Long before she was choosing the cover of her new cookbook or catering the dessert tables at celebrity weddings, Loria Stern was working the graveyard shift in a cramped bakery. “I wasn’t even making a livable wage,” she remembers, her fingers delicately placing pressed petals onto a small cake in the sunny kitchen of her Los Angeles home. “It was brutal. Baking sounds like this dreamy job but it’s a lot of lifting 50-pound sacks of flour and standing on your feet for eight hours a day.”
If anyone could be called an overnight success, it would be Loria. A single feature on Vogue.com literally helped launch her edible-flower cookie business in a day, thanks to some 50,000 new Instagram followers hungry for her mail-order creations. The orders have never tapered — but it was the years of unseen work Loria put in behind kitchen doors that made Eat Your Flowers more than just a dream.
As told to SeaVees. Photography by Johnie Gall.
“I wasn’t able to take something creative like studio art or architecture during college because I was there first as a tennis player—those majors were not permitted when you play a Division 1 sport. My friends were all studio artists though, and we spent so much of our time just painting together — I ended up moving to Brooklyn with some of them. That’s where I got hit by a car.
My roommate and I were riding our bikes around the city when a man pulled out of his driveway and just didn’t see me. I had a little dog in my bike basket — my roommate said when I got hit, we both went flying and the dog landed at her feet (the dog was okay). I don’t remember anything from the accident, but I broke my pelvis and wasn’t able to walk for a year. Then, just as I was healing, my father got sick. I moved back to the small California town of Ojai that I grew up in to try to help care for him before he passed.
I didn’t have a job, but a local vegan cafe was hiring and I’d always liked cooking, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to pick up some shifts there. I worked as the cafe’s vegetable prep chef for two years, the whole time teaching myself how to bake via Youtube videos. I would bring my own vegan cakes to the cafe and we’d slice and sell them there. Baking was just something I was having fun with, but the lightbulb hadn’t really gone off yet. Then one day it did, and I thought, ‘I want to be a pastry chef.’ I found a bakery job: four days a week, 10pm to 5am, in a kitchen that was maybe the size of two couches pushed together. The baking was fun, but the job itself was brutal, so that led to another job at a fancy hotel as a pastry chef. I never went to culinary school, which was a requirement at the hotel, so I took photos of the cakes I had made and asked them to take a chance on me so I could prove what I could do. I persistently believed in myself, so they did, too.
“Baking was just something I was having fun with, but the lightbulb hadn’t really gone off yet.”
At some point I decided I wanted to be a cake designer. I wanted to work with this one chef who is famous for his extremely intricate cakes that are decorated with sugar flowers — they can take six months to make and cost $50,000. He wasn’t available, so I applied to apprentice with other extreme cake designers, but when I landed a gig with one I pretty quickly realized that their business model relied on free labor from culinary students, that was not for me. Next was a stint at Milk Bar, then a European-style bakery where they made everything from scratch, down to the butter, I worked there for 2 years, while also working as a private chef to pay the bills. I’d do my gig at the bakery from 3am to noon, then go to Whole Foods to shop and prepare meals for my private clients and often wouldn’t get home until 10pm. Those days were long and grueling, but I learned how to work hard.
At some point during all of this, I had enrolled in an edible and medicinal plant class at my local city college, where we were led on hikes by a Native American professor to learn about foraging. I never forgot how fascinating it was to learn that I was surrounded by food. One day a friend of mine hired me to bake desserts for a Georgia O’Keefe-themed baby shower, and I immediately decided to incorporate flowers. I made a prickly pear jasmine sorbet, some flower pressed shortbread cookies, and pies with flowers on them. They were a hit, and I had another lightbulb moment.
Experimenting baking with botanicals became a passion. It was chemistry, science and art all in one — different botanicals behave differently once baked. Lavender has bright purple petals, but you bake them and they turn brown. Pomegranate petals stay bright orange. I got really obsessed with how different botanicals behave and started posting them on Instagram, and eventually I was tapped to provide cookies for a big-name DJ’s wedding. Vogue Magazine covered the wedding, and the cookies were featured. Within days, I started getting emails from people with ‘Vogue.com’ in their addresses asking if they could buy my flower-pressed sugar cookies. Vogue ended up featuring me in a video series and I got 50,000 Instagram followers overnight. The orders started coming in, and they’ve honestly just never stopped. I was totally overwhelmed because I had no idea how to ship cookies or build a website or start a business.
It’s funny, I think some people want to start a business and they don’t know what their product will be. They know the branding, the name, the website, the launch plan, but they don’t know what they’re offering. For me, it was the exact opposite — I knew I was making something people loved and the rest I’m still figuring out. There were so many disasters early on, like whole batches of cookies arriving totally broken. Shipping cookies requires a ton of packaging and I don’t love creating waste although I’m not not going to mail people pretty cookies because I don’t want to buy shipping boxes.
I’m constantly learning. One time I got a bunch of fennel fronds from the market and put those on my cookies. We baked them and shipped them and I got a call from a customer going, ‘Is this a joke? These cookies look like they are covered in pubic hair. How can you sell these?’ I guess fennel fronds do end up looking like little hairs when you bake them [laughs]. I just thought they were pretty but looking at it through the customer’s eyes all the sudden I realized how horrible they looked. That was so embarrassing. Oh my God, I’m cringing right now thinking about it.
I remember going to sleep one night and it hit me: “You’ve been in Vogue and Oprah Magazine three times.” It’s when I realized I had had imposter syndrome for years. For all that time I didn’t put my entire focus on my cookie business because I was plagued with intrusive thoughts about no one ordering the following week, of people losing interest. It’s only in the past few years I’ve given myself permission to take this seriously, to hire a good team, to get a trademark and create infrastructure for my company. And I finally came up with a name: Eat Your Flowers.
It’s one thing to create something and another to see it through. My advice to anyone starting out on a dream is to learn as much about it as you possibly can: buy every book, watch every Youtube video, invest in the classes. You really have to believe in yourself to be able to chase a dream, because people are going to say things that might otherwise deter you. People have said to me, ‘You’re not the first person to have this idea.’ And I respond, ‘Maybe not, but I’m doing it a different way that hasn't been done before.’ Adhering flowers onto baked goods with egg whites is an age old technique, however, pressing flowers onto raw cookie dough and then baking, is entirely new process which I have not seen before. I know my specific way of baking flowers onto cookies is original, and that means there will always be more ideas where that one came from. It’s not about having one specific idea — it’s knowing that I came up with it and I will constantly come up with other ideas. If you’re confident enough in your ability to innovate, you’ll never truly doubt yourself.”
Loria wears the Vegan Corn Leather SeaChange LLT.