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    April 16, 2013

    Food memories, WE Celebrate award finalist The BonBonerie celebrates 30th anniversary

    Butler, SharonBonbonerieWoman-owned business The BonBonerie, Chamber member and past WE Celebrate award runner-up, is celebrating thirty years in business in 2013. Owner Sharon Butler shares her experience running the O'Bryonville bakery in edible OHIO VALLEY's Winter 2013 issue.

    Food Memories: A Look at the Past Through the eyes of Sharon Butler

    Article Credit:edible OHIO VALLEY

    By Anne Neuer

    act i: ideas coalesce

    Sharon Butler's experience running The BonBonerie in O'Bryonville can be thought of as a screenplay where the protagonist is confronted with moments that allow her to peer into the human condition. These moments are random - a frequent customer desperately needs the talented staff to make a recipe similar to his mom's famous fudge. Other moments can be imagined, sparked by the messages people send to one another on top of cakes celebrating milestones like anniversaries or Valentine's Day.

    The BonBonerie is celebrating its 30th birthday in 2013. After many years of making delicious pastries, growing a business, and building relationships with customers, Sharon embraced thepatterns that emerged and some brilliant ideas coalesced, which she describes as when "the art and business intertwined."

    act ii: in search of lost time

    Sometimes there are opportunities that present themselves at just the right time. For Sharon, the right time was 2006 when Bill Seitz, director of the Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center in Covington, Kentucky, asked her to create an exhibit for the Center's annual Art of Food exhibit, which Sharon recalls as the "greatest gift I have ever had." Her first exhibit was filled with birthday cakes she and her staff created, which illustrated their memories of birthdays. The exhibit was a success, but Sharon soon found these desserts, with their celebratory messages spelled out in icing, a bit too literal - she needed to dive deeper into the concept of meals and memory, of food as metaphor. So her mind churned, thinking about how to capture more comprehensive food memories.

    Two years later, Sharon's exhibit at the Art of Food had evolved into the Food Memory Project. This exhibit filled two rooms and, as visitors entered, they were greeted with a sign announcing, "Welcome tothe Food Memory Room." To set the mood, antique aprons and tablecloths were strung from the ceiling and covered the walls. Lorna Gentry, a writer Sharon met at a food event at the Mercantile Library, interviewed people on site and collected food memories.

    The second room was an installation. Everything was black, white, or gray, and shelving was stocked with kitchenware from yesteryear, such as percolators, aluminum colanders, and wooden spoons. Indeed, a woman wearing a hoop dress adorned with these items stood in the middle of the room. Cookies and apple pies were made on site using a toaster oven, filling the room with a home-like aroma.

    Initially, two of this room's walls were empty, to be covered with papers describing people's food memories. "We called it Food Graffiti," Sharon explained. "To prompt their thinking, papers were provided to visitors as they entered the exhibit with questions such as 'Do you cook a family recipe today?' or 'What was your favorite food as a child?' and before long, the two walls were no longer empty." Sharon remembers, "I didn't know what to do with all I had learned about this subject from the conversations we'd had and the emotion was overwhelming."

    She eventually found a path, which was to host a series of Memory Dinners, each with a theme. Sharon brought people together around the theme by encouraging them to talk about their memories. Starting in February 2011, a series of six Memory Dinners ensued. The dinners had themes such as "My First Job in the Restaurant World," or "A Working Mother Cooks for a Family of 7." The quotes following this story are but a small sample of what was shared during all of these experiences.

    act iii: reality

    In Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, there is a striking scene of a madeleine unleashing a torrent of memories as the narrator savors the flavors of tea and cake. The smell and texture and taste of the madeleine, a common French cookie made famous by Proust's story, evoked a strong sense of nostalgia in him, yet the vision lacked specific details. Once he sat in reflection of his feelings, increasingly detailed memories of his aunt's house, the neighborhood, specific flowers, and the parish church emerged. Many of us have experienced similarly jarring triggers of memory, experiences that inform the debate of this scene in literary circles - are all memories equal; do the strongest memories involve all five senses?

    What is indisputable is that food and memories can be inextricably linked. What would be the food that releases a flood of memories within you? An unassuming cookie, as in Proust's story? A bite of a homegrown tomato? The smells of a summer picnic? Is the memory specific, with flavors and faces from a high school graduation barbecue party? Or is the memory more ethereal, conjuring visions of formal dinners at your aunt's house as a child?

    How would you craft a meal that describes a memory, or describe an adventure through food? How would you illustrate the feelings that you have?

    Sharon's exploration of the art and the business of The BonBonerie reveals that we gather to create food memories - around the kitchen table at home, stuffed into a booth at a restaurant, in transit with hands full of hotdog, or inhaling the amazing aromas of a bakery - and that we, individually and collectively, simply celebrate all that life brings to us while enjoying a cup of tea with a madeleine.

    "My favorite food memory was being a bit poor, I worked at a grocery. The Grocer let me buy dented canned goods and the Butcher sold me discount turkeys. The kids and I would make boxes for our hungry or out of work neighbors, sneak them onto their porches, ring the bell and run. It felt wonderful and taught us all that giving, even when you think you have nothing to give, feel better than anything money could ever buy. It still does." - Kathi D.

    "Corn. My grandparents lived in Price Hill. We would go with my grandfather to pick it. My grandfather taught us to 'score' the corn - slice into the kernels after it's cooked. I still eat it that way." - Sarah T. "Sharon made my wedding cake, it was fabulous! The cake was memorable, but the marriage was not." - Kim F.

    "…Early Cincinnati restaurant memories have to do with places we could afford and getting good food with the pooled resources of the group… the Greenwich on Gilbert Avenue had the best bread on the table in town. Stephens Bakery was a block away on Florence Avenue, their Italian bread was also sold at Nettanos on Court Street as well as Avrils, where it sat in the window." - Barbara T.

    "My late wife and I discovered the BonBonerie years ago. We live in Lexington, Kentucky. Every time we came up here we would always stop and buy things to take home and put in the freezer. But the things we brought back most often were their scones. When I think of scones I think of the Bonbonerie and when I eat scones I always compare them to the Bonbonerie - and they always come up short." - Joe B.

    "Food is family, and for me my mother's interest in fine cooking was both educational and fattening. Her interests opened my eyes to spontaneity and curiosity. I consider it my responsibility to pass this on to my children. Food brings people together." - John M.

    "I was born and raised in Cincinnati because it was cheap to live here. One of the dishes I remember was a German dish - 2 pieces of buttered bread with sliced radishes…" - Mike A.

    "We always get a cake at the BonBonerie for birthdays, and our new tradition is that we have cake and ice cream for breakfast. It's our new tradition - why wait to celebrate?" - Jen B.

    "I didn't have a lasting culinary experience until taking over Arnold's on Eighth Street. It was an attempt to recapture a sense of family, of community, with food and drink and music as the centerpiece. The wonderful component of the Arnold's experience was marrying this goal with a sense of adventure creating new food, much of it based on traditional influences, but using new, fresh, homegrown ingredients … and we were able to have so much fun and make a living at the same time, in the same place." - Jim T.

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