Rouse your taste buds and make French baking accessible to the American public: this is what spurs Isabel Mota to action. This Frenchwoman arrived in Texas in 2017 and built her business around her love of sweet indulgences offered by French gastronomy. You can find her innovative and oh-so-French Baking Mixes on our eshop -- but for now, let’s meet this mom and entrepreneur who will most likely motivate you to head to the kitchen and bake away!
French Wink: What are your favorite baking memories from childhood?
Isabel Mota: From what I remember, I have always been baking. Cooking came later. But I remember baking cakes without following any recipes at a very young age. I would go in my parent’s garden, pick some fresh raspberries, make a batter, throw the fresh fruit inside, and bake it. So not all of my cakes were great, I guess! But this gave me the curiosity and confidence to try more new things. Starting when I was 10 years old, I was the one in charge of making a cake on Sundays, when we had some family or friends coming over. My parents had a very old cookbook with very traditional French recipes, like crepes, Paris Brest, apple cake. I tried almost all of the recipes from the book. At the time we did not have access to blogs and cooking shows like we do now! These days, I love to bake with my daughters, share with them the love for good homemade food.
How did you turn your passion for baking into a profession?
I am self-taught. When I like something, I like to look for information, to test, to do it myself. It's the same with pastry. I started making some technical recipes, like macarons, or croissants, out of curiosity. I bake a lot, as I take great pleasure in doing it, for my family or to offer to my relatives. I bought a few professional baking books and that's how I learned the basics. Then it's a lot of practice at home. But I don't have a traditional culinary background. That's why I can say that anyone can cook: no training or incredible equipment is required to get started!
How did My French Recipe come to be and how did you land on the concept of baking mixes, your brand's key products?
When my family and I arrived in the US, I was waiting for my work permit to arrive before looking for a job. I had some time during the day, so I did what I do when I have time: I went to the kitchen to bake some pastries. My husband brought everything to his office because I was making way too much for us to eat. He told me how impressed his colleagues were with the French pastries. This is how I understood the complicated relationship Americans have with French cuisine. They love French cuisine, but often it seems very inaccessible. Too complicated, too technical. This is how the idea of baking mixes sprouted in my head. The concept of mixes is that the dry ingredients are pre-measured, so all you have to do is put in the wet ingredients. I wanted to offer an authentic, delicious, and easy French culinary experience with simple ingredients. This gives real homemade cakes, stress free. Anyone can make a cake with a My French Recipe mix.
How do you make up the recipes?
The product line was created with my personal recipes. The ones I have been making at home for as long as I can remember. I just chose five of my favorite recipes: madeleines, chocolate lava cake, pound cake, crepes, and macarons. It was quite easy to develop them since I knew them by heart. What took longer was finding the right ingredients on a larger scale. For example, for the chocolate lava cake, I wanted to use very good quality chocolate chips, because it changes everything in terms of taste, and also use a minimum of ingredients. Therefore, we are working with a high-end professional Belgian chocolate brand. It would have been easier and cheaper to work with other products, but I couldn't find any chocolate that passed my taste bud-quality test! Then I wanted untreated and unbleached flour. The flour that is the norm in France is much more complicated to source here. But for me, it was essential to use the least processed ingredients possible. To deliver that unique taste of homemade cake, you need good, unprocessed ingredients.
Which French baking chefs inspire you?
I follow a lot of French chefs, but I am Cyril Lignac's biggest fan. He is one of the first high-profile chefs to democratize French cuisine. He has a very simple approach to cooking. Without the fuss. That’s exactly what I love and it's precisely what I’m trying to convey here too. Everybody can cook. You have to be relaxed about French cuisine and its high end image.
You have organized culinary workshops. What is the concept? Have you created a digital version during the pandemic?
Always in the spirit of encouraging everyone to try their hand at cooking, the classes are open to all levels. I want to prove that anyone can make macarons or French pastry. We are in the process of switching to 100% digital. This is an adjustment, because the pedagogy and the support are a little different. But the important thing for me beyond a technique is to convey desire, curiosity, and self-confidence in the kitchen. We focus on pastry. When you register for a class, you receive either a kit or a mix that will serve as the basis for the recipe. Classes take place via Zoom in groups of eight people at most.
What has this entrepreneurial adventure taught you over time?
Surfing the wave! Sometimes we are at the top of the wave and sometimes we are at the bottom of the wave. The most important thing is to be resilient, to adapt, and to be patient. Whether you are a big business or a small business, entrepreneurship is definitely a rollercoaster.
How do you picture your business evolving?
We have a good distribution of our baking mixes around Dallas. My goal is to have national distribution. I want to reach everybody in this country to offer them a natural, easy, and authentic way of baking! I would also like to add a few French cuisine favorites to the product line. We are working on French pastry kits, to push the experience at home even more. We pair them with online classes, as for the chocolate and French lavender macaron for instance.
You live in Texas. What do you like in this new life?
I love Texas, but if I am being honest, it wasn’t love at first sight. I came from Paris and there is nothing in common between the two cities. It's been four years since we arrived with my family, and we love the lifestyle that Texas offers. For starters, I love Texans. They are really warm. I was shocked when I arrived. I was super suspicious when someone spoke to me when I was shopping, when in fact it's absolutely normal here! I love the weather, a long, long summer with a few weeks of winter at the best of times. The comfort, the great outdoors, the variety of culture. It's a long way from the Texas clichés I had in mind before arriving.
What is the biggest culinary surprise in Dallas? Have you learned to make local dishes?
I would rather ask, what is not surprising in terms of gastronomy? ;) I knew the American passion for fried foods, but sometimes it's beyond my understanding. And of course Texans are the kings of barbecue and barbecue sauce! But what I appreciate the most is the easy access to farms for fresh, local, and seasonal produce. Dallas is surrounded by wide open spaces and farms. We were able to go pick blackberries, strawberries, peaches, vegetables. My daughters no longer think strawberries grow in plastic trays!
Does living abroad transform your relationship to taste and does your cooking or baking evolve as a result?
I love to travel and for me, travelling begins with taste buds. As a result, I am very open to all cuisines and I love to taste foods. My husband thinks I'm obsessed with food! We have absorbed some local habits, like Taco Tuesday! It's the best invention so that you don't have to cook for dinner! Amongst American baked goods, I love cheesecake -- it's probably my favorite pastry. Plain cheesecake with a fruit coulis: I'm a fan.
How did your partnership with Myline and Claire come to be? Why do you like to have your products at French Wink?
We met last year. I was in New York for the Fancy Food Show. I was going to explore because I wanted to exhibit this year. Obviously it didn't happen because of you-know-what (meaning Covid-19)... They took advantage of this very big event to organize a meeting between French food brands in their O'Cabanon store. We wanted to do a test with My French Recipe products in their store and website. It worked well between us from the start. We work efficiently and in a simple manner, it is a real collaboration. I love their rather unique assortment of French products.
Follow today's stories on Instagram and Facebook, for a bonus Q&A with Isabel!
You can discover (or rediscover!) her Baking Mixes as well on our eshop.