Every baker has at least one secret ingredient in her pantry. Maybe it’s flour from a local mill, or artisanal chocolate imported from Europe, or, in the case of Andrea Greene, owner of the Connecticut Cookie Company in Southport, it’s vanilla extract crafted from a 75-year-old recipe. But unlike most pastry chefs who would rather be beaten with a whisk than reveal their secrets, Andrea proudly announces that her cookies are made with “grandma’s hometown vanilla.” And now this smart cookie is bottling her special Madagascar blend and adding it to her product line of delectable homemade cookies and irresistible toffee!
Andrea, a fashion designer turned baker to the stars (and regular folks too!), spills the vanilla beans on her newest product and tells us about her transition from couture to cookies…
Fairfieldista: Tell me about the vanilla that you use in your cookies and what makes it so special?
Andrea: The vanilla is from a pharmacy in Indiana and is based on the vanilla my grandmother used to use when I was a child. It’s a seventy-five year old recipe that originated from the Cincinnati Tea & Spice company.
Fairfieldista: Where are the vanilla beans imported from?
Madagascar. Madagascar vanilla beans bring out the bold flavor when baking. I’ve added a modern twist to make it the unique CTCOCO vanilla extract I developed.
Fairfieldista: Why is it different from commercially produced brands?
Our vanilla extract is pure. You may see “pure vanilla extract” on your grocery shelf, but many contain corn syrup, sugar or an artificial ingredient. Mine has none of that.
Fairfieldista: Will you be selling the vanilla locally? if yes, when and how can people purchase it?
Fairfieldista: Being a fashion designer is many people’s idea of a “dream job” – Why did you give it up to start the Connecticut Cookie Company?
At this point, I am simply consulting in the fashion industry for Brooks Brothers – I feel like I have the best of both worlds: cookies & cashmere! I am incorporating design with my cookie business either in marketing or packaging. I will always need to keep my creative visual juices flowing.
Fairfieldista: Do you ever think about returning to the fashion business?
Never full-time. CTCOCO is a mix of simple design and great tasting old-fashioned baking: my two passions.
Fairfieldista: What skills did you learn in the fashion industry that you’ve transferred to this business?
I feel very fortunate that I designed for successful CEO’s today, especially Ralph Lauren where quality is key. It’s important to stay true to your brand and not lose focus which I learned from Ralph Lauren and Mike Jeffries from Abercrombie & Fitch. I’ve seen too many fashion companies go out of business or lose their customer because they lost their focus.
Also,keep it simple is important for me and my business. The corporate world can get complicated quickly whether it’s catching up with hundreds of emails or attending meetings after meetings. Less is always more in my opinion.
Fairfieldista: You have quite a celebrity following – how did you build it?
The celebrity following, funny enough, started when Carson Kressley was on Dancing with the Stars. I used to work with him at Ralph Lauren. He sent me an email to see if I wanted to send my cookies to the stars. Of course I did, but they ended up being stolen by employees who got them first! Joe Scarborough tweeted how his family loved the cookie box they had from CTCOCO. I’ve also been fortunate to have my cookies on Tory Johnson’s show on Channel 12 out of New York City at least twice a year and she has a celebrity following.
Fairfieldista: I see that recently your cookies were part of the celebrity lounges at the White House Correspondents Dinner as well as the upcoming Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week – what was that like for you to be back in the glamorous celebrity spotlight in a completely different role?
A friend of mine, who is also a small business owner, connected me to the Creative Coalition Washington DC event. I feel so fortunate to have such a true support group for my small business much less sharing cookies with celebrities. I am very lucky to have met the people I have to be my cheerleaders (while they are my guinea pigs), but my favorite cheerleaders are the kids and grandparents.
This is the first year I’m doing fashion week on the cookie side of the business. Fashion Week starts in early September, so this will be interesting & fun! I was asked to feature my cookies at a Patricia Field (designer for Sex in the City) event the night before Fashion Week starts, so I am very excited.
Fairfieldista: And, finally, the question that’s on everybody’s mind…do models and actresses eat cookies?
I do know designers and actors certainly enjoy cookies. A special treat brings a smile to everyone’s face no matter who you are. I don’t give names of models though – it’s their secret. : )
Andrea’s tasty cookies are anything but vanilla! They can be ordered from her website: www.CTCOCO.com