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Meet Lea Marie Dennis

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lea Marie Dennis.

Lea Marie, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
My path was definitely a meander – I never planned to develop the business I was eventually inspired to start. You can say, I discovered my path as I discovered my own strengths and interests.

I went to SDSU for art, and after school, maintained a sculpture studio and practice. I began to work as a cook and also started a service preparing salads and meals for home delivery. Eventually, I was offered a position as the Estate Chef for a really wonderful family. I learned to cater parties and was offered the opportunity to submit a menu and event design for Orchids & Onions, San Diego’s annual architecture awards & roast. I partnered with Snake Oil Cocktail Company, and together we put on a really beautiful event.

From there, I began working with the San Diego Symphony, the La Jolla Music Society, the Mingei International Museum, the Natural History Museum, the SDMA, and other incredibly special art & music institutions in San Diego. You could say that as a caterer, I came back around full circle to the love of art, music, architecture and design I received my education in. At every step, the critical decision-making process that is rigorously trained in art school served me, in that I was prepared to anticipate and consider every detail in creating a dining experience. Beyond just food, catering is about creating environments where every dish and tablecloth looks and feels just right, and sends just the right message.

Recently, I have launched a line of cookies called Sugar Kiln, offering really incredible traditional soft cookies, and some thin, crisp, shortbread-style cookies with colorful finishes inspired by my love for ceramics and the Pantone spectrum. This again has brought me full circle back to my love for curating color and interesting patterns. We are actively trying to grow the cookie line now, and so right now my focus is on finding vendor partnerships and catering opportunities for the cookies.

We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
One thing that was deeply ingrained in me in art school was that every material matters. In food, this translates to the importance of the quality of the food. Is it an amazing ingredient? Is it unusual, or comforting, or common? Second, every color and texture matters. As a caterer, I pay so much attention to the color, feeling and design of each plate or table. A plate or table can be playful, kitschy, campy, and fun. Or, they can be elegant, dark, modern, and mysterious. I can even embed geometry, moire and texture into a cheese plate. The material is food, but my approach is the same as when I worked as an artist. Third, experience matters. Linens, ceramics, florals, lighting, these are all potential variables that can be controlled for a specific design outcome.

Now we are focusing on these cookies, and the colorful shortbread have endless creative variables: color palettes can be curated to match an interior or theme, like “pop art” or “Palm Springs” for example. They can also be designed for a specific cafe or shop, or a designer’s theme, like “Margiela, 2018”, or customized to a palette selected by a designer or architect. We are also working on a unique and very special gift box, so the colorful cookies can be a gift that creative professionals and designers might really enjoy sending to their partners and clients.

Another thing I strive for can’t really be put into categories – to make a surprisingly good cookie. We make a traditional chocolate chip cookie, but my goal was to test and vary this cookie over and over and over again until the flavor, texture, appearance, and uniformity was on another level. Chocolate chip cookies are a really common thing. So how do you make it so good that someone stops for a moment and notices the difference? What I wanted, was for people to bite into the cookie and say, “Oh….. Wow”.

With the shortbread, I’ve done the same, searching for flavors and textures and weights that are special even before any brand or packaging comes in to express my style as an artist. For some shortbread, we make our own flours from nuts and seeds so we can control the sandiness or snap of the cookie. All these things really matter to me, and that kind of thinking goes back to the design critiques we were held accountable to in art school.

Do you have any advice for other artists? Any lessons you wished you learned earlier?
If I were to give advice to other artists and creative professionals, I would say not to put limits on your creative identity. Allow your work to go in any direction you feel activates your drive, inspiration, and work ethic. See yourself in terms of your capacities for aesthetic and creative decision making, rather than being tied to one medium.

For me, I found that by letting go of being a visual artist, I discovered it was the creative process and struggle, not the medium, that was most satisfying to me. In fact, my work has expanded in all directions because I let go of that strict identity. And now, collaborations with clients and other designers have brought me back to the art world that I thought I was letting go of.

Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
Since opening my business I understand even more than before how important it is to choose a local business whenever possible, in that we are casting a vote that facilitates the creative variety and authenticity of our community. It’s exactly the same as voicing or silencing new ideas. Likewise, I’m really happy to partner with restaurants, cafes, and businesses started by locals like myself, and we set up the pricing structure so the business owner or arts institution selling our products benefit as much as we can give.

Right now, my cookies are sold at Panama 66, the Mingei Cafe, the Natural History Museum, and Heart & Trotter Butchery, and we are actively looking for new partnerships. In addition to cafe and catering sales, we want to design creative, unique desserts with the cookies to be on the menu at our favorite restaurants, from diner to fine dining. There are so many ways for us to support each other as a community, and ideally, those relationships work both ways. And we all get some awesome cookies.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Barbara Smith, Elena Kulikova Studio, Dawn Photo

Getting in touch: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

2 Comments

  1. Carolee

    August 3, 2018 at 6:05 pm

    I have known Lea Marie since her early days of culinary exploriation. She has such a creative way of approaching unusual ingredients, things that are truly extraordinary.
    I can’t wait to eat her cookies!

    • Lea Marie Dennis

      August 5, 2018 at 1:52 am

      Carolee! We must have a coffee date soon! Thanks for your kind comments here.

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