071 – Arley Arrington, Arley Cakes
Cake Work. With Pies and Community. Welcome to my latest episode! Thanks for being my guest. After experiencing the magic that was the Big Love Bake Sale, and the Big Love Birthday, it seems only fitting to be speaking with another advocate. Someone whose commitment to dessert and community-based action is equally strong. Meet Arley Arrington of Arley Cakes.
I first met Arley during last summer’s Business of Food Conference where I did my first guerilla-style podcast, interviewing several folks for 5 minutes each. I was struck by Arley’s passion, enthusiasm, and knew immediately we had to do a proper episode. The fact I chose her Rosemary, Bourbon, and Brown Butter Apple Pie as the best thing I ate in 2016? Just the icing on the proverbial cake.
Arley’s mother immigrated here from Jamaica and Arley grew up with her four brothers in New Jersey and Brooklyn. Before it was the hipster haven it is today. Jamaican cuisine was plentiful, and Arley’s mother, who sadly passed away when she was very young, was into healthy food like kale and no sugar before it was a trend. The sweetest cereal she was allowed? Kix. Which makes her current vocation incredibly ironic! Eventually, her family made it here to Virginia where she landed at UVA.
After college, Arley waitressed on and off at the sadly now-closed Brookville restaurant where she began to think about baking for a living. Owners Harrison and Jennifer Keevil encouraged her efforts and eventually, she became their Cake Queen. Which led to Arley Cakes. Initially, Arley had thoughts about creating a socially-minded bakery, employing women from disenfranchised backgrounds. This remains a goal but currently, her business focuses on creating special, one-of-a-kind pies and desserts for every event imaginable. Her Cookie-Of-The-Month-Club is stellar, and she can even cater your breakfast! As for cakes? Just give her some flavors and she does the rest. I had a pretty major milestone birthday yesterday and the cake Arley made was indescribable. All I told her was lemon and raspberry. The result? A tasty, stunning work of art!
“I do a lot of simple cakes…they are pretty simple and sweet in looks…they’re not too sweet in flavor because I like…the savory elements…I like the natural look…a cake that’s definitely pretty but also that’s enjoyable to eat.”
Her approach to creating her special pies start with good spices. Which means a visit to The Spice Diva. Fresh spices make all the difference. If you use the cinnamon that’s been sitting in your pantry for three years it won’t taste like anything. She experiments with different herbs, spices and combinations, using her palate to create things like that Best of 2016 pie. Brown butter can often figure prominently, always a good thing. The Flavor Bible, a popular chef resource, is her constant companion for unique combinations of texture and taste. Masala Sweet Potato Pie? Yes, please! Her methods for rolling out dough are unique and frowned upon by some. To me? Who cares if it turns out wonderfully. What are they? You’ll just have to listen to find out.
She is also a strong community advocate, and her work for the Charlottesville Abundant Life Ministries reflect that commitment. After college she became their Director of Girls’ Programs, reshaping a summer camp program calling it Radiant Girls Camp, after a beloved Bible verse where she guided middle-school aged young women to look at all the positive aspects of their physical and emotional selves, giving them more confidence. I dare you to look at the photos her friend Amy Jackson took without grabbing the tissues. Beautiful stuff and something we all could use more of in these challenging times.
“I tried to shape the different activities that we did during camp around…these girls…learning to be the best version of who they are already…and celebrating that…and taking care of themselves…I wanted to be sure they thought about food as something that strengthens you…it’s not something that controls you…you use it as a tool.”
Arley writes as well as bakes. Her post about sweet potato pie on the Brookville Restaurant blog started with pie but delved deeper into issues of race, class, and appropriation. It was thought-provoking, poignant, a wonderful example of food writing. Add in her fantastic eye for photography? I mean, have you SEEN her Instagram account? Wow. If Arley ever chooses to solely write full time the rest of us are in big trouble.
“My days basically consist of me reminding myself to live with the confidence of a rich white man every 30 minutes or so. This practice is my general plan for success.”
Recorded in February during National Pie Month, my conversation with a fellow alum of the Community Investment Collaborative was by turns yummy and profound. We discuss Pie Day, the movie Waitress, French macarons, cooking shows like Master Chef Junior, self-defense tactics, the election, and the special challenges of teaching an old dog like me how to create proper pie crust. I took Arley’s pie class at The Spice Diva, and without a doubt, her methods and nurturing ways have made me way less apprehensive about rolling out dough. I highly recommend it taking it, as well as listening to this wonderful episode. Preferably with a slice of pie or cake. Cheers!
SHOW NOTES – Links to resources talked about during the podcast:
- The Flavor Bible – Looking for unique taste pairings in recipes? Refer to this volume which lives on many a chef’s bookshelf.
- Edna Lewis – The Grande Dame of Southern cooking. The Taste of Country Cooking is my bible.
- Flora Restaurant – Oaxacan cuisine with a great tequila selection. In Richmond. Thank you so much to Michele Jones and Jason Alley who gave an incredibly generous amount to my recent Big Love Birthday campaign. Their donation helped bring us over the top! Big Love guys!
- Help Scotty Recover – My best friend has Stage 3B Colorectal cancer. Bills are piling up. He can’t work. Can you help? Share! Donate! No amount is too small. Thank you and BIG LOVE to everyone who donated and shared the Big Love Bake Sale and Big Love Birthday! Next up? Tee shirts! Look for them soon.
- Subscribe to This Podcast. Stay Edacious! – Come on, after this episode? You know you want to. Subscribers get new episodes instantly, while non-subscribers have to wait a few hours or days depending on the iTunes gods. Never miss a chance to be edacious!
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