Chicago blogger and baker, Natalie Slater, escapes all stereotypes. At a glance, you may think that you’ve got her all figured out, but spend an afternoon (or a week) reading through the content of her blog, BakeandDestroy.net, and you will surely reform your assumptions, time and again. Part of what you will uncover is that Natalie is a tech-savvy, self-promotion guru, a loving and supportive mother and wife, a veritable repository of counter-culture factoids, and a hell of a baker.
She is also a dear friend of mine, having put up with my disappearances and re-appearances over the years, and as such, has agreed to kick-start One Round Jack with the following question and answer session. When you are finished reading, be sure to check out her celebrated blog!
ORJ- Many people know you as the author of the Bake and Destroy blog, will you comment on the origins of your site and why cupcakes and punk rock make such a great pair?
NS- I’ve always been a baker. When I was younger I was filling a simple need- making cookies and cakes with my mom was the simplest route to making my sweet tooth happy. Then, when I got older and started really getting interested in making things myself, baking jumped out from all the other options… mostly because I can’t sew or draw or play any instruments. After my son Teno was born, I was baking like crazy; every time he took a nap I was whipping something up in the kitchen. I was looking for a way to keep up with friends and family who didn’t keep the same “mom schedule” I did (early mornings, 9pm bed time) so I started a hybrid personal journal/recipe blog. Some of my updates were about Teno, and others were about the brownies I’d made. Over time it got to be more and more about food, and I had to start Teno his own blog so he didn’t get lost in the recipes.
ORJ- I think that a lot of your readers look up to you because you always say what you think, which is maybe indicative of your trajectory in life (having less to do with what is expected of you and more to do with what you expect of yourself). Do you agree, and if so, what advice can you offer someone else who is looking to take a less conventional path towards personal happiness and professional achievement?
NS- Well, thank you, I hope you’re right. If you knew my mom, sister and grandma you’d know exactly where I got the balls to say what I think. The women in my family have a proud history of telling it like it is. The truth is, my expectations for myself are pretty high. I never smoke or drink, I don’t eat meat, I’m committed to a handful of non-profits I feel strongly about, I’m a loyal friend and devoted wife and mom. I’m my own toughest critic and my biggest struggles come from me doubting myself when I need to tap into the confidence that I try to always exude. So I don’t really need anyone else’s expectations, because mine are already tough.
I hear all the time from people who are hoping to achieve a certain goal despite their alternative education, unconventional style, etc., and my advice is always the same: hard work pays off. Tattoos, no tattoos; Ivy league education or not, if you educate yourself on exactly what needs to be done to achieve your goals, set your personal expectations high, and work your ass off, only good things will
ORJ- How has becoming a mom changed your priorities/has becoming a mom changed your priorities?
NS- Being responsible for another person changes everything. I probably would have been happy to keep working in restaurants, and spending all my money on shoes if Teno hadn’t come along. I remember, right before his first birthday, we visited my grandparents in their retirement village in Florida. We were having breakfast right on the water while my grandma contemplated a day of driving her golf cart around and maybe taking a nap and I thought to myself, “I want this. I want to do something in life that allows me to do whatever I feel like doing when
I’m older.” We got back to Chicago, took out two student loans and I worked my ass off for one year finishing my journalism degree. I took everything I learned in my marketing classes and transformed myself from a blogger to a brand. Then I used my personal brand to get myself magazine coverage, TV appearances, and more importantly, a job in marketing doing the same thing for other people’s brands.
ORJ- Your “brand” has always incorporated networking and image management, online and off. Has being a mom affected this? What do you think of the latent stereotype that suggests, “Mom’s aren’t feminists” (ie. stay at home mom, soccer mom, etc. and how these labels are viewed and used)?
NS- It’s cliche, but being a stay-at-home mom is the HARDEST job in the world. By the time my husband got home from work, I was physically exhausted and mentally drained. From 5am until 6pm, my entire day was consumed with carrying around a 25 lb baby, feeding him, changing him, begging him to take a nap, cleaning up after him, doing laundry, paying our bills, running errands… I couldn’t wait to go back to some job and deal with my boss’ crap all day long. If it meant being able to pee with the door shut, I was willing to do anything. If the basic philosophy of feminism is that men and women are, and should be treated as equals, then yes, being a mom is definitely a radical, feminist action. I would happily put motherhood toe-to-toe with any traditionally masculine role. Lion tamer, professional wrestler, construction worker… you name it. And to answer the first part of your question, I think being a real mom helped me to take what could have otherwise been a run-of-the-mill image: mouthy, tattooed girl… big deal, to something that people can relate to no matter what. If you’re a foodie, you feel me. A mom? You get it. A punk rocker? You’ll get my jokes. But that unavoidable “softening” effect having a kid has on most normal people definitely took me from what might have been an abrasive image to one that I think most people can relate to.
ORJ- What was your experience like on the Food Network, and has being on television altered your status quo in any way?
NS- My first experience on TV was pretty major – I filmed a pilot for a show on Food Network called Cupcake Wars. So I went from being a blogger who could say and do whatever she felt like, to a prop on set that had to say what I was told to say and wear what I was told to wear. It was a rude awakening to say the least. Anything that might be funny or interesting about my personality was definitely
edited out by a handful of TV producers trying to make me what they wanted me to be. In the end, they told me they needed a “Simon” to Sprinkles Cupcakes owner, Candace Nelson’s “Paula”, and I just wasn’t it.
For the first time in my life I wasn’t a big enough asshole for someone, go figure. But after that, I was on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight a few times – it’s a local news show, so it’s a far cry from the national spotlight of Food Network. But they liked me for me, and I’ve really enjoyed every experience I’ve had there. I just finished up some test reels for Super Fine Films, and they’re hoping to shop me around as a traveling food show host. Being that I haven’t exactly become a household name yet, I don’t feel like any of the TV stuff has changed the way I do things on Bake and Destroy. If anything, they’ve encouraged me to stick to my guns because the one time I didn’t (Cupcake Wars) was a total waste of time.
ORJ- Do you think that the internet is in a position to supplant television as the primary source of culture for Americans; has it already? Or, do you see multiple platforms for delivering information (sometimes the same information) as continuing to coexist?
NS- Good question! I do feel like more and more people are choosing the Internet over TV these days – most likely because it gives them a platform to be whoever they want, project whatever image they want to project… or just to be a voyeur and poke in and out of other people’s Internet lives. There’s so much give and take online - whatever you put out there, even if it’s a status update to 15
Facebook friends, runs the potential for getting a reaction. With television, at least right now, it’s still very much a “take” situation. You just sit there and take it in. Nothing you say, or think, or do changes the fact that Sam and Ronnie are fighting again and you’re sitting there watching it. (And believe me, I watch it, so I’m not judging.) I mean, they appeal to different personality types for sure – I’m very social, and I’ve always been online since my parents had Prodigy back in the day. When something new comes out I have a profile on it before most people have even heard of it. My husband Tony, on the other hand, can’t imagine why anyone would want to read his Tweets… or why he’d want to read anyone else’s. As much as I love the interaction you can get online, I do spend at least an hour a
day just sitting there mindlessly watching Andrew Zimmern eat something’s intestines or watching designers compete for Michael Kors’ approval. I spend my entire day thinking and making decisions about things; I need that time where nothing I do matters.
ORJ- Can readers find your baked goods on sale anywhere in Chicago?
NS- Since I’ve become an office dweller, I’m not baking for any cafes anymore, but I do still take special orders once in a while. I have secret donut shop plans in the works with a friend of mine, but we’re both going to focus on our day jobs for now, so if it happens, it can happen exactly the way we picture it.
ORJ- Here’s a game; hopefully, you’ll feel like playing. After reading the following words, write what immediately comes into your mind after each one: a. The Chicago Bears, b. The Chicago Cubs, c. fake meat products, d. Gary, Indiana, e. Rahm Emanuel, f. The Willis Tower, g. your people
NS- The Chicago Bears – December 2005. I was 9 months pregnant, standing
in the snow with my dad watching the Bears play the Packers. Listening
to him heckle cheese-heads is one of my most cherished memories. He
passed away in December 2010, so times like that are burned into my
The Chicago Cubs – A perfectly good reason to avoid the Lakeview
neighborhood all summer
fake meat products – a lot better now than they were when I first went
Gary, Indiana - never been, but I’m guessing they don’t have any
French patisseries I want to visit
Rahm Emanuel – maybe he can fix the potholes in the South Loop?
The Willis Tower - Sears Tower forever!
your people – “This one’s going out to all the scumbags, lowlifes and
outsiders… my kinda people!” - Blood for Blood ;)