Interview by Brad Jones of To Cure, a food anthology.
Nathan and Jenn Clark have discovered a recipe for success—success defined not just by making a living, but by making a life. And they found it making marshmallows. Wondermade is an Orlando FL based company giving the classic culinary treat an artisanal twist. Think Bourbon, Lavender, Carrot Cake…all of which are made by hand and packaged with care. Nathan chatted with me about how he got into making mallows and why those made by hand can’t even be compared their Industrial counterpart.
So Nathan, how did you get into gourmet Marshmallow making of all things? Was it to appease your inner S’more eating child?
Actually, the whole thing started as a gift. I was stumped on what to give my wife, Jenn, for Christmas. Fortunately, I heard a piece on NPR about the benefits of candy and I started wondering what it took to make different types . I got to thinking about marshmallows and learned that we had almost all the equipment we needed. The only thing we were missing was a candy thermometer. So under the tree that year Jenn received a candy thermometer and the recipe for making marshmallows.
The first time we cooked the marshmallows it was a revelation. The difference between our first try and the marshmallows we bought at the store was striking – It was like we’d been tricked our entire lives into thinking the cheap store-bought kind were real marshmallows when really they were just cheap marshmallows.
Well I for one appreciate you lifting the wool from our eyes. Certainly it’s hard to go back to the factory version. Speaking of that despicable word “factory”, it sounds like from the outset that your mallow making was different, that it was a family affair?
We’re just a couple who stumbled onto something we really love. We’re both really focused people so locking into Wondermade and creating really fun marshmallows was a natural fit for us. Even better, it’s something we could chase together which is pretty much priceless when you’re married. We’ve got four young children so it’s hard to carve out time for each other. We immediately loved doing this together, so that was a big part of the appeal of throwing ourselves at the science and art of marshmallow-making.
Science, yes! Art, absolutely! But where does craft fit in? What exactly does “hand-crafting” a marshmallow entail?
We’re hands-on every step of the process. But the “hand-crafted” label means more than just making things by hand. When things are machine-made the human touch is focused on rooting out defects. When things are hand-crafted the human touch is directing a product towards perfection. That’s a really huge difference. You’ll never achieve something truly great just by trying to avoid mistakes.
Is it the process of “directing a product towards perfection” through the magic of human handicraft that makes your marshmallows Wondermade?
I’d been using the name “wondermade” for years before we started with the marshmallows. I’d always loved the name, but never had a business behind it. When we sat down to brainstorm names around this burgeoning marshmallows enterprise, we kept hitting deadends. Nothing seemed right. Then my wife rightly pointed out the problem wasn’t that the ideas for names were bad, but the problem is that “Wondermade” was better. It just perfectly captures our joy and vim and wonder that we put into making every box.
You crowd-sourced funding through kickstarter to establish a production space, no? How was that process? Did you find that people were really eager to offer their support for your cause?
It was a blast to Kickstart our very own candy factory. The best part was connecting with so many people who really believed in us. Every supporter was someone literally buying in to the idea that marshmallows could be something truly remarkable. It was such an encouragement and validation. In fact, we’ve got a couple of other ideas we’re thinking about Kickstarting in the coming months, so stay tuned. Our new space is great – it’s big enough to handle the holiday rushes and small enough to keep things intensely personal. There’s something so fun about having a space like this for Wondermade. During the Kickstarter we called it a “Magical Marshmallow Workshop” because the idea that we could have a dedicated space to hand-craft marshmallow is pretty magical. The workshop always smells wonderful, like whatever flavors we just cooked. So we come home smelling like peppermint or chocolate or strawberries often covered in tiny flecks of marshmallows. Really, it’s just a great place to create.
What’s your favorite marshmallow recipe? Or should they just be savored alone?
By themselves, yes… alone, never! Marshmallows are best enjoyed with friends.
Step 1: Invite friends over
Step 2: Open box of marshmallows
Step 3: There’s some opportunity here. You could just share what’s in the box. Or you could take a cookie sheet and lay the marshmallows on graham crackers – broil for a few minutes and you’ll have indoor s’mores. You could even grab a lighter or a torch to toast some skewered marshmallows.