No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.
- Ingmar Bergman

December 11, 2015

The Talent Pool Corner -- Michelle Apiar, Owner of Haute So Sweet

Who doesn't like sweets?   If they didn't exist, the world would be an empty, tasteless place not to mention a boring one.

When filming a wedding, my nose always gravitates towards the buttery icing aroma calling from the far end of the room by a wedding cake holding court just waiting to be sliced and eaten.  If that wasn't tempting enough, then it is the venetian table with its wonderful display of goodies from chocolate covered strawberries to cookies to cake pops.   Ah olfactory high....SWEETS!

Michelle Apiar
Given that it's the holiday season when sweets appear in every household, office and gift-wrapped package, the TPC thought it the perfect time to talk to someone whose passion is sweets!

Michelle Apiar, owner, pastry chef and sweet tooth connoisseur of Haute So Sweet shares her sweet story.  I hope you find what she has to say to be a very indulging and tasty experience.

Talk about the path that brought you into the culinary world.

I’ve always  enjoyed cooking and baking, and have fond memories working in the kitchen with my Polish mother and grandmother, making traditional meals for holidays like Pierogies for Christmas.

My family were small business owners, so I was always encouraged to open my own business.  I went to NYU to study communications and media, with a plan to go into public relations.  I worked for a firm that did PR for restaurants and then for Gourmet Magazine.  I found myself working with amazing chefs who started businesses engaging in their passion. So, I decided to go to culinary school and try it myself.  I attended the French Culinary institute in 2004 and studied Pastry.

I didn’t think I would go into cake design, nor was I particularly informed about it when I started school.  I thought I would be a chocolatier.  But once I started working with sugar and fondant, something clicked.  I say that sugarwork chose me.

Who has inspired you?

In terms of inspiration, I have 3 main role models.  The first is Julia Child.  She held on to her true passion and with much persistence, got her book published.  She broke through in an industry that was dominated by men, and used a great branding hook to do it.  And she uses LOTS of butter, which is our religion here at Haute So Sweet.  

The second is Jacques Pepin.  His focus on simplicity in the production of food, requiring only 2 tools, your hand and a sharp knife to create dishes is my mantra.  I use very limited tools when creating cakes, and prefer to make decorations totally by hand.  I even measure by eye and only use a ruler to level cakes.  

The third is my former employer, Colette Peters, who is the innovator in the realm of cakes.  Her mind thinks on a different level completely and I learned how to think like an artist working with her.  If I could harness a fraction of her creativity, I would be ecstatic.
Black Silver Sequined Wedding Cakes

When and why did you decide to branch out on your own?

After I worked for Colette, an opportunity to purchase a bakery came up, which I took.  Due to a lack of business acumen, the bakery failed.  I left the industry for a few years and worked in fashion, but the cakes kept calling me back.  I started Haute So Sweet in my East Village apartment in 2011.  We now have been in our own space in West Chelsea for the past 2 years.  

New York City houses a slew of talented pastry chefs.  How do you find your niche in this competitive world?  When people hear the name Haute So Sweet, what words do you hope come to mind?

Many of my colleagues are talented cake artists, but what I hear time and time again from my clients is that they chose our cake for their event not only based on the design, but because our cake tasted the best.  The statement I hear the most from client feedback is that our cake looked beautiful, but tasted even better.  We achieve this by using high quality fresh ingredients, and lots of butter.  

What are some of the challenges faced in owning your own pastry business?

I used to produce all the cakes myself, which became impossible as the business grew.  My team does most of the baking and decorating and I step in for difficult decorations and final touches, like placement of flowers and “sprinkling the magic dust” to make the cake perfect.  I design all of the cakes for clients and try new techniques all of the time.  But when I do get an opportunity to bake, I love it, mostly because I miss it.  This leads me to one of the biggest challenges I have in owning a business, which is stepping into the role of CEO, rather than creator and baker.  I do sales and marketing for the business, and much of the daily operations.  It’s the working on my business, not working in the business which becomes a challenge.

Most people don't truly understand the blood, sweat and tears that go into being a pastry chef and creating a beautifully designed, tasty cake or pastry.  Share an element or two of the process that helps us better understand the difficulty in cake creation.

The only people that truly understand what it takes to make a custom designed cake, are the people that do it.  We do not sit and play with icing all day.  The job is physically and mentally demanding.  High volume baking requires lots of heavy lifting and working with large equipment.   A cake requires large amounts of decorations, so it’s not unheard of to make one hundred flowers at a time.  The final product usually weighs over 50 pounds and we have done cakes that required 6 people to carry.  All that and making sure that the foundation and construction is strong so that it can be driven over the potholes in NYC.  And let’s not forget temperature control in the hot summer months.   There is a great deal of planning, coordination and logistics that happens before one ounce of flour is measured.

Describe a Haute So Sweet client.

Our clients want the best of everything for their special event.  They care about taste and quality, and want to trust the vendors that they choose to work with.  They are creative and want to wow their guests with a spectacular centerpiece for their party.  That is the type of client that chooses Haute So Sweet for their cake.

Talk about some of the challenges faced when working with clients.

The main challenge I have with a client is when they want something last minute.  Sometimes we have to amend designs to accommodate short notice, which I highly discourage.  We need at least 6 weeks notice for a smaller cake, and 3-6 months for a large cake, like a wedding cake.

How involved are your clients in the design process?

We put a lot of love and passion into what we do.  We care about each and every client.  Since I have a lot of interaction with the client during the design and tasting process, I communicate the importance of our client's special day to the production team.  In the kitchen, our clients are not referred to as order numbers, but by name and type of event.  This adds to the personalization of each cake.  Our clients become part of the Haute So Sweet family.  We often do cakes for several occasions that our clients celebrate and because of this relationship, they refer us to family and friends.

The "Barbie" cake dress holding Barbie!

What are some of the factors that help in forming a healthy client relationship?

It’s mostly built on trust.  My clients know that Haute So Sweet will create a showstopper of a cake for their party.  They also know that we are the cake decorators to come to for unusual requests.  For example, I had a wedding planner come to me  because she knew I was the one who could make a cake suspended from a chandelier.  A performance artist called me to make her 50th birthday cake.  She wanted to be the Barbie in her own Barbie cake dress.  We built the cake around her at the venue.  When I asked her, “why did you choose us?”, she responded “because I knew you were the only one who could do it!”

Where is Haute So Sweet five years from now?

The Chandelier Cake
So where do we go from here?  Haute So Sweet has amazing things planned for 2016, one of which includes launching a new line of wedding cakes that allow our clients to have a custom cake for a non-custom price.  We will continue to make the impossible possible for our clients with our couture cake designs services.  And 5 years from now?  Maybe some TV exposure and big profits!!!!

If you would like to learn more about Michelle or, want to
speak to her about your upcoming event:


November 12, 2015

Filmmaker About Town -- Heart of A Dog

A must see --  a introspective story mixing in animation, film, super 8 film, photographs, text and narration --beautifully filmed and told by Laurie Anderson.

March 2, 2015

Running With Heels LLC.

As They Are Now -- Catching Up With My Past Wedding Clients

A funny thing happened when I attended a holiday gathering for In Good Company Workspaces a few years ago -- I reconnected with a bride of mine!

I filmed Jenny Power's wedding years ago and we had the best time working together in creating her wedding film.  I was thrilled to find her again and learn what has been brewing in the mind of Jenny Powers.  Turns out, she jumped onto the entrepreneurial bandwagon with her women's networking group "Running With Heels."  She has been riding high ever since.

I loved working with Jenny then, and I really loved hearing about her life now -- as always, she keeps me learning while, at the same time, laughing.

Meet Jenny Powers.
Jenny Powers, Entrepreneur

How long have you been married? 

Jeff and I have been married for 8 years now.

What moment(s) resonate with you from your wedding day?

What I most remember about our wedding day was just how much fun it was. Jeff went to University of Wisconsin-Madison and always wanted to get married there even though we are both born and bred New Yorkers. Initially, I was completely opposed to it but then I realized it meant so much to him so I went for it. 

As they say “Go Big or Go Home’ so we went big and hosted a traditional Wisconsin wedding.  150 friends flew out and everyone attended a Badger football game the morning of our wedding so Jeff and I literally had face paint on until 2 hours before we walked down the aisle. 

2 hrs. before their wedding
Jenny + Jeff ©Gregory's Photographic Arts

What are some things marriage has taught you? 

Marriage has taught me you don’t marry the person you can live with, you marry the person you can’t live without.

How do you balance your business life with your personal life? 

I’ve learned that perfection is the enemy of good. I will never be the perfect mother, wife or business owner so I focus on what most needs attention at the time. Sometimes it’s volunteering for the class trip or Daisy Scout Meeting, other times it’s planning a date night or a couples vacation and other times, it’s going out several nights in a row promoting my business. 

Talk about your past work.

For twenty years I produced special events, mainly for the non-profit sector.  The majority of the time I had the opportunity to develop new event concepts, create marketing strategies and fundraising directives which allowed me to feel a bit like an entrepreneur. It was almost like running my own event business with an investor.  As long as I hit the numbers, I was pretty much allowed to be as creative as I wanted to be. 

Any crowning achievements or rewarding moments? 

I remember one year in particular the non-profit I worked for could not secure an honoree willing to raise a lot of money so the board was going cancel the gala. I suggested we host a gala without an honoree and create a theme that would be a draw instead. I figured it had to be better to try something new and raise some money than to just throw in the towel. After much discussion, they allowed me to do it. The event I created was a hit and won “Best Non-Profit” Event in New York that year and we raised $300k. 

What have you learned from working with others?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to celebrate achievements no matter how big or small before moving on to the next thing. There will also be a next thing but there won’t always be time for celebration.

How have you applied this experience to your new venture?

What I’ve learned and carried over to my new venture is to trust my instincts. Just because something has always been done the same way doesn’t mean it has to be. I’ve learned that I will always be my toughest critic and most of the time what goes on behind the scenes is only evident to me and the client barely notices. I’ve learned to course-correct when necessary and to treat all attendees like VIPs. 

Why did you embark on your new adventure?

In 2012, sick and tired of attending a series of awkward and just plain awful networking events, I set out to create a different kind of networking event – one where women were excited to attend and left feeling educated, entertained, empowered and eager to attend future events. 

As a first step, I hosted a focus group and the criteria to participate was that you had to be a working woman who hated networking and networking events. These women were not hard to find! They were everywhere and they were all too happy to share why networking made them cringe. Armed with their plentiful feedback, I took their advice and recreated the traditional networking event and Running With Heels was born!

Can you describe your feeling the day you launched Running With Heels? 

When I launched I held an executive position at a national non-profit. I would spend my lunch break, nights and weekends working on my business. I loved what I was doing and even though my employer knew I had started a business, it felt like I was leading a double life. In May 2014, I left the job I’d been in for a decade to focus on Running With Heels full-time and have never looked back! 

Describe a Running With Heels woman.

She is a senior level executive or established business owner. No matter her age, she is young at heart. She is fun, vibrant, enjoys meeting new people and experiencing new things. She’s fashionable, cultured, well read, well traveled, knows what she wants and invests in herself. She believes collaboration not competition is the key to life.

Describe Jenny Powers, Entrepreneur.

I am a Goal-Digger! Setting challenging goals and accomplishing them is a huge rush for me. I love the process of creating something from scratch and breathing life into it. Whether it’s developing an event series or doing a TEDx talk or writing my monthly column for, I enjoy the process, the creating something and putting it out into the universe to share.

What part of Running With Heels do you enjoy most? 

I love creating the events themselves however, the real joy is the result of the actual events -- the community being built before my very eyes. The fact that women are coming together to collaborate and celebrate with one another keeps me going. I love seeing friendships and partnerships evolve. 

Talk about some of the challenges faced in your business to date. 

There are so many amazing things to do every day in NYC so there’s a lot of competition to get on someone’s calendar. There are no longer any “off nights” so you can have the best speaker and a terrific venue and sometimes the crowd is smaller than I’d hoped for because of everything else happening that night. 

What are some of your most memorable Running With Heels moments? 

The first time someone ever bought a ticket to my event.  It was only a few minutes after I posted the event and I was overwhelmed with joy.

Standing in front of my guests welcoming them to my first RWH event and realizing I had created my dream job and was now getting paid to do what I love. 

How many pairs of heels are in your closet? 

I plead the fifth on this one because I’d like to share this article with my husband☺ 

Is there a favorite pair? 

My favorite pair at the moment is a leopard bootie from J. Crew. As soon as I put them on I knew I had to have them! 

A regret pair?

I don’t have any regrets about shoes or anything else for that matter. Shoes are like exes, each one teaches you what you like and don’t like and helps you move forward.

Where is Jenny Powers five years from now? 

She has expanded Running With Heels to cities and hosting weekend retreats across the US bringing working women together all over the map. She’s the author of several books on the power of networking and hosts a weekly top-rated podcast.

She’s still happily married to Jeff, maybe with a second child by then and with a lot more high heels in her closet☺ 

To connect with Jenny:

January 23, 2015

Dana Triano Designs

As They Are Now? -- Catching up with some of my wedding clients

Welcome to 2015!

What I love about filming weddings is getting to meet so many interesting men and women and to learn about their beliefs, passions and talents.  I love listening to my couples tell the story of how they were brought together and the journey that led to their wedding day.

The wedding day begins the new chapter in their lives.  Their story now shifts to the road they've been traveling since their wedding.  As a storyteller, I decided it would be interesting follow up on where they are now and what they are doing which is now being told in my new blog column titled "As They Are Now."

My first story centers on Dana Triano.  I filmed Dana and Rick's wedding in 2006.  It took place in New York City at St. Francis Xavier's and then moved to the Tribeca Rooftop.  Since that time, Dana and Rick have celebrated 8 years of marriage, relocated to California (NYC was home) and Dana has moved forward in creating her own business called "Dana Triano Designs".

I connected with Dana to learn more about what she's been up to over these last 8 years and here's what I learned:

You have been married for 8 years.  What moment(s) resonate with you from your wedding day?

We were married young and one of the first weddings that we attended together was our own!  The church where we were married was the same church that my parents said their vows 33 years earlier, and where my grandfather was an altar boy.  That was very special to us!  We also still get compliments on the reception at Tribeca Rooftop: the food, the drinks, the band (NY City Swing).
I wish we could do it all over again as guests.

Dana on her wedding day. @Karen Cunningham

What are some of the lessons that marriage has taught you?

Relationships get more meaningful with time.  Your partner can be a balance to you and be a counterpoint.  You realize that no one is perfect but it gets easier to play to each other's strengths.

How do you balance your business with your personal life?

I'm a workaholic so balance between business and personal life has always been difficult for me.  I'm very lucky to have an understanding partner.

When did you catch the design bug?

My junior year in college when I studied abroad in Rome.  I traveled throughout Europe and finally saw what was previously only in history and art textbooks.  Art and architecture grandly came to life before me.  Textiles and traditions unfolded.

Who has inspired you in the design world and why?

At work.
Charles Rene Macintosh, Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright.  I love the idea of a holistic design concept.  Their designs involved continuity between the exterior and interior spaces; whether with ornament, principles, themes or actual furniture and objects.  They also thought about the relationships of design and nature.

When did you decide to move from working for others to working for yourself?

About one month into my first design job.  I lost the creative control of the complete design process that had so inspired me as a student.

Why did you embark on this adventure?

The timing was right personally and professionally.

Was this a smooth transition for you?  Any trepidation?

Very smooth.  I tend to be a glass-half full kind of optimist so for me it's all exciting and full of opportunity.

Can you describe your design aesthetic?

One of the best parts of this process has been taking the time to step back to define my own style.  My aesthetic is grounded in classical design theories.  I don't pay much attention to trends that are in one year and out the next.  Design can be timeless if executed properly.

For me, "the line's the thing" - the silhouettes and the curves.  The volumes and the resulting negative space.  I love natural materials -- wood, metal and stone -- for their purity and impurity.  My design leans towards the organic shapes and natural elements.  I have always loved Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movements for their design principles that praise natural materials and emphasis holistic designs and quality craftsmanship.

However, unlike some classic period styles, I dislike too much visual clutter and fussy ornament.  Impersonal objects and junk crowd our modern homes.  Something in me seeks to "simplify, simplify, simplify".  I'm not a minimal modern designer.  I just think that beautiful things need to breath and have the space to be appreciated.  It's not just about filling up a room.  There should be a history to the objects and the owners.

What part of the design process do you enjoy most?

Final installation.  The buzz of many teams pulling everything together and seeing the vision come to life.

Describe a Dana Triano client.

Well-traveled, creative, stylish, positive, open-minded and interested in sustainability.

Talk about some of the challenges faced when working with a design client.

I found that indecision creates bottlenecks in the process and leads to dis-unified designs.

How involved do your clients want to be in your design process?

At the end of the day, the home is the clients' so their opinions are essential to the process.

What are some of the factors that help in forming not only an inspiring creative process but a healthy client relationship?

Honesty on both sides.  It saves time and misspent energy.

Talk about compromise in your work.  If a client chooses a design element that does not fit into your overall design, how do you handle?

Discuss it with them.  If they are as passionate about their needs as I am about my design, there is a solution.  You can always photograph the room from a different angle!

What brought you to California?

The sunshine!  I constantly traveled here for work and it became harder and harder to deny the power of light and space.  One day, while I was driving the PCH to LAX from Santa Barbara and the sun was shining on the mountains and the ocean glistening, I realized I didn't want to leave.  I don't know if I took the time to look up at the sky when I was living in NYC.  In LA, you can step back and see the mountain line hugging the sky every gorgeous day.

Is there a difference between the California design aesthetic and the NYC aesthetic?  

Yes.  One day I was discussing the difference between East and West Coast with a rug vendor.  Antique rugs have two sides depending on the way the light catches the pile of the fibers -- a light side and a dark side.  He told me that in CA one tends to lay the rug on the light side and in NY, one tends to lay the rug on the dark side.  It has held true in my experience!

I also found that New York City is more polished and tends to be more formal.  You can use darker colors and rich materials like velvets or silk.  Because the sun is incredibly powerful here, fabrics and colors fade quickly.  There is more of an indoor-outdoor quality to living here.  Everything is focused around the sun and daylight whereas in New York City, the focus is on the evening energy and the skyline lights.

Where is Dana Triano Designs five years from now?

On the cover of a design magazine!

To learn more about Dana Triano Designs check out her website.....

or follow her on Instagram and Facebook at:  @DanaTrianoDesigns

November 4, 2014

What's New? -- Salt Flats Film Shoot, Widow, Part 2

The Bonneville Salt Flats is yet another breathtaking wonder of Mother Nature.  Located 90 minutes from Salt Lake City, the Salt Flats were created over ten thousand years ago when Lake Bonneville receded leaving behind mineral deposits consisting mostly of salt.   Today, the Salt Flats draw auto racing enthusiasts (The Annual Bonneville Speed Racing Event in August), and also lure tourists, photographers and filmmakers, who attempt to capture this magical gift Nature has given us with their cameras.

Cut to:  "Widow" - Part 2.

Jil Guyon decided the Salt Flats was the perfect background to film Part 2 of her "Widow" Trilogy.  If you aren't familiar with "Widow" Part 1, it is a 7 minute film created and performed as a solo by Jil.
We filmed it at Three Legged Dog Studios (NYC) in December 2012.  It has gone on to be included in numerous film festivals (USA + Canada), such as Lincoln Center's "Dance On Camera" 2014 and "Dance On Camera" Tour 2014.  It also won two awards from La Jolla's IndieFest Film Festival -- Best Short Experimental Film and Award for Excellence in Experimental Film.

Cut to:  Off we went! 

We filmed for 4 days.  Each moment spent on the Flats felt like I had crossed over into another dimension of space and time.  My aesthetic senses were overwhelmed by the ever-changing shifts of light, color and form, each new scene equalling the brilliance of the previous one.

I worked with my DSLR 5D Mark II, Mark III and GoPro cameras and I must confess that I was blown away by all of the footage.  I would love to take credit for creating all of the stunning imagery but I must give all the praise to Mother Nature for making my work very easy.

Below are images that tell a portion of the story.  Notice on Day 1, how the light dramatically shifted within a 4 hour block of time.

Where is she?  Day 1 after 4:30pm

Spreading her wings.  Day 1 after 5:30pm.

Hiding?  Day 1 after 6:00pm

Bending.  Day 1 after 7:30pm

Leaving?  Day 1 after 8:00pm

GoPro Image -- Day 3 after 5:30pm
After the night rain.  Day 4 -- water fills the flats
After the night rain.  Day 4 -- water fills the flats

September 25, 2014

Summer's end -- Taking it all in

It has been quite a busy summer -- I wondered why it went by in a flash!  I found myself traveling all around the Tri-state area and even bouncing down into Virginia and Pennsylvania, filming couples celebrating their wedding day.

It was also a rewarding time for "Widow", the experimental film created by Jil Guyon and filmed by moi.  "Widow" has been accepted it into numerous film festivals this year and most recently found itself being invited into Toronto's Urban Film Festival curated by well-known filmmaker Guy Maddin.  To top it off, it won La Jolla's Indie Fest Award for Best Experimental Film.  The "Widow" train continues as it will be in Columbus, Ohio's Music Festival and also showing at Musee de la Civilisation, Quebec, both in 2015.

I created an exciting project for S'MAC restaurant.  I worked with Sarita and Caesar Ekya, the owners of S'MAC , to create a promotional film for air on TaxiTV.  Not only was it fun drawing up the storyboard and filming, it was also delicious as Sarita and Caesar treated me to one of their many tasty Mac and Cheese dishes.  If you love Mac and Cheese, I highly recommend dropping into one of their two locations.  You will not be disappointed.

Finally, spent a few Wednesdays in August working with David Lackey, co-owner of Whirlwind Creative, Inc. filming and editing short pieces for Related Companies "Art in the Park" series.  Many food trucks, artists, and musicians participated in this outdoor event that was free to the public.  Everyone who dropped by the event had a blast eating and dancing in the beautiful summertime weather.

In case you haven't taken a peek at my work in awhile, I leave you and this Summer with a few glance-backs.

Welcome Fall!

Art Deco Glamour at Gotham Hall from Valerie Barnes Film on Vimeo.

All My Bright Tomorrows Belong to You from Valerie Barnes Film on Vimeo.

S'MAC Promotional Film from Valerie Barnes Film on Vimeo.