It feels a bit surreal when Joy Wilson walks up to me on Royal Street, brandishing a basket of tiny strawberry cream scones. Before this moment I hadn’t actually met Wilson, but I felt like I knew her – along with thousands of other strangers on the Internet. Wilson runs the popular Joy the Baker blog (JoyTheBaker.com) which, as the name implies, includes recipes for baked treats but also gorgeously photographed soups, smoothies, sandwiches and whatever else piques Wilson’s envie. Sure, everyone with an Instagram account may consider herself a food blogger these days, but Joy the Baker has gotten accolades from London Times and Saveur, which led to a cookbook deal. Wilson was previously based in L.A., but to the delight of her New Orleans fans she now calls the French Quarter her home. I met with Wilson and talked to her about her blog and her recent move while I struggled not to scarf down all those scones in one sitting.
Is it weird that strangers know so much about your life? I think it’s really cool. It feels strange sometimes but it’s definitely a privilege to have people feel like they know me; I really like that. I was sitting on my balcony the other day and at my house having a little cocktail, and some girl walked by and was like “JOY THE BAKER!” And I was like “Wow, that’s crazy.” And also, I’m at my house, which is sort of weird. She definitely knows where I live now.
What lead to moving to New Orleans? The crawfish (laughs). A lot of it had to do with the food, though. I felt very lucky in California because a lot of the food is really incredible and also pretty specific. California healthy, or Mexican influence – there’s all kinds of food in California. I felt like there wasn’t really anything going on here represented well in California. When I would come here to visit – I think I’ve been here six times in the last few years, the last year and a half, I’ve come a lot – the food and the people are so special. I just wanted to be inspired by it, so that’s why I moved. Also it’s much cheaper to live here than Los Angeles.
How did Joy the Baker start? My dad taught me how to bake; he was just a really enthusiastic home cook. And as soon as I could get a job, which was like 15, I went to work at an ice cream shop. So I’ve always worked in the food service industry, and I would finagle my way into baking jobs because I loved it but I didn’t have the experience. So I had this trick of always bringing baked goods to my job interviews: like, here’s these cookies I baked for you, but also I’m showing you that I know how to bake. Because I had to fudge my resume. I worked in bakeries as I was putting myself through school and when I was done with school – I studied English literature – I thought, I’m not a writer right now because I’m not writing, but I am a baker right now because I’m baking every day, because I go to this job at 3 in the morning and that’s what I actually am. I started blogging some of the stuff I was making in the bakery. I’d go home and blog after that, and that’s how it started, six years ago.
It was crazy (juggling both), but I think I like to work a lot. I learned this about myself: I always have to be working. I used to have two restaurant jobs, then I would do my blog at night. I’d get up in the morning, try to make something for the blog before I go into my first restaurant job, shoot it, badly – I’m a self-taught photographer, too – I’d go do my jobs, and then at 1 in the morning when the restaurant staff is all going out for drinks and stuff I’d say, “I’m going to go home and work on my blog.” My friends made so much fun of me. They didn’t understand why I wouldn’t go out drinking instead of going home to write about muffins. I didn’t have a really good reason because my job wasn’t paying my bills at all, it was just something I was totally obsessed with, and so I got so much ridicule. But it worked out.
What was the first thing that happened that made you realize it was catching on? I think it was maybe three years ago, I realized I was trudging along, doing my blog, maybe 50 people were reading it, which was awesome. But then I got named one of the 50 best food blogs by the London Times and I was like, what is that? This is really a thing a bunch of people are doing. It made me feel like, oh, I think can really turn this into a thing that I do for a while.
You have a cookbook out now and you’re working on a new one. My second cookbook comes out Oct. 14. It’s called Homemade Decadence. It’s just really special, rich treats that any home cook could make. It’s not stuff that’s dumbed down – it’s still really special and takes a little patience and skill, but it’s meant to be approachable. There’s a whole brunch chapter, which I’m really into. Then things like cookies and pies and a whole ice cream chapter. It feels like something you would reach for when you want to make something sweet, because everything’s in there.
What advice would you give people to kick-start their baking hobby? I think it’s best to start with something basic and get really good at that, because baking is about proportions – you can’t really mess up those proportion. Like biscuits are three cups flour, one and a half cups of the liquid, and that isn’t negotiable or you’ll come out with something totally different. To that you can add blueberries, strawberries, chocolate chips, whatever you want, but that ratio has to be set in stone. And so I think learning what the ratios are and how to respect certain ratios is key to starting to bake. There are so many things that can go wrong. When people ask me questions, like “Why is my cookie flat?” Well there are probably millions of reasons why your cookies are flat. But if you learn the proportions and a few techniques, I think you’ll be good.
What do you make on lazy days when you need to feed yourself but aren’t going to blog about it? Scrambled eggs and corn tortillas with Crystal hot sauce and whatever vegetable I can shove in there – it’s really not glamorous. And then I stand in the kitchen, just blank my mind and stand there and eat it. It’s so good.
True confession: I don’t actually have a huge sweet tooth. I would always choose potato chips over chocolate chip cookies.
At a Glance
Born/raised: Los Angeles, Calif.
Education: Cal State University, Northridge
Favorite movie: Vertigo
Favorite TV show: “The Fugitive”
Favorite band/musician: Fleetwood Mac
Favorite restaurant: Boucherie
Favorite Food: Biscuits, extra butter
Favorite Hobby: “Really fast bicycle riding without a helmet. Don’t be like me.”
Favorite Book: East of Eden
Favorite Vacation Spot: Costa Rica