at the restaurant, and I would come home at midnight and start blogging because I was crazy. I got let go from my baking job, and a year and a half later I got fired from the restaurant.

Lisa: You got fired?

Joy:  I know! Who gets fired from a restaurant? [laughs] They fired the whole cheese staff. That’s when I was like OK, I might be able to pull this off; it was the push off the cliff. So I got rid of everything [to save money]—gym, cable, Internet, which was crazy because I really needed that. But I would just go to this coffee shop down the street where I could get it for free. I moved to a tiny, gross place with weird Craigslist people, and in a few months I finished the book proposal that I was totally slacking on when I had a job.

Lisa: You’re a self-taught baker. Do you ever feel self-conscious that you didn’t go to culinary school?

Joy: No, I feel like I have a style of baking that is not the style they teach at the French culinary school. And I’m totally down with that. I have books upon books of baking technique, and in the beginning I would read about different kinds of yeasts and how they react with different flours, and I would go try it myself in the kitchen.

Lisa: It seems like your family has had a big influence on your style in the kitchen.

Joy: My dad is a really good at-home baker. He would work the graveyard shift at the post office and come home at four in the morning. He would always want to bake something ’cause he was hungry, so he would make waffles or pancakes or cookies. He would wake my sister and me up and make us help him. My dad—and also my aunt DeeDee, who was blind—taught me a lot about how to bake. When I was a kid, she’d teach me about how things are supposed to feel, like batters. Oftentimes her cakes would be totally crazy looking and her frosting would be lumpy, but it tasted really good.

Lisa: A lot of your recipes are comfort food. What is it about food that you find comforting? Is it the process of making it or eating it afterward?

Joy: I think it’s both. It’s the whole kitchen process. Whenever I think of something I want to make, I try to think of a feeling I want or a person that I want to remember. Like, if I’m thinking of my Aunt DeeDee, she always made this spice cake with lemon and chocolate in it, which sounds sort of crazy but it’s really delicious. Comfort is what people want from food. I think they’re one and the same.

Lisa: Do you have a huge sweet tooth?

I do have a big sweet tooth, but I think I just have a big food tooth. [laughs] ’Cause I like cake, but I also really like cheeseburgers and enchiladas and breakfast sandwiches. Baking is where I landed, but I just really love food a lot.

Lisa: The food blogging world, actually blogging in general, seems to be run by women. Do you find that to be the case?

Joy: When I think of bloggers I think of ladies. I think it’s because we have patience and want to make pretty things. It’s really cool. And it makes a lot of the blogging world, especially the food blogging world, super supportive. I mean, women aren’t always super supportive of each other, but I’ve found that the community is so, “Go you!” I did get one bad review on Amazon—someone said that my book was a pathetic cry for a husband. [laughs] It says so much more about the reviewer than it does about me.

Lisa: Who are some of your current girl crushes?

Joy: Waylynn Lucas, she’s an amazing pastry chef. She opened a gluten-free/vegan donut shop called Fonuts. She has tattoos on her arms; she’s such a rock star. Who else? Bri Emery, she’s an L.A. graphic designer with a blog called Design Love Fest. And Kate Holt, she’s a florist who does flowers for TV, and all the flowers for Chateau Marmont. Her company is called Flower Wild and she’s self-taught too. I met her seven years ago when she had just started her first shop, and I was working at the coffee shop down the street from her. She’s really taken off, and it’s all just from a passion.

Lisa: You mentioned in an interview I read that if you could invite anyone to dinner, it would be Julia Child.

Joy:  Yeah, I love her. I used to watch her cooking show on PBS when I was little. She was just so silly! It was like watching Sesame Street for me. She’s such a character, and so big and sometimes clumsy, and her voice seems cartoonish. I thought that was a kid's show—I really did. [laughs] And then Jacques Pépin would come on after her, and I would be eight-years-old watching, like, “Show me how to roast a chicken!” I think that was my culinary school. Classy. [laughs]

This is a repost from the site Got a Girl Crush.

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