a big happy anniversary for today’s maker…. courtney dudman donley of c salt gourmet. the confectioner started selling her sweet treats almost 4 years ago on valentine’s day 2008. although her incredible pistachio cherry chocolate with sea salt & caramel can be enjoyed on any holiday (i personally can enjoy it every day of the week) – meet the maker that can make you into the best valentine’s day gifter on the block.
i’m a southern california girl, born and raised in santa ana. my husband (a college math instructor) and i now make our home in a tight-knit neighborhood in long beach–where we love to cook and listen to music with our friends.
i grew up in a fairly unconventional home with my dad, his two sisters and their two boys. i remained close with my mom and got to spend a lot of time with both of my grandmothers, so family has always been incredibly important to me- and the kitchen has always been the beating heart of our family.
what do you make or do?
my little chocolate company, c salt gourmet, is my main creation. and, really, it scratches quite a few of my various creative itches.
i make a handful of different sweet/salty confections on a regular basis. my pistachio cherry chocolate with sea salt & caramel is my signature sweet, but i’ve also got a pretty killer pine nut pistachio brittle (if i do say so myself). this winter, i introduced some butter caramels that are like crack.
once in awhile, when i have time, i play around with new ideas and recipes… like sauces, candles and liqueurs. i also participate in quite a few events throughout the year, and that gives me the chance to come up with really fun displays and tables for sweets.
where can we find your creations?
c salt treats are sold at mother’s markets across orange county, california, at a little gourmet grocer in newport beach called promelis, and at a fantastic boutique in long beach called twig & willow… it’s actually across the street from my apartment. love this neighborhood.
how long have you been creating and is it your full-time job?
i started making my pistachio cherry chocolate 6 or 7 years ago, but didn’t start c salt until valentine’s day of 2008. c salt is definitely a full time job (or 2 or 3).
i wait tables at the café whose kitchen i sublease, too! needless to say, i don’t get much time off. weekends are non-existent! my dad’s work ethic definitely set a good example for me, but someday, i hope i don’t have to work quite so hard…
when you’re not making things, what do you do?
i love to go to the movies- really any movie will do in a pinch. i’m not even that picky. i just love the experience of sitting in the dark with strangers– and sharing an emotional experience.
is creativity a luxury or a necessity for you?
creativity is a necessity. without it i feel hollow and paralyzed. as soon as i could hold a pencil in my hand, i started writing poems.
my outlets have changed throughout the years, but i manage to get my creativity fix in one way or another (even if it’s just sleeping in and dreaming fabulous, vibrant dreams once the madness of christmas is over… by then i’m too exhausted to get out of bed!).
what obstacles have you had to overcome to lead a creative life?
it is definitely a life of sacrifice- my husband is an adjunct professor at the college where he teaches, so we don’t have benefits like health insurance or a 401k.
i’m working on taking my business to the next level in 2012, so hopefully, we can begin getting things like that in order in the near future. i’d like to have kids with him at some point, so health insurance is obviously an important step before we can have a family.
i really regret not taking business classes in college. that is my biggest struggle as a creative business person. the creativity flows-but the business skills are much more hard-won.
i’ve tried a slew of community-based business counseling programs with no real success, until now. the sbdc in long beach has been a life-saver. i feel like they “get” my business model and have been a tremendous help with the creation of my business plan and the loan application i’m working on.
did someone in your family, a friend or teacher introduce you to your creative side or have they helped you along the way?
my father’s mother, my nana, is a working artist. she lives in clarkdale, arizona (outside of sedona) and sells her work at an artist’s co-op in the old mining town jerome. she is a true example for me… in living a creative life.
when i’d go to her house as a kid, we’d almost never watch tv (i love tv!)– but i didn’t miss it when i was there. we’d do art projects, painting and gold-leafing different objects, going to see cirque du soleil, or just drawing quietly.
my grandmother on my mom’s side, my mema, is also a deeply creative soul. she’s an incredible writer and a voracious reader. ours was a world of words and dreams- writing stories and poems, telling one another about our dreams and trying to figure out what they meant.
and then, there is my auntie sesa- she is an inspired cook. her food is so soulful and comforting. when i cook, it is always with her in mind.
my whole family has been amazingly supportive, though… c salt is truly a family affair! when i have a big order or an event, i can always count on my parents, aunts, siblings, cousins, grandparents and in-laws being right there! i simply could not do this without them- especially my mother-in-law… she is my right hand woman.
where do you find inspiration?
i love reading cookbooks- it’s one of my favorite escapes. savory dishes often inspire new truffle flavors or combinations for a new mendiant.
what’s on the horizon for you and what you do?
in 2012, my #1 goal is to open a storefront and have my own full-time kitchen. everything else has to take a backseat to this- it’s the only way for me to keep doing this thing that i love!
if money wasn’t an issue, how would your life change with regards to your art?
wow- if money wasn’t an issue, i would first hire people who love to do all the things i hate! …like bookkeeping and sales. that would be amazing- to just worry about the food and the beauty. someday.
what would be your perfect day off?
my perfect day off is so simple, it’s a little embarrassing. sleep in, go to the farmer’s market and buy anything and everything i want (especially flowers), go to a matinee, have a cocktail and watch the sun go down, then cook dinner with all of my fm treasures.
what inspiring advice would you give to other creatives?
find the people who believe in you and show it in a concrete way- then hold them close! they are your greatest asset. and when you want to give up, hold them in your heart and keep slogging on.