New York has long been a food capital, from the upscale kitchens of our finest restaurants to the bagels and sausages on the street corners. But as anyone who has walked around Brooklyn has figured out, the next chapter of New York’s food history has everything to do with the local, “artisanal” food scene that is making its mark on the city. From the rise of greenmarkets and food fairs to the focus on seasonal ingredients, these products embody a DIY ethos that New York City has had from the very beginning.
The New-York Historical Society’s Museum store is introducing it’s A Taste of New-York History collection of specialty foods produced in New York City and State, including jams, savory condiments, and chocolates. One of those vendors is Papabubble. This LES candy shop, owned by Fiona Ryan and Chris Grassi, produces homemade hard candies in some extraordinary flavors. (Think watermelon chili, raspberry sage, and lavender!) We spoke with Fiona about studying candymaking in Barcelona, coming up with unique flavors, and reminding people what a treat candy can be.
When did you discover that being a candy maker is what you wanted to do with your life?
When I realized it was an option! We had moved to Barcelona and our friends who started the company made that a reality.
While you were studying in Barcelona, what kind of things did you learn?
The initial process of learning how to make candy is very intense. You are working with a very hot and alive material while exposed to the elements- heat and cold can greatly affect the outcome of the finished product. We learned a ton about colors and flavors and how to run a shop that doubles as a factory…which is also intense!
Why did you choose to set up shop in New York City?
We thought NYC was so exciting! We figured go big; live in a crazy city, see what happens.
Candy gets sort of a bad rap from the health-conscious. Why do you think candy is still good to have around?
It’s not like candy is a secret—it’s sugar, straight up and not hidden like it is in so many things that the majority of Americans consume. Our lab/factory is our shop because we believe in the importance of process and reconnecting the public with the science and art of what we are doing here. It appeals to many senses, and that is something that you often lose in a normal retail experience. The sugar part is a treat, the flavors are natural and unlike most hard candy flavors, and the experience is dreamy.
You make candies in flavor combinations like mango-lime and passionfruit–not your typical candy flavors! Where do you get your inspiration? How do you figure out what tastes good?
We draw inspiration from all sorts of stuff. Travel is one big inspiration. There is mango chili in Mexico and salty licorice in northern Europe. Food and cocktail combinations are also an inspiration, like grapefruit and basil or pear and bergamot. Our designs come from things that we see and we like, from art to music to just what we see on the street.
Is there anything new you’re working on?
We’re working on some jelly candies right now that we’re very excited about!
Any tips for people wanting to make candy at home?
Be careful! Hot sugar is not easy on the skin. Also be clean and organized; sugar cools down quickly so having your tools and tables in place will allow for more sugar time.
What’s your favorite way to enjoy your candy?