Of Springsteen and Guitars And Cookies

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A few weeks ago, I got a call from a woman who is a local real estate agent. Des Daniels lives in the one of the nearby towns, Robbinsville, where we lived before moving to Allentown.

Back around 2008, Des was one of the first local businesses to be blogging. She reached out to me once because she saw one of my Robbinsville photos on Flickr, and asked to use it as the banner image on her blog. I was thrilled! Someone found my work! They lied it!

Since then, though, she’s become a big supporter of my work online. We’ve long kept in much, many times through a yearly thing she would do: She’s open up her house in late November and have Santa come in, with a local photog there to take pictures of the kids – for free!

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Artist/baker Leslie Marchio

But a few weeks ago, she pinged me about a project she was hoping I’d be a part of. A Robbinsville mom, Leslie Marchio, who does stunning cookie creations, was entering some Springsteen-themed cookies in CookieCon2020. CookieCon is one of the largest gatherings of cookie artists in the world, and the event, CookieCon’s Sugar Show, gives artists the chance to compete for more $5,000 in cash prizes.

Funny thing was – I knew this mom, well, sort of. My wife knew her more than I did as back when Olivia was in pre-school, Leslie’s son was there too. In fact, even way back then, we had Leslie make cute pirate-themed cookies for one of Liv’s birthday parties.

Leslie is  married mom of four kids (hence, the inspiration for her cookie decorating business name, Four Peas And A Dog), has a background is as an architectural designer. But since 2012, she’s been decorating and crafting clean designs and abstract concepts on cookies! Her unique and artistic talents are helping her to carve out a niche in the upper echelon of cookie artists across the country.

Des and Leslie are good friends, and Des wanted to get some photos done for publicity purposes. I thought this sounded great, and was excited to shoot some portraits at Leslie’s home kitchen before she left for Cookiecon.

I had some ideas about what I wanted to do here. While Leslie’s kitchen was nice (though a bit dark), I had the idea to put seamless behind here and really put the focus on just her and the work. She had already shaped many of the pieces (using gingerbread) and constructed them, I could still tee up some “work” photos.

Again, my Savage Universal Thunder Gray seamless was put to use, a 47″ Neewer octa and the Neewer Vision4 wireless strobe. As I become more comfortable with this setup, the more I like it (makes sense, right?)

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BTS shot from my phone

What I wanted to focus on here was not just Leslie’s portraits, but the details of her work as well.

When she saw one of the contest themes at CookieCon 2020 was “Home Sweet Home”, she came up with a boss way to illustrate her home state in a cookie form.

“I saw Home Sweet Home and of course, my mind immediately went to the New Jersey music scene…and Bruce!” says Leslie.

“I feel Born in the USA album is one of Bruce’s most iconic albums, and immediately felt a pull towards it.  I really wanted to make this piece worthy of his music, so I knew I had to go above and beyond,” Leslie said. “That is where the guitar comes into play. I modeled the cookie after Bruce’s one-of-a-kind Fender – in miniature – using all edible materials: gingerbread, royal icing, fondant, isomalt (sugar from beets).”

The hardest part creating the guitar out of edible ingredients? The strings!

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“I wanted the guitar to look as realistic as possible, so I knew piping lines with royal icing was not going to achieve that look – too thick.  I researched other methods of creating edible guitar strings but couldn’t find a viable solution.”

As innovative as Bruce is with his music, so is Leslie with her craft. “I devised my own method to make the strings,” Leslie says. “I knew isomalt would be my best option, but I wasn’t sure how it would behave in this fashion.”

Leslie’s faith would be rewarded. “After many attempts, I finally figured out the best way to use the isomalt to create the thin strings I needed,” she said. “As I started attaching them to the guitar, I held my breath. By the time I put the last one on, I was so happy when none of the strings broke, I almost cried!”

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While the hardest part was creating the guitar strings, creating the cover art for the partner CD was the most fun for Leslie.

Leslie’s hard work, innovative design and attention to detail paid off. Her Bruce Cookie took Third Place in the Home Sweet Home category. While she of course wanted to take first, she was thrilled with the result. “It was really competitive, and the winner was indeed very cool. Many people (and Bruce fans) kept coming up and complimenting me on my Springsteen cookies.”

I wanted to have do a fun portrait of Leslie, so before I came over, I asked her to find a white shirt and luckily I had a red baseball cap to put in her back pocket. Then we did a pseudo-re-enactment of the cover.

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I also wanted to do a straight-up nice portrait of Leslie, so asked her to pose with…something. We settled on whisk. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t influenced by this shot from Philadelphia photographer Chris Crisman.

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This was a really fun shoot to do. I got a chance to come up with a concept and execute on it. I missed on a few ideas (I wanted to incorporate her mixer but it was so big I couldn’t fit it in a shot nicely. Also this cool laser she uses, but again, couldn’t make it work.)

But this was super cool. Best of all, we go Leslie’s story posted to Backstreets.com!

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To see more of Leslie’s incredible work, follow her on Facebookor on Instagram.

© Mark V. Krajnak | JerseyStyle Photography | All Rights Reserved 2020

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