Foodie Friday: The Master Fudge Maker

Mmm, we can never say no to fudge.

Even though she doesn’t quite have a sweet tooth, Karla Bayon eats fudge every day. For her job, she has to.

Bayon is the master fudge maker at Calico Cottage, Inc., a family-owned business that’s been churning out rich, creamy chocolate for almost 50 years. From red velvet to chipotle corn, she’s constantly toying with new flavors, decorating fudge, and coming up with novelty ideas, like fudge pizza.

As summer winds down, it’s out with the watermelon sherbet and in with the apple pie. Below, Bayon dishes on her favorite mix-in, weight gain associated with the job, and the weirdest flavor she’s ever seen.

Age: 53
Graduated from: Suffolk Community College, Associate’s degree with emphasis on psychology
In the fudge industry for: Almost 5 years
Previous jobs: Stay-at-home mom; manager and baker at Reinwald’s Bakery in Huntington, NY

In one sentence, what do you do all day? In a nutshell, I develop new recipes and play with food.

What made you decide to pursue a career in baking? I didn’t intend to be in the food industry, but it’s funny where life takes you. After my husband had a tragic accident, I took a temporary job at Reinwald’s, a local bakery, and ended up staying there for 18 years. Then I took a job at Calico Cottage that evolved into the master fudge maker position.

Red velvet fudge is one of the most successful flavors.

Did you have an “aha” moment? My son was graduating college, and he was so excited about starting his life. To see his excitement to start a whole new journey – I felt like I was missing something. I was middle-aged and felt like it was time for me to get back some of that excitement.

Where do you draw inspiration for new fudge flavors? It could be in the spice aisle or vegetable aisle of the grocery store. Lately, I’ve been trying to get into Tex-Mex fudge flavors.

How does Calico Cottage decide which flavors to produce? Recently, a few employees got together to brainstorm, and we came up with over 600 ideas. We take a few flavors at a time and work with those – sometimes they work beautifully, sometimes we put them on hold, and sometimes they tank.

Flavor that worked beautifully: Red velvet.
Flavor that tanked: Oriental, with noodles and wasabi.

How do you judge what qualifies as “good” fudge? It has to be visually appealing. One flavor I thought would be a success was French toast, but it wasn’t working visually, so we put it on hold. Fudge also has to be creamy and delicious – you want to bite into it and taste exactly what it’s supposed to be.

Fudge-covered marshmallow pops for the December holidays.

Do you offer special seasonal flavors? Around the fall, we have apple pie and pumpkin pie flavors, and at Christmas, we have eggnog and cranberry nut. For the summer, we’ll have watermelon and sherbet fudge.

Most popular flavor: Chocolate walnut. You can’t go wrong with chocolate and nuts.

Your favorite flavor: Cappuccino. I love coffee.

Strangest flavor: Sauerkraut fudge. I also once saw garlic fudge at a garlic festival out west.

Something people don’t know about your job: There are no boundaries; what you think can’t work sometimes surprisingly does.

Little-known fudge fact: Fudge tends to get soggy if you put in crispy things, like pretzels. [Click here for more little-known fudge facts.]

What flavors are you working on now? I’ve been combining savory and sweet, so I’m working on a mango coconut with peppercorn, and also a chipotle corn with a nice crunch factor. But my job isn’t just developing flavors – it’s also decorating and coming up with novelty ideas.

These fudge wreaths are the holiday version of the "fudge flats" that Bayon developed.

Like what? I just came up with a “fudge flat,” which is kind of like fudge pizza. The crust is made of yogurt-covered pretzels, and it has a layer of fudge on top with nuts or raisins.

Do you have a sweet tooth? I’m developing one more and more every day. That’s why I like to work with savory flavors, too.

Do you eat fudge every day? Yes, but it’s very rich. If I keep it up, they’re going to have to put a “wide load” sign on me.

Have you gained weight since taking the job at Calico Cottage? At least 10 pounds. Typically, I try to eat light – like yogurt and fruit for breakfast and salad for lunch. That way, I won’t feel so bad when I take a bite of fudge.

Milk or dark chocolate? Milk. But our Mexican dark chocolate, which is dark chocolate with cinnamon, is very good, too.

Candy or plain? Nuts, like almonds or hazelnuts. I love crunch and texture in fudge.

Favorite dessert? Ice cream with hot fudge sauce. I also find a lot of inspiration in ice creams that are pushing the envelope.

Dream job in college: Radio broadcasting. But not long after graduating, I got married and had a kid. Life happens.

Fudge-covered apples for Halloween.

LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
The fudge master serves up some advice for recent grads: Go with your passion and do what you love. I ask my son all the time: are you happy with what you do? That affects every aspect of your life: personal and professional.

Check out more than fudge 150 recipes and learn to decorate fudge yourself! All photos courtesy of Calico Cottage/Lynn Misiak.

PLUS: Got a sweet tooth? Check out other dessert-themed Foodie Fridays, like the Cold Stone Creamery taste master and fortune cookie writer.

The Alligator Wrestler

Tim Williams with a tiny alligator at Gatorland. Hatchlings are often 7 to 8 inches long.

Tim Williams works with 800-lb. alligators every day, but the hardest part of his job is working with people.

“People get so caught up in emotion,” he says. “But alligators always think that life is good.” The gator expert is Gatorland’s dean of gator wrestling, coaching the newbies on how to clench a gator’s jaw and gently tickle its stomach. He often works 16-hour days at the “alligator capital of the world,” which is the oldest state park in Central Florida.

Inside its gaping gator mouth entrance, the wildlife preserve’s 110 acres are devoted to educational shows, train rides and a splash park, and zip lines gliding over gators and crocs. And although it’s less than 10 miles from SeaWorld Orlando, Williams prides Gatorland on the best compliment he’s ever received: “All the other parks around here run on electrical impulse, but [Gatorland] runs on a heartbeat.”

Title: Dean of Gator Wrestling and Director of Media Relations, Gatorland
Age: 62
Graduated from: University of Florida, degree in biology
In the business for: 37 years
Salary: Between $60,000 and $80,000. But I’d do this for free.
Previous jobs: Army ranger in Vietnam; rattlesnake venom extractor; police officer

Did you always know you wanted to work with alligators?I’ve always loved the outdoors. My dad had a radio show about fishing, and at one time, my mom was the longest continuous Girl Scout. She was a scout and/or a leader for 47 years.

This rare white gator at Gatorland's White Gator Swamp is named Trezo Je, meaning "‘treasure's eye."

How did that lead to gators? My hero growing up was alligator expert Ross Allen. After selling Ross some rattlesnakes – which were my first love, before gators – I started working for him at the Alligator Farm in Saint Augustine, doing venom extractions from the snakes. During one gator show, a guy broke his back, so I filled in for him.

Your college mascot also happened to be a gator. Yes, but [University of Florida] didn’t offer a major in gator wrestling, unfortunately.

Do you still wrestle gators on a regular basis? Not anymore. I’ve reached an age where I can get down on the alligators, but can’t get back up without help.

So what do you do now at Gatorland? I coach others how to wrestle gators, and I’m a mouthpiece for the company.

Working hours: It depends, but often 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. I help companies that come to film at Gatorland, like National Geographic, Discovery, and BBC.

Lead me through the process of getting atop a gator. I get into the water, take the gator by its tail, and pull it into the sand pit in the middle of the moat. After positioning the gator safely, I jump on and let my knees sit on the ground. Then I put my hands to its neck, catch its mouth shut, and show the crowd – usually 300 to 800 people – the gator’s nostrils, ears, teeth, jaw, and belly scales. Then I’ll roll it over, put it to sleep, and wake it up again by lightly tickling its belly.

What shocked you the most about gators? How strong they are for their size. A fully-grown gator is 13 to 14 feet and weighs 800 pounds.

WATCH:

Have you ever been bitten? I took a good bite when I was working at the Alligator Farm, which is why I then went to work for sheriff’s office full-time. But I kept wrestling gators, doing shows, and teaching alligator safety to paramedics. I enjoyed being police officer, but when I got a call from Gatorland to help out, I moved to Orlando and have been there since.

Best part of the job: Working with one of the most incredible animals on Earth. It’s the alpha predator out here.

Most challenging part of the job: Working with people. People get so caught up in emotion. Alligators – and most animals, for that matter – always think that life is good.

With SeaWorld nearby, does Gatorland attract big crowds? We don’t try to be Disney. Gatorland is the oldest park in Central Florida, and we get about 400,000 people per year. We even have zip lines that go over alligators and crocodiles!

How do you unwind after a long day with the gators? Sitting on the dock and watching the sunset with a good glass of scotch and a cigar.

Visitors walk through Gatorland's gaping gator mouth entrance.

Alligator’s coolest trick: They can hold their breath for longer than 12 hours when it gets cold outside; their heart rate and respiration slow down. It’s also cool to watch an 800-lb. alligator move through the water, with just the tip of its nose and eyes sticking up, without make a ripple in the water whatsoever.

How do alligators reproduce? They can be very romantic, rubbing their faces and noses together. But if the female doesn’t like the male, she’ll bite him and swim off. Once they’ve mated in the water, the female builds the nest on shore, lays 20 to 45 eggs, and covers them up. After 65 days, she bites the nest open and pulls the babies out with her mouth. Out of 40, usually only three survive.

For many, alligator wrestling is terrifying. What are you scared of? My ex-wife’s attorney.

Attire for wrestling gators: Jeans, a safari-looking tee shirt, and water shoes. Never wear shorts, since the alligator’s hide gets rough.

Most embarrassing moment at work: Back when I was single, I was trying to impress some girls at a show. As I stepped over the fence into the arena, the entire inseam of my pants ripped out, from zipper to belt. I didn’t have another pair, so I had to go into my office and staple them together.

LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
The dean of gator wrestling shares his life philosophies.
1. You need a love of the animal, and you must want to share that love with other people.

2. Be patient with your career goals. If everything happened overnight, everyone would be perfectly happy and doing exactly what they wanted to do.

3. The only way to get keys to open doors in life is through education and experience. It’s okay to go after the money, but if that’s your only driving force, you might end up disappointed.

Follow Gatorland on Twitter at @Gatorland and check out its Facebook page & tips on foursquare! All photos courtesy of Gatorland/Joanna Moore.

No Joe Schmo’s Monthly Roundup

I can’t believe the summer is almost over! It seems like just yesterday that I was sitting at my kitchen table, listening to the soundtrack from The Social Network, and brainstorming the beginning stages for what would soon become No Joe Schmo.

In the two months since, the site has featured 36 cool and crazy jobs and six tips & advice articles. As August comes to a close, it’s time for the monthly roundup — a look at the top-shared and top-viewed posts within the past month.

> The Roller Coaster Engineer // Jeff Pike, VP of Sales & Design at Great Coasters International

  • Breaking all previous No Joe Schmo records, this post alone attracted more than 1,000 hits! So here are some more awesome coaster photos.

> 5 Rules For Finding a Job On Twitter

> The Die-Hard Dancer (Who Keeps Meryl Streep On Her Toes) // Warren Adams, Founder of Home4Dance.com

> Foodie Friday: The Cupcake Chef // Mia Bauer, Co-Founder of Crumbs Bake Shop

Which was your favorite? Who would you like to see a Q&A with in the future? Comment below!

Beyond Skin Deep: The Tattoo Artist

Jesse Neese got his first tattoo at age 20, so he often jokes that his kids have to wait until then, too.

Why settle for just one tattoo when your entire body can be a canvas? Jesse Neese, the owner of Nuclear Ink in Omaha, Nebr., considers his entire body one tattoo.

The art of tattooing dates back to the beginning of mankind. It developed a somewhat seedy reputation, but modern artists with high hygiene standards now offer beautifully crafted, customized designs.

Neese, a father of two and former high school art nerd, has been inking thousands of customers for 12 years. His schedule book fills up months in advance; his larger projects, like full back pieces, can take multiple five-hour sessions.

Below, he reveals how the profession has helped bring him a sense of community.

Title: Owner, Nuclear Ink
Age: 37
In the business for: 12 years
Graduated from: University of Nebraska at Omaha, degrees in studio art and dramatic art
Pricing: $125 per hour
Previous jobs: salesman; waiter; customer service representative

What inspired you to pursue tattoo artistry? I saw a lot of bad tattoos around me, and I thought I could do better. If a permanent mark is going to be made on your body, it should be done well.

Neese often receives religious requests, such as this tattoo of Saint Michael.

How did you get started? At age 18, I went into every shop in town, asking to learn how to do tattoos. I didn’t have an “in,” though. So I got a few tattoos and an art degree, and forgot about wanting to be a tattoo artist. About 10 years later, I ran into an artist I used to know, and set up an apprenticeship with him. We eventually opened a studio together, and I bought his part of the business in 2003.

Does your theater background help with tattooing? There’s a lot of lighting involved in theater, so that gave me a good eye for light and shadowing with tattoos. For example, I use shadowing to give tattoos a 3D illusion. I also have lots of experience with costuming, which gives me an advantage with larger tattoos that flow around the collar.

What’s the preparation procedure for tattooing? I work with people to design the tattoo to fit their body. I take paper and measure out the space of the tattoo – sometimes, I’ll draw the design out on paper beforehand, and other times, I’ll just draw it right onto the skin with a marker. It’s easier to draw right on if a tattoo is wrapping all the way around the arm.

Do you numb people before injecting ink underneath their skin? I don’t believe in that – it’s not necessary. If you’re not willing to put up with the fact that it hurts a little, you don’t want it enough.

How long does the process take? Larger tattoos can take multiple four- to six-hour sessions, each a few weeks apart.

Neese typically works until 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. in the evening.

Craziest tattoo you’ve ever done: I don’t consider anything crazy. But I’ll never do the same tattoo more than once, unless friends or family want matching ones.

Your work looks heavy on fantasy art. I never want to get stuck in doing just wildlife or dragons. I run the whole range, from black and gray to color and from realism to crazy cartoons.

What do you think of the “tough guy” stereotype of tattoo artists? For the most part, [tattoo artists] are the nerdy art kids from high school – the ones that were picked on and messed with. We’re the ones that really love and enjoy artwork.

Something people don’t know about the job: How much work it is. I spend all day tattooing, then come home and fall asleep on the drawing table. Some say they only draw in a good mood, or when they’re upset – you can’t do that as a tattoo artist.

How many people have you tattooed? Anywhere from one to five per day, six days per week, for 12 years. So that’s thousands of tattoos in my life – I can’t even count how many.

How many tattoos do you have? I consider my body one tattoo – it’s an open space. I have some medieval engravings, totem animals, goblins, and Hot Rods with my wife, kids, and myself racing off in a cartoon buggy.

Various AC/DC tribute tattoos.

Do you tattoo yourself? It’s a mix of doing it myself and letting others do some, since it’s difficult to reach most angles.

Any music while you work? Nothing slow and mellow.

Favorite part of your job: Growing up, I never felt part of my community or the bigger picture. Now, I meet everyone in my community. I’ve tattooed local police officers, firefighters, doctors, nurses, and fast food workers.

What tattoos do the firefighters get? Many get the Maltese cross, but just as many get other personal designs.

Do you think it’s important for tattoos to have deep meaning? Not necessarily. Some TV shows make it seem like someone needs to die in order to get a tattoo. That’s negative; I’d rather get a tattoo to celebrate someone.

What does your office look like? It’s pretty clean, with white walls, a few murals, and lots of my own artwork – like poster-size photos of back tattoos I’ve done.

One of Angelina Jolie

LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
1. Focus on becoming a professional artist: get an art degree and do as much artwork as possible. Consider joining the Alliance of Professional Tattooists (APT), which has a code of ethics I strongly believe in.

2. Get tattooed. You’ll learn a lot about how the process works and what it’s like to have one. It’s also valuable for a tattoo artist to have a tattoo he’s not happy with; it teaches you the gravity of the business, and keeps you in check.

3. When pursuing an apprenticeship, be professional: don’t show half-finished sketches on notebook paper. Instead, show a portfolio of finished artwork.

For more of Neese’s work, check out his art galleries and Nuclear Ink’s Facebook page. All photos, unless stated otherwise, are courtesy of Jesse Neese.

Another way to get inked: this No Joe Schmo is a permanent makeup artist!