Born in Shanghai, graduated from UC Davis in finance and international relations, Cassandra worked for Bank of America on the foreign exchange trading floor. How did she become the maker of a line of fine caramels?
“As a currency trader, brokers took us to the most amazing restaurants. It opened up a whole new world for me,” Cassandra Chen recalls. “I realized that, even though my family’s expectation was that I would stay in my successful professional career, it just wasn’t for me.”
On a whim, and wearing a skirt and heels, Cassandra walked into Vertigo Restaurant and asked for a job in the kitchen. She was hired on the spot and told to “stage” (kitchen lingo for “trail after the cook and work the line”). Given a pair of chef’s pants to wear, she had to use Saran wrap to keep them from falling off.
“I worked the pastry line that night, slipping and sliding as I raced around, working like crazy, and loving every minute. There was more energy in that kitchen than on the trading floor! I guess they liked my enthusiasm.”
She had found her calling. “I realized that I loved food people. The staff in fine restaurants loves food so much, they will answer any question you ask. You can learn at an amazing rate.”
Manuel was born to Peruvian/American parents. He spent almost the first 8 years of my life in Peru surrounded with family members immediate and distant. When he was 8 my family moved to Wetumpka, Alabama. That was a huge change. But it was the move to Birmingham at age 22 that brought him to where he is today.
While working at the Highlands Bar and Grill he learned about gourmet food and wines. He fell in love with wine and wanted to learn winemaking after meeting Kermit Lynch. With Kermit Lynch’s encouragement, he moved out to California and worked for Josh Jensen at Calera Wines deepening my love for the art of winemaking. Later, under the tutelage of master sommelier Larry Stone, Manuel past my level 1 exam.
In 1997, Cassandra and Manuel’s paths crossed. They were both working for Traci des Jardins at the newly opened restaurant Jardiniere.
Their next big change in life was moving on from the restaurant, getting married and having kids. Their love for food never waned. With Cassandra’s experience in the pastry kitchens, we started a line caramel products. They named it CC Made after her initials. With financial support from Manuel’s fledgling computer consulting business (Selerum, Inc.), much love, time and personal capital, they grew the product line to a well-recognized product line that is carried in some of the most recognizable specialty food and gift stores. Stores like Dean & Deluca, Bloomingdales, and Bi-Rite Markets.
When they started CC Made, they wanted to make something that was hard to find on the market. A really flavorful and quality caramel. What they learned was that to develop a deep rich flavor from the simple ingredients of just sugar and water required an open flame, patience and perfect timing. This is the reason why mass manufactured caramels lacked the depth of flavor that I was craving.
First, Cassandra started by making the sea salt caramels and a basic caramel corn in a communal kitchen. Renting by the hour. As demand for this grew, 2 more flavors of candies and 3 more flavors of popcorn. Finally, she started making caramel sauces, which is our fastest growing product line.
CC Made products:
Brittle – Pumpkin Seeds w/ Tajin Clasico, Potato Chip Pieces, Sesame Seeds & Nori Sea Salt
Caramel Corn – Classic Artisan, Spiced Almond, Pistachio, Rosemary & Cashew, Gingerbread Spice & Pumpkin Seeds, Candy Cane Pieces
Caramel Sauces – Sel Gris (Grey Sea Salt), Dark Chocolate, Chicory Coffee, Rosemary Infused, Bay Laurel Infused, Coconut Cream & Miso Caramel Sauce
Caramel Candy – Himalayan Pink Sea Salt, Burnt Sugar Sea Salt, Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla, Pumpkin Spiced and Chocolate Cinnamon
CC Made products are also available in restaurant quantities.