From working the foreign exchange floor for Bank of American to the pastry line in high-heels, Cassandra found her true passion in the kitchen. Now producing her own line of caramel products, she is sharing her sweetness with the world.
Cassandra Chen | Founder, CC Made | Berkeley, CA
What Inspired You To Start Your Company?
In 1996, my youngest son had just started preschool. I found that for the first time, I had some free time. I missed being part of the work force but I wanted the flexibility of my own schedule. When I had worked at a restaurant, I was part of the pastry team. I learned how to make my favorite treat. Caramels! I could not find a commercial caramel that was as delicious as the ones we made by hand at Jardiniere. That was my inspiration. I figured that even if no one else wanted to buy it, I would happily eat it all myself!
Tell us about your products.
CC Made is dedicated to making the best caramel products. So far, we make caramel popcorn, caramel candies and caramel sauces. Our ingredient list consists of 3 basic ingredients for caramels. Pure cane sugar, real cream, and real butter. From there, we just make small minor changes to the recipe to create a variety of flavors. In one, we add Himalayan Pink Sea Salt. In another, we burn the sugar a little bit more than the others, creating a who different flavor profile.
For our caramel corn, we start each production day by popping fresh our organic popcorn with olive oil. Starting with fresh great ingredients mean that you end with a fresh and great end product.
For our sauces, we infuse real rosemary or bay laurel leave in cream before adding the cream to the caramel base. This gives a subtle yet herbaceous aroma to the caramel sauce. Our caramel sauces are great as a dessert topping but equally great as a balance to savory dishes. Drizzle some of our caramel sauce on cheese and you will know what I mean.
What Does Being A Small-Batch “Artisan” Mean To You?
Small-Batch “artisan” means attention to detail. When we make each batch by hand, we know that we have used the ingredients to the best of its potential. We know that we have slow-cooked that sugar and caramelized it to bring out that slightly smoky flavor without any risk of the acrid burnt taste. We know that the sauces have been allowed to slowly cook down to just the right consistency.
What is your favorite small-batch treat?
My favorite treat is freshly churned ice-cream from the ice-cream maker. When made just right, it has just the right consistency. You know that it will never be as good as that moment right out of the machine.
What Drew You To Food?
I had great Chinese food growing up. However, I had never had great French, Italian, Spanish, or Indian, etc. Once I realized that there were great cuisines from every part of the world, I was hooked. I didn’t just want to eat it, I wanted to understand it, cook it, and then eat it. I was also broke. So the best way to experience and learn is to work in it and be a part of it.
Where Does Your Food Inspiration Come From?
Everywhere. If I taste a dish that excites me when we go out, I will try to recreate it. It’s the best when it works!
What Products Are You Working On Now?
We are working on a vegan line of caramel products. Several of my vegan friends cannot find a good caramel product and what they can fine is expensive and not very tasty. I think everyone deserves great caramels.
Latest Ingredient Obsession?
Curry. I’m trying to create my own blend that would shine with my caramel.
What Did You Have For Dinner Last Night?
Oxtail Stew. It’s been cold and rainy and that is my favorite cold weather dish. The house smells great and the window gets all steamed up from the long slow cooking. It just feels like home.
What Person, Living Or Dead, Would You Most Like To Have Try Your Product?
Terry Gross. My goal is to be someday interviewed by her. So I want her to try my products, be so impressed that she wants to ask me all about it on her show.
What’s The Best Piece Of Advice You’ve Gotten In Building Your Business? What Advice Would You Give Other artisans?
Thomas Keller gave my husband a copy of his French Laundry Cookbook, he wrote “It’s all about finesse”. I’m still working on that.
I always say to other food artisans who ask me for advice is this. “Make something that you like to eat. You will be tasting and tweaking and testing your products a lot! You better enjoy it.”
What Other Local Food Artisans or Chefs Do You Admire?
Chef Christian Geideman of Ippuku and Chef Todd Shoberg of Molina. Everytime I eat there, I feel so content and happy. I know that I can always expect flavors that are inspired.
If You Had To Choose Your Last Meal, What Would It Be?
Shanghainese Shiao Long Bao and Hand pulled noodles.
Favorite Restaurant or Food Experience?
The first time I went to Saison. This was way before they became famous. They had only several seatings 3 times a week. The attention to detail was amazing.
What Do You Enjoy Doing Outside of the Kitchen?
I love going to the beach with my family. We spend long summer days away from our computers and video games.