Foodie Friday: The Submarine Chef

Culinary Specialist First Class Allen Williford puts finishing touches on lunch at the naval submarine base. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jason J. Perry/released)

It’s dinnertime at the Naval Submarine Base New London in the tiny town of Groton, Connecticut, and a room of 30 high-ranking officials are hungry. Culinary Specialist First Class Allen Williford is scrambling around the small kitchen, about the size of your typical break room, boiling lobsters. He splits them down the middle, removing all the meat. Then, he stuffs the tails with a lobster meat custard. The Lobster Thermidor − one of seven courses he’ll serve that night − is ready for plating.

Williford enlisted in the U.S. Navy at age 18 and worked on a submarine ship for five years, cooking a standard set of meals for 140 crew members. Now, as a flag culinary specialist at Commander, Submarine Group Two, he designs menus for the flag admiral and often cooks for about a dozen delegates at a time in the submarine capital of the world. His wife and two sons, who have moved with him from San Antonio, Texas, to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to Groton, Connecticut, are his guinea pigs for new foods. “I feel pretty open to use my own creativity [on the submarine base],” Williford says. “It’s like running my own small restaurant.”

Age: 25
In the navy for: 7 years, 9 months
Grew up in: Tulsa, Oklahoma
Based in: Groton, Connecticut

Did you enlist in the navy with the intent of becoming a culinary specialist? By the time I was 17, before I had to quit to leave for the navy, I worked on the weekends as a line cook and on the weekdays as a waiter. Then, when I was picking what I wanted to do for the military, my cousin told me to do something I really loved and enjoyed. I took his advice and decided to cook, so I went off to four weeks of training at culinary school in San Antonio, Texas.

How long are your trips below sea level? I worked as a culinary specialist on a ship in San Antonio for five years, where I cooked four meals a day for 140 crew members. We spent more than 70 percent of those five years at sea, which is a lot of time away from your family. Now, I’m a personal chef for a flag admiral.

So you just cook for one person? I also host events for delegates and other high-ranking officials.

Do you get a say in the foods you cook? I get to create a lot of my own menus – it’s like running my own small restaurant. I buy my own fresh produce and propose menus, which get approved by the flag staff. When I’m on a ship, however, it’s a standard navy menu that changes every three weeks. That can get a little boring, but we’ll try to change up some of the flavoring.


Most elaborate dish you’ve cooked: For high-ranking officials, I’ll make something light and elegant, like smoked salon with an apple coleslaw. Once, I made a seven-course meal, which included oysters on the half shell, mixed greens salad with arugula and bacon vinaigrette, French onion soup, and Lobster Thermidor.

How is the submarine’s kitchen equipped? It’s all industrial sized equipment, with two ovens and one flat grill top. There’s no stove, since pots would fly all over the place. Instead, we have fixed kettles that you can put anything in and then heat up. The kitchen I work in now, on the submarine base, has more commercial equipment: a stove, oven, and refrigerator.

Size of the kitchen: Pretty small. It’s split into two sides: one for food service attendants to wash dishes and clean up, and the other side for the cook. The entire kitchen can fit about three people comfortably. You don’t need too much space.

Best part of your job: I constantly get to be creative. I had a passion for cooking and exploring how things work, and I was pretty much self-taught. It’s satisfying to produce meals that are of the caliber I produce.

Most challenging part of your job: Working by myself. It’s especially challenging for large events of 30 to 50 people, but other cooks will volunteer to help me serve.

Did you always love to cook? I spent a lot of time in the kitchen when my dad cooked dinner as a kid. As I got older, my mom worked as a nurse, so she was gone a lot. She would always have the fridge stocked for me, but I often cooked for myself. Starting at age 15, I started having friends over to cook for them, and realized I had a knack for it.

A passion for cooking more often leads to a career in the restaurant business than in the navy. I worked as a waiter at a restaurant at age 16, and one of the cooks noticed that I always showed up early to help prepare the food. He let me help out, so I’d work double duty: on the weekends as a line cook and on the weekdays as a waiter. I would see how things were produced in the kitchen, and then later in the evening see the look on people’s faces when they ate it. It was immediate satisfaction.

Favorite foods: I really enjoy seafood and Italian food.

CS1 Williford performs water rescue training at the Naval Submarine Base New London pool. (Photo: Lt. j.g. Kevin Shanley/

What would people be surprised to learn about you? There’s a little more on my plate than just cooking. Submarines are small communities; there are a lot of jobs to go around, and not a lot of people to fill them. So I also took on the job of submarine diver and rescue swimmer, and I volunteer at the local fire department.

At home, do you opt for take-out as a break from cooking? I’m one of the command’s fitness leaders – the navy has to make sure its crew is physically and mentally fit – so I try to avoid letting my kids, ages 3 and 5, eat fast food. My wife and I share the responsibility of cooking healthy meals at home. [One such nutrition tip to his submarine group: Eat according to the colors of the rainbow.]

Do you test out new recipes on your kids? My family is my guinea pig, and my wife is my best critic.

Salary range: See full pay tables here.

First and foremost, you need to be passionate about cooking. If that’s the case, the navy will train you and give you all the tools you need to be right where I am today.

Click here for more Foodie Fridays, like the miniature food artist and the master fudge maker.


The Sommelier Wants To Sip Bordeaux With Winston Churchill

“I don’t think wine should be intimidating or pretentious,” Cree says. “My job is to introduce people to wine in a fun, down-to-earth type of way.”

When Chris Cree passed the Masters of Wine exam in the early 90s, he was one of only a handful of Americans to earn the title. Now, as one of 297 Masters of Wine in the world, he dazzles friends at guess-that-wine parties and customers at his resale shop, 56 Degree Wine, with his grape and vineyard acumen.

Sometimes, Cree opts for sparkling water or iced tea with a meal, but he mostly sticks with reds and whites. He prefers crisp, elegant ones with lower alcohol content, especially a glass of sweet Sauternes paired with pan-seared fois gras. “It’s about balance,” Cree says. “You want wine that will compliment your food, not overpower it, and vice versa.”

Below, Cree reveals how to tackle intimidating wine lists (ask for the suhm-uhl-yey), suggests his favorite reasonably-priced summer wines, and champions the oft-overlooked rosé.

[Cheers: Take 15% off your purchase at 56 Degree Wine, excluding sale items. Enter promotion code SCHMO now through July 31, 2012.]

Age: 51
Graduated from: I didn’t go to college. In high school, I began working at a large liquor store in New Jersey for college tuition, but opportunities kept coming up, and I really liked working in the wine business.
Based in: Bernardsville, NJ
In the wine industry for: More than 30 years

What initially sparked your passion for wine? I loved to cook since I was a kid, and wine became a part of that. My stepfather was a pilot, so we traveled to Europe and I was able to see a different way of eating and drinking. When the owner of the liquor store I was working at in high school passed away, his daughter and son-in-law asked me to run the wine department. That’s really where I got my start.

You’re one of only 297 Masters of Wine living in 23 different countries. What does the title mean to a non-connoisseur? A Master of Wine can taste a wine 6,000 miles away from where it was made, and 10 years after it was made, and identify the location and year of the bottle.

I bet that’s a title you brag about at parties. I’ll identify wines for customers in my wine shop, or for friends at a guess-that-wine party. It really forces you to focus on what’s in the glass.

Qualifications to become a Master of Wine: I went into the program in the early 90s, right when they began offering it in America. I was only the thirteenth American to pass. To me, the exam is a business degree based on the wine trade; we were tested on everything from grape-growing and vineyard management, to production of wine and quality control, to marketing and sales of wine. Then there’s a three-day tasting component.

You must need a pretty high tolerance to prepare for the exam. You’re wine tasting every single day for most of the year leading up to the exam, and it’s really accelerated the month before. I’d bring home five or six or 12 wines to practice with, and at the time, I lived in an apartment. I would leave some of the wine bottles outside my neighbors’ doors, but once I passed the exam, that stopped. My neighbors were sad that I had passed.

Where did the name of your resale shop, 56 Degree Wine, originate? We keep the wine at 56 degrees, which is right within the ideal temperature range for storing.

Wines in Provence are grown under demanding conditions; the hot weather and abundant sunshine ripen the grapes quickly. Photo:

Which wines are you drinking this summer? Plenty of lighter reds, or crisp, lower-alcohol whites. To name a few: Chablis (2010), Mokoroa Txakoli (2011), and Rosé de Provence.

You don’t scoff at rosé wines? I drink a lot of dry rosé from the south of France, especially from Provence, in the summer. A few years ago, it was hard to sell, because people associated it with the cheaper, sweeter wines. But it has really evolved into a classy, beautiful summer wine that goes well with salads and grilled fish.

No-fail strategy for tackling an intimidating wine list: Ask to speak with the restaurant’s sommelier, if it has one. Tell him what you’re thinking of ordering to eat, and ask what on the list would go well with that. Or tell him the types of wines you’ve had in the past that you really like.

Have you ever sent a bottle back after tasting a sip? You’re really sipping it to see whether it’s what you ordered. Give it a swirl, smell it, taste it — and ask for more if they haven’t poured you enough to properly taste it. But only send the wine back if it’s flawed or corky. Corky wine manifests itself in a musty, wet-basement smell. It’s not so much about whether you like the wine.


How long is a wine good for once it’s opened? There’s no rule of thumb, but most of the time, it’s only one or two days. Using a suction pump or wine preservation spray might you buy a couple of extra days.

Ideal storage conditions: Dark, 55 to 58 degrees [Fahrenheit], no rapid temperature change.

Best part of your job: Traveling to Europe, California, and other wine regions.

Most challenging part of your job: At the end of the day, it’s still running a retail business. It just happens to be with a fun product.

What would people be surprised to learn about your job? Great wine doesn’t have to be really expensive. Small growers in lesser-known regions produce hundreds of great wines in the $15 to $30 range. Sort of like fresh produce, they only come in certain seasons. The best bet is to find a shop that really knows its stuff, and ask for what’s new, exciting, and inexpensive. I love white wines from the Loire Valley region (Sancerre, Touraine) and Burgundy (Macon wines for value).

Most significant change you have witnessed in American drinking culture: A push towards a richer, more fruit-driven, higher-alcohol style of wine. But that may have peaked now, with the trend moving more toward elegant wines without so much alcohol. That’s refreshing. I’ve also seen the American wine drinker grow more confident and adventurous with trying new wines, which sort of dovetailed with the food revolution. Food became a big deal with the fresh, local movement and celebrity chefs, and wine was a part of that scene.

If you could share a bottle of wine with anyone in the world, it would be with: My wife and family, and close friends.

When Churchill traveled, his porters often carried cases and cases of wines for him. Photo:

That’s a cop-out. Okay, Winston Churchill.

What would you drink with him? We’d probably drink the gamut, from champagne to Burgundy to great Bordeaux.

1. Work in a retail wine shop, where you’ll be exposed to a wide range of products from various countries, regions, and price points.

2. Taste a ton of different wines, and keep notes of what you taste. I keep my notes in my iPhone. Then, ask questions about what you taste, and read up on them. The Oxford Companion to Wine is a great big encyclopedia with pretty good definitions of every wine region and grape out there.

3. If you’re really serious, travel to wine regions. Talk to people, taste their wines, see what’s happening in vineyards and in cellars. Take classes if you can, too. Like anything else, you have to immerse yourself in it if you really want to learn it.

You can follow Chris Cree on Twitter at @ChrisCreeMW and on his blog, Down to Earth Wine.

Never drink on an empty stomach! Meet some foodie No Joe Schmos, like The Food Spotter and the editor of Serious Eats New York.

The Snooze Director

Trouble falling asleep may be linked to drinking coffee or working out too late in the evening, says Emily Barrett, Sleepy’s first-ever Snooze Director.

Eighteen years of sleeping of experience. Check. Ability to fall asleep on a Sleepy’s mattress during daylight hours. Check.

At 24, Emily Barrett is the first person to hold the title of Sleepy’s Snooze Director. The position was created last year in an effort, Barrett speculates, to create a media buzz. But in the wake of nabbing the job, she has transformed the position into an integral role at the mattress retailer’s 4,200-square-foot headquarters in Hicksville, NY, where she helps manage Sleepy’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. Barrett’s friends – recent college graduates who are starting to move out and buy new mattresses – recruit her to tag along as their go-to mattress guru.

Unlike many in social media positions, Barrett isn’t a salesperson or public relations pro. Instead, she touts herself as the “Sleepy’s cheerleader” with the goal of educating consumers on how to improve health based on a good night’s sleep. “[Humans] spend about a third of their lives in bed,” she says. “You need to be willing to invest in your sleep. People tend to want to spend more money on their TVs than their mattresses.”

Editor’s note: the jury is still out on whether singles or couples sleep better at night.

Age: 24
Based in: Hicksville, NY
Graduated from: New York University, degree in media communications
Previous jobs: I graduated in May 2011, and was hired for this position in June 2011.

Describe what you do in one sentence. I work with social media for the Sleepy’s brand; I run the Twitter account, help with its Facebook page, and maintain the Sleepy’s blog.

What qualified you for the Snooze Director position? At my past internships at radio stations, a big part of my job was blogging. I emphasized my personal use of social media and ability to make videos. Because Sleepy’s accepted applications through Facebook and YouTube, as well as through regular recruiting websites, applicants were able to show much more of who they really were.

How did you hear about the job? My aunt sent me a link to the posting on I was hesitant to apply, since it was just a temporary part-time position, but my aunt pushed me to. In September, I became a full-time employee.

Did you have to test mattresses as part of the interview process? After my first interview with the recruitment department, I was called into the Sleepy’s showroom do an interview for an evening segment on Channel 7 News with two other candidates. They set up a scene and had us jump from bed to bed, which is definitely something I’ve never done during an interview before. [You can watch the segment here. Be prepared for puns like “dream job” and “thinking out of the box spring.”]

Hours you sleep on a regular basis: At least eight or nine. I’m a really good sleeper – that might be another reason I got the job. [Laughs.] Even in college, I usually never got fewer than six hours of sleep and never pulled an all-nighter.

Any tips for those who have trouble falling asleep? White noise really helps me, as does my air conditioning – it’s important to be cool when you’re going to sleep. But at the end of the day, it always comes back your mattress.

Signs you’re ready for a new mattress: If you can see dips in it, or if you can’t remember when you purchased it. If it’s been more than five to seven years, it might be time for a new mattress, since our bodies change within that window of time. I actually just bought my first new mattress a few months ago.

Signs you’re ready for a new pillow: Take the pillow test. Fold your pillow in half and place a light weight on it, like a shoe or book. When you remove the weight, the pillow should flatten out. If it stays folded, that means it won’t hold the weight of your head, and it’s time for a new one.

Best part of your job: Interacting with other departments. Since everyone at the company sees my name and title on the Sleepy’s blog, they often reach out to me. I’m kind of the friendly face at Sleepy’s – the Sleepy’s cheerleader, if you will.

Most challenging part of your job: Along the same lines, lots of people are always reaching out to me with new projects, and it’s tough to stay on top of all of them. I’m a one-person team, so I can’t really delegate anything. At a certain point, I’ll know when to say “no” to new projects.

One gadget you can’t live without: Probably my cell phone – it’s the only alarm clock I have. I turn it on vibrate and place it upside-down on top of a pillow on my floor when I go to sleep, so I don’t hear it if I get a message in the middle of the night. Then, the sound kicks in for the alarm in the morning. I can’t remember the last time I used an actual alarm clock.


Are you an advocate of naps? Personally, I don’t take naps, but I advocate for them (unless you’re an insomniac). I’m a big fan of offices that allow naptime; it single-handedly increases productivity tenfold.

Some workplaces, like The Huffington Post, encourage employees to use their nap pods. I’m in awe of that.

Are you a coffee drinker? I love coffee, but I stick to one cup in the morning. This job really made me cut back from college, when I drank multiple cups every day. Cutting out your afternoon coffee can really help you fall asleep at night. I even tried an experiment in which I completely stopped drinking coffee for one week. It made me realize I didn’t need coffee for energy, and I felt that I was sleeping more deeply.

Perks of the job: Sleepy’s sent me to the Kingsdown factory in North Carolina, one of the last mattress manufacturers in the United States, where I got to see the whole process of making a mattress. It kind of looked like making a sandwich, but with metal, foam, and automatic sewing machines. Another perk is being able to help my friends and family when they complain about getting a bad night’s sleep.

Annual salary: Between $30,000 and $40,000.

Take a chance on crazy jobs. I applied to the Snooze Director position on a whim, and now, I’m well-respected within the company. Be persistent and confident, and let your personality shine.

More from No Joe Schmo: meet the Oscar Mayer Hotdogger, who is another recent college graduate.

The Soap Maker

Cirese Clindinin whips up 50-pound batches of soap three times per week, which translate into more than 2,000 bars every month.

Inside the confines of her 12′ x 5′ kitchen, Cirese Clindinin makes soap. Lots and lots of soap. She boils down hundreds of pounds per month, on the same stove as she cooks her chicken dinners.

“They’re like my kids,” Clindinin says of her 15 varieties, from almond to eucalyptus, that she concocts for craft shows and online sales on the Down To Earth Body Shop. “I love them all.” She’s a one-woman show, handling research and development, sales, and marketing. She even tests all products on herself to ensure the ingredients — like oatmeal, goat’s milk, and rice bran — won’t irritate her customers’ skin.

Click [HERE] for the chance to win one of Cirese’s handmade soaps through No Joe Schmo.

Age: 31
Based in: Irvington, NJ
Graduated from: I dropped out of Rutgers in my junior year, when my business really picked up.
In the soap business for: About 12 years
Previous jobs: Sales temp jobs and receptionist positions. But I was the worst employee ever, because I would just be working on products for my personal business.

How you got your start: When I was 21, I was working on my business, going to school, and going to craft shows. Then I met Bobbi Brown, and a year later, my products were transformed into a real business when I landed an account with Estée Lauder.

Most valuable lesson learned: Bobbi Brown taught me that nice people finish first. And from Estée Lauder, I learned the importance of business integrity and putting out a good product. If your customers tell you a product doesn’t work, they’re probably right.

Where did you learn to make soap? From Barnes & Noble, mostly, and trial and error. I bought some books, tried it out, and honed it over time. I really like The Natural Soap Book: Making Herbal and Vegetable-Based Soaps.

What were some of your “errors”? Oh, man. I remember being on a crazy deadline for Estée Lauder. I had a big pot with 100 pounds of soap to be melted, and I forgot to cover the pot. I came back four hours later, and there was 100 pounds of soap all over the floor. You would think I would have only done that once, but it’s happened three or four times.

These lemon-vanilla cupcake soaps are topped with real pink coconut.

So you no longer work for Estée Lauder? I worked for her for nine years. That ended when the recession started getting bad. But getting back on my own [and starting the Down To Earth Body Shop] was exactly what I needed, because it was time for me to grow.

What have you learned as a small business owner? Have confidence in yourself, in your ability, and in your product. I’m still learning that.

What ingredients do you use? Mostly simple things you can find in your kitchen cabinet: oatmeal, milk (whole and/or goat’s milk), olive oil, avocado oil, sugar. It’s just like cooking. I add scent, texture, and color with things you might not normally imagine go into soap, like poppy seeds, sesame seeds, rice bran, pink and green miniature lentils, quinoa meal, millet seed, wheat germ, and shea butter.

The process: All the ingredients go into a pot on the stove at 150 degrees Fahrenheit, which takes a few hours to melt down. Then, I pour the mixture into 2-pound trays and add essential oils made with fresh ingredients, like mango oil, tangerine oil, almond oil, and safflower oil. After that, it’s time to create designs, often using old soap. I’ll cut up vanilla soap and layer it into the mango soap and let it dry. Finally, I let the soap harden at room temperature, or put it in the freezer for five to ten minutes. At craft shows, I like to leave it out in blocks and cut it fresh for customers.

Your workspace: I used to work out of this big, 500 square-foot warehouse. Now, I make soap right out of my own small kitchen. I get a much better response, though, since I’m really making it from scratch.

What would people be surprised to learn about your job? You have to be strategic. Soap is something that you think everyone needs, but it really requires marketing. It’s also a very messy business, which is perfect for me, since I’m already messy. It’s hard work — my schedule is pretty much seven days per week — and there is a lot of competition.

Best part of your job: Meeting new people, since I don’t really have any coworkers.

Most challenging part of your job: Learning the business side of things. I didn’t really want to, since I tend to be more creative, but I had to.

Cirese’s signature Sandbar Soap is made with a layer of sand and a layer of oatmeal and apricot seeds.

How does your soap differ from the regular store brand? Store-bought soap has more detergent in it, which dries out your skin and makes it tight. My soap, which contains Vitamin E, gives your skin more sheen and makes it softer.

Do you carry spare soap in your purse to avoid that milky pink soap in rest stop bathrooms? I suck it up at rest stops, but I do carry my own soap to hotels — usually something citrusy, like my lemongrass soap. And I always keep a box of soap in my car trunk for emergencies.

Your car must smell really clean. I can’t even smell it anymore. I think I’m immune to it by now. Sometimes, when I’m cutting up the soap at a craft show, I’ll hold it up to my nose and think, Wow, this smells so good! That’s the only time, though.

Your required reading: I love self-help books. I often reread 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself on mornings when I don’t feel like getting much done.

Find one product that you think you can make really well — and that you have a unique perspective on — and brand it. Instead of selling a ton of products, just choose one or two that are really solid. And don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.

Enter below for the chance to win one of 10 homemade soaps from the Down to Earth Body Shop. Entry period closes on Sunday, June 10 at 11:59 p.m. ET. [Browse more of Cirese’s products on her website and Facebook.]

[Return to top]

Foodie Friday: The Miniature Food Artist

Shay Aaron, a Tel Aviv native, initially studied fine arts, but quit one year later to finish his pastry studies. This fall, he will begin classes for set and costume design.

Shay Aaron’s strict diet regimen includes Italian hoagies, lemon pound cake doused in icing, and dozens of cannolis oozing with chocolate. After four years, he has lost 175 pounds.

The catch: all the treats are about one-twelfth their actual size, and made from polymer clay.

Four years ago, at 308 pounds, Israeli artist Shay Aaron was overweight and depressed. He began creating miniaturized food sculptures at 1:12 scale that look almost completely edible, and used the hobby to curb his appetite. “I feel like I’m replacing my passion for greasy food with fake baked goods,” he says.

No need to worry about his creations being too beautiful to eat. You couldn’t if you tried. They fit on the edge of a fingertip, often no larger than a penny or a matchstick. His work, most of which is created using a pasta machine in his small living room studio, includes crops of fruits and veggies, mouthwatering dessert spreads, and loaves of Challah.

Age: 27
In the business for: 5 years
Describe what you do in one sentence. I create collectible miniatures on a 1:12 scale, and also make wearable pieces. 

How does one break into the miniature food art business? From a very young age, I had a weight problem, and I started creating fake food to help get over it. Four years ago, I weighed 308 pounds, and I was miserable. I was working with polymer clay, making millefiori and home décor pieces. One day, a customer asked me to create a miniature replica of a traditional Jewish dish. That was when I found what I wanted to do for the next five years. Now, I’m trying to replace my passion for real food with these little miniatures, and sometimes it works.

Where do your best ideas come from? On Friday mornings, I work with my mom in her little kitchen. We host the whole family every Friday evening, and my mom is charge of the cooking. I help her come up with special desserts that complement her dishes, so that’s where a lot of the ideas for my work come from. I also [draw inspiration from] Martha Stewart.

Does your work make you hungry? I can’t imagine sculpting something not related to work. That said, my work makes me hungry, for sure. The problem is that I work during the wee hours of the morning, and there’s nothing worse than eating at night.

What tools do you use for sculpting? You don’t need special tools and materials to get perfect results. The main material must be polymer clay, but I also combine wood, glass and aluminum, resin, metal, wood and ceramic. I use lots of unconventional tools in my work, from pasta machines to food processors. I also use rocks and boards that create interesting textures, as well as rolling pins and toothbrushes. All my little tools are placed in a little chest of drawers made of clear plastic.

Work you’re proudest of: My Mediterranean cuisine collection is really a part of me. Here in Israel, we usually purchase Mediterranean foods in the supermarket. But before I make miniature versions of any food – in this case, hummus and falafel – I feel like I need to make them for real. That way, I learn more about the process.

How do you price pieces that are barely the size of a penny? It’s hard. I would prefer that someone else priced my pieces, but nobody else can evaluate how much work I put into each piece. The only elements that count are time and effort – not materials used.

Your work is so small and intricate. Are you a perfectionist? No, I don’t define myself as one. I just know how important the details are. That’s where the secret is – in the details.

How did you choose a 1:12 scale? 1:6 is too big, and 1:24 is too small. A one-inch scale is also a traditional ratio for models and miniatures.

Click through to view some of Shay’s work:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Strangest request from a customer: I was asked to create a wedding ring that looked like a fortune cookie, with a tiny fortune that read, “Will you marry me?” Another guy, from Canada, asked me to create a ring for his wife that featured a replica of their wedding cake.

Best part of your job: That I don’t have a big boss. [Laughs.] The best part of what I do is the compliments and feedback from people around the world. I once received a video from a guy in America who proposed to his girlfriend using my hummus ring. It was one of the most wonderful moments I’ve ever had.

Most challenging part of your job: Creating miniature versions of very specific dishes. I always ask my customers to find images of the items they want me to create.

Do you display miniature art in your home? I keep a few items for myself, but most of my creations are made for sale.

What’s your work schedule like? I try my best to work every day, kind of like a nine-to-five job. It’s hard, because sometimes I don’t feel inspired enough to work on new pieces – and when I force myself to work, I’m not happy with the results.

Speciality dessert: Pies and tarts, and especially all lemon desserts. I love to blend sweet and sour flavors together. I also like all kinds of chocolate in any variation, shape, and state.

Dream job as a kid: I always thought I’d be an actor.

Always accept a challenge, and never give up on a task. But don’t force yourself to do things that you’re not comfortable with.

Check out hundreds of photos of Shay’s work on FacebookEtsy, and Flickr. You can also follow him on Twitter at @shayaaron.

Click here for more Foodie Fridays, like the co-founder of Crumbs Bake Shop and creative director at Dylan’s Candy Bar.

All photos courtesy of Shay Aaron.