Feb 26th, 2019
Clemence Gossett is the founder and co-owner of The Gourmandise School of Sweets and Savories in Santa Monica, California. Along with her partner, Sabrina Ironside, Clemence has built a school with a vision to expand the consumer’s education and experience of how to create amazing meals and treats out of locally sourced, sustainable ingredients, using the very finest techniques.
Read more about Clémence and the Goumandise.
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Passionistas: Hi and welcome to the Passionistas Project Podcast. We're Amy and Nancy Harrington. If you enjoy listening to the show please consider becoming a patron. Just a small donation of one dollar a month can help us keep the project going and you'll get rewards like buttons, access to premium content and invites to Passionistas Project events. Today we're talking with Clémence Gossett, co-founder of the Gourmandise School of Sweets and Savoryies in Santa Monica, California. Clémence and her partner, Sabrina Ironside, have built a cooking school that teaches students how to create amazing meals and treats out of locally sourced, sustainable ingredients, using the very finest techniques.
So, please welcome to the show Clémence Gossett.
Clémence: Thank you.
Passionistas: We're so excited to have you here.
Clémence: Thanks. This is fun.
Passionistas: What are you most passionate about, Clémence?
Clémence: I think I'm most passionate about getting people to think. Just reminding people not to take anything at face value. Whether it's related to food or policy or whatever. Just having to think beyond like, "Oh I can just pick this up because it was designed for me." That sort of thing, if it relates to food.
Passionistas: How did you design this school to take advantage of that concept?
Clémence: The new iteration of the school, the new space we are in, was designed by Sabrina my business partner and myself in terms of the physical layout of the space. But the school came about through a series of very sort of serendipitous occasions. There was no day where I just sat down and was like, "You know, I think of cooking school." Because that doesn't make any sense. So it sort of evolved over a decade. But the physical layout of the space was designed by Sabrina and I with the input of all of our chef instructors.
Passionistas: Tell us a little bit about your background. Were you born in Paris?
Clémence: I was born in Paris. I was born in Neuilly, which is like a little neighborhood in Paris. But I grew up in Paris spent. First seven years of my life there. And then we moved to the east coast of the U.S. And we finally settled right outside Washington, D.C. in Northern Virginia. I lived there until I was 18 and graduated from high school and left to go to college. And then finished college and that day it snowed on May 11th which was my graduation day. And it was like never again. So moved to LA, and I've been here 20 years.
Passionistas: Did growing up in Paris influence your culinary tastes?
Clémence: Most of my culinary influences come from after we left Paris. So my father's side of the family is from the south eastern part of France and right around the time when we moved to the US his parents decided to open up in retirement, n nobache — so like a little hotel and had a bar and a restaurant there. And so we would go during the summers and the winters to help them run the space during the busy season which meant like scooping a lot of ice cream — which was my favorite part doing a lot of dishes and just being around. And my grandmother ran the kitchen for the first year.
And my father always cooked. He didn't really necessarily work as a professional chef but we canned at home. He would string up his sheep in the backyard and roast it on a spit. You know there was a lot of like, :We just do this in our house." And I thought it was really weird and I was super embarrassed by it. But in the end just having no fear around food it was really sort of just describes my culinary background and knowing where everything came from. So in the little restaurant we would go every day go to the markets pick up the produce from the producers whether it was the mushroom guy or the woman who made goat cheese on her farm. So there was a connection. With everything that we ate that we really knew everybody who grew everything which I think was really special. I look back on it as being really special and the time I was to drive out there again. But. Very grateful.
Passionistas: Tell us a little bit about your steps to opening this school. How did it come about?
Clémence: I went to school to study film. I wanted to be a documentary filmmaker. And then just ended up settling for a good sturdy job with benefits. So I worked while I was in college for Miramax and then I worked at Disney out here. And then Fox when I was working at Fox on Fridays I would sell cookies from my cubicle so I would take orders all week. And I had a great boss who probably overlooked more things. Very kindly some things. And then it kind of snowballed from there. A friend of mine who at the time just had a candy company and now has a couple of restaurants said, "you know can you bring those cookies you make two to my birthday party?" And I did. And a woman came up to me at the birthday party and was like, "oh you know what did these cookies?" And I said, "oh you know I sell them at my cubicle, you know at Fox and I rent a kitchen on the weekends to sell to a couple of coffee shops." And she thought it was a great story and she was like, "Oh you know produce a show called Good Food." And so a few weeks later we were on Good Food, which was probably 15 years ago.
And after that aired it was one of those things where I had just had a baby. The show aired and so I quit. And I rented the kitchen more full time and started selling online and to some coffee shops. And then I got really tired after four years of not sleeping. And so I started teaching classes. And I got a call from a cooking school to run the pastry part of their curriculum and sort of observe how they ran their business and thought feel like there's a different way of teaching. And so I went to surface which is this great culinary resource in L.A. at the time it was in Culver City and I asked them. Would you rent space from your test kitchen? And they really know and. So I said what about $75 an hour and they were like Oh yeah that sounds like a good plan.
So we taught classes out of there and out of this other kitchen in Venice. And then couldn't teach at night because those spaces weren't available and just really thought. There was there needs to be a physical space and a home for this. And at that time I had a business partner and we came together and opened up in this kittle concept on the third floor of a mall by the ocean. And then my new business partner Sabrina came into the picture about three years ago and really helped us grow this into what it is today. This face is much bigger. It's definitely less like we can do in this little 900 square foot room you know including the dish room and the pantry. And this is definitely legit. It has you know compartmentalize faces and prep kitchen. And we have an office.
Passionistas: What makes this school different than other cooking schools?
Clémence: So I think every cooking school has their defining qualities. For us the most important thing is for people to make these things at home and to teach without judgment and with a lot of kindness and really great skill. So you know we have three hour classes, our classes are a minimum of three hours. They're all hands on. And you're never sort of sharing the station with more than one person. And everybody here makes everything on the menu. So instead of sort of saying oh this group's get a make salad and this group will make dessert. You know we have a smaller menu four to six dishes and a three hour period where everybody makes every, every meal. So then we sit down at the end and have a meal and answer questions.
Passionistas: What kinds of classes do you teach?
Clémence: We have about 12 chefs on staff now and everybody teaches their own specialty which is super important because I think cultural connections and context are a really big part of food stories not just about like oh cut cut the onion this way but you know in our culture we use onions in this fashion. So every instructor here comes with cultural context. So you know if you're going to teach a Thai class you need to have a connection to Thai cuisine somehow. So the kinds of classes we teach are a mix of what the chefs are bringing to us. Or classes that we've developed that are really technique based. So we have knife skills, beef technique, chicken technique, the sauce class, how to cook an egg. There was a three hour class just on eggs which is really fascinating. And then we have cuisine classes that are taught by the instructors because it's the cuisine they grew up with. So we have a Scandinavian breads and pastries. We have Thai classics we have cuisine from Laos. We have a great chef who's got an awesome story. About his background as a refugee from Laos and has started bringing that cuisine to the forefront. We have Italian and we have all sorts of classes. It's really inspiring to watch people get to express themselves and share through cooking and tell their stories.
Passionistas: It seems like you use a lot of locally sourced ingredients. Why is that important to you?
Clémence: We primarily use the Santa Monica farmer's market for all our produce. Some of our proteins and a lot of our grains. So the reason we picked this location to begin with seven years ago is that it's a stone's throw and a walking distance to the Wednesday and Saturday Santa Monica markets. I have always had a very close relationship with a lot of the farmers. We visit the farms often and we send our kids up there they send their kids to us. There's a great symbiotic relationship between the needs of chefs and cooking schools and restaurants and what the growers grow at having that connection is really helped to buoy a lot of these industries and a lot of these new agricultural products such as grains. So we have this little mill and we test out grains the different farmers are growing and we'll hit one that we love like a variety of corn that makes an awesome cookie or a hard red wheat that makes a fantastic bread and then we can go back and say next season can you plant this amount more. Because we think we can sell it.
Passionistas: So why do you think it's important to inspire people to think about what they're cooking?
Clémence: It's so important for people to learn how to cook. Number one because it's a skill everyone should have. It saves money. It creates connections. It can help decompress you if you sort of learn to not be afraid of the process. But knowing where your ingredients come from and being an active part of your economy is so important. So it's deeper than just like oh shop at a farmers market. It's about you know what do you want your food system to look like?
In this country not only do you have a voice and you're able to vote without too many boundaries. But this is the one country in the world where your dollar and the way that you spend it speaks volumes. So I can think of another place where it's more important to make. Everyday purchasing decisions to mirror what you want your home to look like and that can be in your community. It can mean your state. It can be. The federal government. It doesn't matter like we are all responsible for. How we want our country to be run. And when you make purchasing decisions that is a vote for a particular economy it is a vote for a food system. So we talk a lot about policy and not politics here. We talk a lot about because we have some lecture classes that have to do with trade routes geography history food where are you food comes from. Meet the farmer that sort of thing. But what we really want to inspire people to think beyond like oh this is just organic in a plastic package at the grocery store what does that mean. You know if it was its fits triple washed lettuce it's being washed with chemicals whether it's organic or not you probably don't want in your lettuce. It's being packed in a factory that may not have very responsible or ethical practices regarding their employees. So. It's about thinking one step beyond not just taking things at face value that presented to you but to go one step further.
Passionistas: What would you say to someone who finds cooking daunting and overwhelming? How do you help those people?
Clémence: So if somebody comes here and I'm in a class it's clear to see sort of who's coming in with a lot of nervous energy or is unsure or comes in and says I have no idea what I'm doing. Like it's OK. So we were all born that way. Not knowing what we're doing and things don't have to be perfect. So the first step is just to make a dish that has less than six ingredients where you can taste each ingredient and learn how to cook each ingredient work with them. So I had a cut and I knew. How to work with garlic. How to cook grains how to cook pasta how to cook meats and how to use herbs seasonings and acids to make a dish. Balanced and delicious. It's really simple when you break it down and you know we like to introduce sort of new techniques and classes. But in the end it's about keeping things really simple.
Passionistas: Tell us a little bit about the store that you have inside the school?
Clémence: We have a store in the front of the school and we're very careful because we really want our classes to drive what we sell. So one is I don't believe in single use gadgets in the kitchen. The only single use item we have is a cherry picker and we use it for three weeks out of the year. Every single day to cherries are out of season but yeah we want everything in your kitchen to be meaningful. Right so everything in your life should have meaning and it means not just like oh it's beautiful but is it functional. Do I need it? Is it beautiful? And was it crafted well. and with kindness?
In our store we have items that we've curated very carefully based on what we use in class. So we don't want you to have any tools that are superfluous in the kitchen. We just like a really good basic kitchen so you can focus on the ingredients and the technique rather than oh I need an egg separator. It's your hand. You can separate eggs with your hand.
Passionistas: We're Amy and Nancy Harrington and you're listening to the Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with Clémence Gossett. To learn more about the class schedule to shop and to find some incredible recipes. Visit the GormandiseSchool.com. Now here's more of our interview with Clémence.
Passionistas: You're a mother of three and a successful business owner. So what's your daily routine?
Clémence: So my daily routine. Because my youngest child is 7 involves waking up around five thirty in the morning. And what do we do when we wake up? So my son likes to make eggs in the morning so we get up and we make eggs and we get ready for school. We pack our lunch which is usually leftovers from the night before. Then we go to school and then so I drop him off at school and then I come to work if I have a class that I'm teaching prepping just teaching because otherwise it's meetings just either farmers market so I don't schedule anything on Wednesdays. Wednesday is Farmer's Market Day which is church for me so we're at the market just meeting with farmers with our friends with other shops getting ideas collaborating but all the other days are just either spent teaching classes or holding meetings because it's is kind of a big operation. We have 20 employees and 12 chefs to work with and a calendar. That I spend a lot of time trying to manage and then I always leave here by 5:00 because I got to pick up my little one and when we go home and we make dinner we have a couple of neighbors who have other kids and we try at least twice a week to do communal dinners together and then he's in bed by 7 thirty so that by 8:00 o'clock going back on the computer. Trying to get stuff done. They to bed at 9 o'clock. It's Groundhog Day all over again.
Passionistas: What do you do with all the days you feel unmotivated and don't want to do that?
Clémence: Oh gosh I wish I had a day where I could have the luxury of feeling unmotivated and not wanting to do that. I think when you have kids and you just don't have a choice you just have to be really nice to feel like that. I don't know. I mean there are definitely. We all have our good days and bad days. This is what I've learned about being a business owner when everything is a priority. Nothing is a priority. So you know you can make a list you can start things you can highlight things that in the end you just kind of do the best you can everyday and fires and and try to take two steps forward without taking too many steps back. It's like the constant email like I try to do e-mails at 1:00 in the morning so that nobody's emailing me back. So you just feel like your inbox is shrinking but then people like why were you emailing me at 1:00 in the morning? Can't win.
Passionistas: Is there one lesson you've learned so far in your journey that sticks with you?
Clémence: If there's one lesson that I've learned along this journey is I find serendipity to be really magical. I think people are really awesome. I don't know if this is a lesson but. I'm just so grateful to be in a community with people who believe in what they do and live it with their entire lives and their talent. My world is really small my world is comprised of like bakers and farmers. And activists. And business people that really help to manage these personalities but I'm so grateful to be around people who put their ideals. And their craft first. The lesson is be present be grateful. Surround yourself with really good people who do good work for good reasons and keep your life simple. So the reason that I'm able to do this is because I lead a really really simple life. So I have a rent controlled apartment. In Santa Monica that I can never leave. For one I bought a car cash. I just live like with just what I need. So I don't have the stress and the pull of constantly trying to manage things that I can't support so I have my kids. I have my friends and my loves. And work. And. That's it. I keep it simple. My baseline for life is pretty low. So every day that something happens extra is like euphoric.
Passionistas: What's been the biggest challenge that you've faced and how do you overcome it?
Clémence: So I think my biggest challenge is that I'm not good at a lot of things so I'm not really good at math and I'm not great at structure even though I need it. I'm super grateful that I have a great business partner and a general manager here. But see where's structure is needed here at the school. But yeah my my biggest challenge is. Being in my head a lot.
Passionistas: What's the most rewarding part of your career?
Clémence: The most rewarding part of my career is connection. The thing I had to get back to is sort of this life that I lived with my family in France where everything was really basic and simple. We got our ingredients. We made food out of them. We wash the linens we made the beds. That is how we earned our money right. It's just like being able to see the tangible results of work and that's in part why I started this business because I was working at Fox and my son would be you know I would pick him up from the daycare which was on the lot. And I would he would sit with me at lunchtime that it would take him back and he was always like Oh I have to go back so you can play on the computer. There was no connection for him between work and what I brought home to pay the bills. And that's something that didn't love. And really being able to show and put output to my kids so they can see like oh we work hard. Mama needs to make 20 pies so that we can sign up for basketball. And you don't want to give kids any guilt trip but you do want them to see that it takes some output to get input and see the value in it.
Passionistas: On your journey so far hasn't been one moment that you felt like was the most courageous that sort of was a pivotal moment?
Clémence: I don't think courage has anything to do with it. I take risks but I'm not so afraid of them I say. I think I saw my parents were both entrepreneurs take a lot of risks and so I think that's actually a terrible trait that I have where it's like everything is going to work out. This is a great idea. Let's just do it. So that's not courage it's just sometimes stupidity. I gave birth to three people I think for me. Those were the days that are the most incredible. Those are. My maybe three days.
Passionistas: What lessons did your mother or other influential women in your life teach you about women's roles in society?
Clémence: When I think about the women in my life. Well first of all my mother who is an honest Warner and just really there are people in my life who are very cerebral and intelligent. So like my mother and my sister are very cerebral people with a lot of creativity but you know who can write like a great paper. That's not me. I find that amazing when people can be both like really really intelligent and good expressing themselves. And then there are women in my life who are really who had a great deal of emotional intelligence. And my mother and my sister due to.
My godmother and my aunt are two people who influenced me because of their energy. They were always just quiet and calm and good listeners and something I strive towards because it's definitely a bit of a weakness. But yeah my my my friend and my godmother can see. Just really unique people quit a very. They both have a very specific sense of style and are just very. Kind and calm and. Good listeners. And my grandmother. On my father's side is. She's 92 and. She's still lives alone and cooks every day and she was a seamstress for a long time and as a child I just always remember seeing her hands and and how beautiful they were even though they sort of failed her at times. And and just watching her cook and just always going always going always going and um and my grandmother on my mother's side and to bake with me. We had our little village in Paris. It was a cheese shop and you put on your we got our fish and that's about where we would get she would get. Her drink every night and I would get an orange juice and. Yeah. Just. Those people who knew their village.
Passionistas: What about professional mentors who had mentors along the way?
Clémence: There were a couple of women particularly in Los Angeles who first of all the food community in L.A. is really just outrageously kind. Especially with women. So the women who took their time to sit with me or to nurture ideas or you know when when we couldn't find a sitter and you had to go in the kitchen overnight we'd bring over a bean bag so the kids could sleep there. I mean. Awesome. So Christine Moore is one of them. Ebvan Kleinmen. Other mentors in my life and just been people who have been in this circle and this wonderful community. Nan Kohler from Gtist and Toll is this amazing woman who mills flour and just knows who she is and knows the meaning of what she's doing and is unapologetic and so inspiring. There are so many great people here.
Passionistas: What's your secret to a rewarding lif?
Clémence: My secret to a rewarding life is just to live a really really simple life. And fill it with great people and great food. I keep it really simple. You don't need new furniture. It be nice but in the end like just keep life really simple and fill it with beautiful people and beautiful things. That you can eat like chocolate.
Passionistas: Do you have a mantra that you live by?
Clémence: My mantra up until I was about 20 and going through some really difficult periods was "shit happens move on." And then when I had kids it was. It just felt really defeatist and shallow to say it. I don't know that there's any mantras that I live by now other than just be kind. And do your best. And. In business I do have one. And it is under promise and over deliver. Because I used to. Over promise and then I'd end up under delivering and I would just flatten me for days or weeks. But yeah Under promise over deliver.
Passionistas: What's your definition of success?
Clémence: What my definition of success is. To create a business where our employees our able to earn a great living wage. So that for me is success. When your business is sustainable which means that the food you're buying is sustainable and the people who are growing it are earning a sustainable living to be self-sufficient essentially to create an environment where people feel inspired. People want to come to work. And the product that you sell you feel really proud of and you can stand behind and that's hard. And we don't always. Achieve that. You know you just you have goals and you share ideas and you work with other business people and figure out what they're doing and you do your best. It's hard. In California it's really hard.
Passionistas: What's your proudest career achievement?
Clémence: I think maybe my proudest career achievement has nothing to do with my career. And just. Like having been able to raise. Three kids. And do what I love also opening this new location is pretty awesome. Because we have an amazing team. But the two things are like making chocolate from scratch. And making great sourdough bread. So I like I always you know when I sit down and have a few minutes at night to think about like growing my craft I always go back to that like I don't have time to gro my craft or to really you know do R&D more and because running the business takes up so much time. And I know these kids have to keep alive and fed.
So every now and then I try to really hone in on something and they become really a little obsessed. So maybe in the last seven or eight years being able to really hone in on breadmaking and then working with Ruth our chocolate maker on our bean to bar classes and. Repeating the same thing that we've done with bread which is like find the greatest wheat that's grown the most sustainably and milled in a beautiful way and making great bread from it. In the same way that we're sort of reaching out to the chocolate growers and community of chocolate makers here and buying a couple of pieces of equipment to make really great chocolate. Literally from scratch.
Passionistas: What advice would you give to your woman who wants to get into the culinary arts?
Clémence: I teach this class called the business of food which is essentially a class to weed out whether you want to work in food or not because you really should only work in food if you can't not do it. This is a really physically, emotionally, financially demanding industry. That has at times been very unkind to women. And in many ways continues to be. And so I would say for a woman who is looking to work in food is work for somebody who's kind. And tough.
And it's going to hurt. And I just keep reminding students because we're a recreational school but we work with schools like L.A. Trade Tech on mentorship or doing special field trips and lectures. But it's just to remind yourself that it's about the work. So if somebody is commenting on your scone it's not about you. It's about the scone. And to just like manage your emotions while developing a craft that's coming from your soul which is really challenging. Because as women in food we're here because we nurture and we create and it's coming from not just our hands but you know our heart and our soul so it can be sometimes difficult to separate the two but.
Passionistas: If you could be eating anything in the world anywhere right now what would you want and why?
Clémence: My grandmother had this dessert at her restaurant called [french word] and she just needed to make desserts that she could liked make ahead and pop out right. So there was caramelized puff pastry. I believe it was vanilla ice cream and she would warm up honey with toasted almonds. Put a little bit of black current jam at the bottom of the plate. And then pour the honey and almonds over the puff pastry with the ice cream. If I can eat that in the village. On a hot day I probably feel really good. I would feel just as good though taking a piece of sourdough bread. And slathering it with our chocolate and some sea salt. That would also feel great. So sugar and warmth. So sugar and sunshine.
Passionistas: Thanks for listening to the Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview Clémence Gossett. Visit the GormandiseSchool.com to learn more about the schedule for classes, the shop and to find some incredible recipes. And be sure to subscribe to the Passionistas Project Podcast so you don't miss any of our upcoming, inspiring guests.