Cake talk: interview with Jen Lo - Meltdown Artisan - Professional Cake Maker and Decorator | Commie’s Cupcakes

Cake talk: interview with Jen Lo - Meltdown Artisan

I'm so excited to introduce you to Jen Lo. She's the incredible, creative mind behind Meltdown Artisan - your new favourite chocolate shop!

Cake decorator turned chocolatier, Jen truly heroes her ingredients and wows us with her unexpected flavour combinations - think Saffron Barberry, Chilli Pineapple and Wakoucha chocolate #wow.

She also ensures all of her ingredients are 100% traceable and sustainable, which makes me love her even more!

In today's interview, Jen gives us insight into how she develops her own chocolate flavours, her thoughts on natural vs fake flavourings and talks about the importance of looking after your mental health while while running your own business.

Her delectable and delightful handmade, artisan chocolates are to die for!

 

I "knew you" back when you were Bakedown Cakery, and it's been inspiring to see you rebrand as Meltdown Artisan and transition into your new passion: chocolate. Re-focusing your business can be scary, but exciting. What originally sparked your interest in chocolate making? And when did you realise it was time to 'move on' from cake decorating?

If I’m honest I can’t remember exactly where the spark came from—I think for me it was a part of learning how to decorate cake. So many people wanted chocolate garnishes or decorations that it felt like a skill I just needed to learn. I guess by doing so, I really discovered that I enjoyed the process and the freedom to experiment quickly and easily with a delicious medium. I’m also notorious for becoming obsessive very quickly—making chocolate feels efficient and productive. It’s a running joke in my family that I would have made a great factory worker on some sort of production line!

Over time I’ve realised that it’s more than making beautiful things. We, as makers and creatives have a huge responsibility to make sure we’re doing things as sustainably and ethically as possible. When I started, I used really cheap chocolate, working my way up to the more premium brands—now I won’t work with anything unless it’s 100% traceable and sustainable.

It’s also probably important to distinguish the difference between being a chocolate maker and a chocolatier. While I am dabbling in both, my business is predominantly based on making CHOCOLATES as a chocolatier—using chocolate that has already been processed, re-tempering and adding my own flavours and spin to them. Making CHOCOLATE is about taking the cocoa bean and taking it through the  entire process such as roasting, cracking and winnowing, grinding, coaching and tempering.

Hopefully more of the latter to come. I believe this is the best way to make a direct positive impact on the cocoa industry. I realised it was time to leave cake behind when it no longer fit in with my ethos—if anything it was almost a passion that died gradually over time. Turning an outlet into a job can make it hard to sustain.

You put so much thought and detail into developing your product range; from your sought-after chocolate blocks to your delectable bon bons. My personal favourites are the Crack Koalas, Face Pops and Face Bark <<< such a fun (and yummy) gift idea. How do you generate ideas for new products, that will a) appeal to your target market and b) become a regular sell out?  

 

Thank you so much!! A lot of my ideas come from things that I personally would consume…I believe there is no point making something unless it genuinely excites you. I think about my ideal audience—who are they, what interests them? I like to think that we’re all looking for something to challenge what we already know—pushing the boundaries of our palates, but also keeping things fresh, natural and in some cases nostalgic. Truthfully, many of them are ideas that have appeared quickly—often when I overthink an idea it never performs the same way as a product that comes from a gut feeling.

You have an innate ability to create the most incredible flavour pairings for your chocolate, including 'Chilli Pineapple', 'Genmaicha Oreo Strawberry' and 'Coffee Wattleseed Sour Cherry'. Can you give us some insight into how you develop and test new flavours for your chocolate? And can you offer advice for those of us who want to try experimenting with different flavours, but not sure where to start?

A lot of the process starts with the ingredient. I find something that sounds interesting to me and think — can I make that work? If I’m not sure it will work, it often makes me want to try it more—in this way you end up changing or developing different techniques that you may not have thought about before. 

I also spend A LOT of time researching ingredients, trying to source things that are packed with flavour in a natural way—ones that will really complement the flavour profile of the chocolate. So in some way the chocolate inspires the flavour journey. From there, it can take a week or months of tweaking to land on a final flavour.

You boast the use of natural flavourings in your chocolate, which is a big tick from me. Can you explain the importance and impact of using natural flavours vs using fake flavouring in your chocolates?

Well, first and foremost it seems silly to say—but the importance IS the natural flavour! For me, there is nothing better than tasting something the way nature intended. It tastes fresh, not chemical. By trying to source natural, you pose yourself a challenge to be better—and you also get the opportunity to support other businesses that hero quality and flavour over pumping things full with additives and colourings. 

Personally, I find artificial flavours an incredibly lazy way to work. Not to mention that what you consume has a direct impact on your physical and mental wellbeing.

The ups and downs of business can be extreme and it's refreshing to see you address the struggles and demands of business (including mental health) on your social feeds. You 'keep it real' and invite discussion - thank you. What advice do you have for people who struggle with mental health and are finding it hard to be present in their own business?

This is such an important question. I think a lot of us that go into running our own businesses are creatively inclined—we may not be so equipped to deal with the ins and outs of actually doing the more left brained logical side of actually maintaining and managing a BUSINESS, and that for me at least, is one of the most taxing and mentally draining parts. You need to listen to your mind and your body and know when to rest. I have spent the last 5 years learning this the hard way, so really I should be listening to my own advice.

TAKE BREAKS AND MAKE CHANGE WHERE NEEDED 
You will continue to break down time and time again if you don’t make changes where they count—if you keep finding yourself back in the same spot, ask WHY and make changes to break the cycle.

TRY NOT TO STRESS ABOUT THE THINGS YOU CAN’T CONTROL
This is something I am continuously working hard at—if it’s beyond your control, there is no point stressing about it. Try your best to ride the wave…to use the words of Mark Twain—“Worry is like paying a debt you don’t owe”.

THERE ARE MORE WAYS TO PAY FOR THINGS THAN FINANCIALLY 
This is a lesson that my husband gave to me last year—business can have more than just a financial cost. It can cost you mentally and if you allow it to continue to do that long-term, you will find that it takes a toll on your physically too.

Last year I went through an incredibly stressful 6 months. Once I decided that enough was enough, my body collapsed. I am still dealing with the repercussions and probably will for the rest of my life. You cannot go through your business life living in survival mode. Your body and mind can only take so much. That being said;

PRIORITISE YOUR HEALTH 
If your business is taking up 100% of your headspace all the time, don’t be stubborn and say “there isn’t time to do anything for me”. YOU HAVE TO MAKE THAT TIME. Without you, there is no business.

www.meltdownartisan.com

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