A Chef Who Turns French Pastries into Joy and Exploration
Katie Tandy |
June 26, 2018
Lindsay Kinder went from selling life insurance to helping others unlock their creativity through food.
There are few things more tender than a home-cooked meal and few things more inspiring than a human who gives up everything to follow a dream. Lindsay Kinder, founder of Food La La, offers both.
Food La La is one part private chef–ing, one part cooking classes, and all parts joy and exploration. “For me, cooking for other people is a form of love,” Lindsay says. “It’s a way to take care of someone in a small moment. When you play with food or drinks, you can make it more your own, put your own stamp on it. And I think people notice the little things you added or changed or did. It says a lot about your intention and wanting them to experience something different.”
At the crux of Lindsay’s delectable dishes is the French macaron, a specialty that’s made her the toast of the San Francisco foodie scene. But Lindsay’s version turns the classic recipe inside out and upside-down, using fresh, modern, and even shocking ingredients — candied ginger and wasabi, anyone? — which can even be designed to embellish clever takes on your favorite cocktails. Watch her put together her delectable “Wasabi Mule”:
Creativity runs in the family
Growing up in Seattle, Lindsay says a celebration of creation was part and parcel of her family’s fabric: Her father is a writer and her mother owned a hair-bow company. These intrinsic threads of imagination and inventiveness followed her to USC in Los Angeles, where she studied business, focusing on entrepreneurship.
“I loved the stories of how these companies were made and what people had to do to make it happen,” Lindsay says. “And I had always enjoyed cooking and experimenting and entertaining, but really didn’t know much about food from a more technical perspective.”
image courtesy of Lindsay Kinder
Lindsay graduated at the height of the recession in 2009 — “right when the economy tanked” — and suddenly, “some of my very qualified, very smart friends weren’t getting jobs.” She found herself in a black power-suit with a great salary selling life insurance. For the next five years, her curiosity and delight about food was a bit waylaid, but her entrepreneurial spirit soared.
A one-way ticket to French food dreams
Linsday’s insurance job gave her a surprising amount of flexibility and autonomy, and soon she started a small flower shop in Los Angeles, “peddling flowers on the side.” “I’d be running to the flower market in downtown L.A. in my suit, designing these arrangements, buying them wholesale, and selling them to university events and I realized I was getting so much more excited about selling $50 flower arrangements than a $50,000 life insurance policy.”
While Lindsay’s love for food would prove to eclipse her fondness for flowers, this first foray into entrepreneurship lay the foundation for Food La La.
image from the Food La La Instagram
Lindsay soon found herself in a management training program, being groomed to take over her boss’s job. But the more she learned about the gig, the less interested she became… and suddenly something snapped. “I thought, If I take this position, I’ll dig my roots in so much deeper and wake up when I’m 40 and say what on earth did I do?!’”
She decided to quit her job, pack a “giant magenta suitcase,” and buy a one-way ticket to France. “I needed a pilgrimage by myself — I wanted to learn about where great food comes from. I had to trust that this was the right move — I felt I needed to go and have this experience. I believed the path would just unfold, and it did!”
From Louviers to foie gras to Gastronomicom
During her first bout in France, Lindsay studied under Susan Herrmann Loomis, a renowned authority and author on French cooking, while staying in her 14th-century home in Louviers. She then joined Baptiste, an organic farmer, helping him harvest and sell produce at the local farmer’s market and delivering it to Michelin-starred restaurants. “Baptiste farms with the cycles of the moon! We were up at 5 a.m. together picking his prized cherry tomatoes and driving his truck down long cobblestone streets.”
Next Lindsay worked on a foie gras farm, learning the art of foraging, confit, paté, and truly honoring the life of an animal. “Most people can’t even point out where on the animal a cut of meat is from,” Lindsay says. “But at the farm, nothing was wasted — not one thing. It was extraordinary to see.”
image from Food La La
She then headed to an organic, biodynamic winery for their vendange — the wine harvest — and studied under the renowned chefs of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. But perhaps the most pivotal of all her experiences in France was at Gastronomicom, a cooking school on the Mediterranean where Lindsay perfected her now celebrated technique with the macaron.
The chemistry of cookies and edible pearls
“Macarons are simple and very elegant, and there is so much you can do with them!” Lindsay enthuses. “Color, size, shape, decoration — there are so many ways to make them unique and special. Macarons are actually the only ‘baking thing’ that I do because baking is very different from cooking — it’s chemistry.”
“I gravitate toward cooking in general because you can add this and that — there is more room to play. Most baking is very rigid, but macarons — once you get that technique right — can be so creative.”
But Lindsay’s discovery that she could delightfully subvert the classically sweet confection into something savory took another chapter of self-discovery and struggle once she was back stateside.
The first macaron class
“I came back to the U.S., and 2015 was a weird year,” Lindsay says with a laugh. “I moved back with my mom to Seattle and began throwing pop-up dinners with our friends in San Francisco, where my boyfriend — now husband — lived. I would take days to set up and days to clean up. I was making about $80 by the time everything was said and done.”
Lindsay says she was exhausted and broke until she started to realize that everyone had gravitated toward her macarons, so she decided to put together a macaron class in a little cooking shop in Seattle.
“My first class had about six or seven people and half were my family, but I studied so hard! I knew all about the egg whites and their chemical reaction with the sugar. I was so prepared for anything anyone could throw at me. Then I taught this class and it was total magic!”
She started teaching more classes and launched Food La La in December 2016. “San Francisco has been a tremendous city to be in this line of work. People are craving a unique experience and willing to try crazy things. People are adventurous in what they’re eating and drinking here. We have so much room to play!”
Through Food La La, Lindsay does tasting events with her savory macarons as well as corporate team-buildings, where she offers elaborate macaron bars; together she and her students make different shells, creams, and decorate their concoctions with edible pearls, crystals, and colored icing. Everyone gets to take home a “bedazzled box of macarons they made themselves.”
Lindsay says that the best part of chasing her food dreams is that now she gets to use food to “help people unlock their creativity and engage with it. Most adults in San Francisco are glued to a computer all day, doing very tech-heavy activities. To see them light up when they can put that aside and play with something is wonderful. When you make something beautiful and everyone says, ‘Did you make that?!’ I love empowering people to have that feeling.”
Watch artists playing with their food in very creative ways here.
To get to know the elaborate, messy world of edible art, go here.
To read about artists reimagining restaurants, click here.
Get a taste of 9 of the world’s food museums here.