After many years and other interesting careers, a longtime hobby became a business for Susie Norris. She started in advertising in Boston, moved to Los Angeles and worked for NBC, CBS and eventually in children’s programming with Nickelodeon and finally Disney.
As fun as that sounds, Susie says she realized, “I need to be with my dough. I need to bake.” Not content to merely pursue baking as a hobby, she went to Epicurean, a small culinary school in Los Angeles and got her certification in professional baking.
“Building on that foundation, I began to feel at home in the food business.” Susie taught in the bakery and pastry department of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena. “The school attracted students from all over the world, and I learned culinary secrets they brought from their cultures. We’d be snacking on dim sum while we were making a classic Black Forest Cake!”
At the same time, Susie started her artisan chocolate company, Happy Chocolates, taking the name as a spin off the simple names one often sees in Chinatown.
During a trip to Russia, she was struck by how universal the love of chocolate is. “Chocolate was a traveling food from the start. In the Meso-American cultures, it goes back 2,000 years. Cocoa beans were used as currency. The Spanish brought them to Europe. Now chocolate is global, inspiring people all over the world.”
A first book idea began to germinate, resulting in “Chocolate Bliss,” which Susie describes as a “lifestyle recipe book.” Full of user-friendly cake and pastry recipes for home cooks, Chocolate Bliss also “looks at the positive force that chocolate is in different cultures, the wellness aspects, it’s ecological importance to rainforests, skincare (cocoa butter in moisturizer, for example), and how to conduct a chocolate tasting.”
Collaborating with Susan Heeger, Norris produced “Hand-Crafted Candy Bars: From-Scratch, All-Natural, Gloriously Grown-Up Confections.” Familiar candy-store bars and other nostalgic favorites are reinvented using the freshest ingredients, indulging sophisticated adult tastes. A mix-and-match flavor chart encourages bakers to create custom treats of their own.
In 2015, she grabbed her passport to explore culinary classics in their native countries and launched FoodMarketGypsy.com, the award-winning blog, to chronicle her travels. The result was her third book, “A Baker’s Passport,” a world tour of sweet and savory regional baking. The reliable recipes for classics have easy-to-understand steps and an indicator for each recipe's level of difficulty. The book also includes beautiful color photography and the lore behind these treasured recipes.
Susie describes her life philosophy: “As a self-described ‘Food Market Gypsy,’ I shop with joy and abandon, especially for artisan eats. I have shopping bags folded up in other bags reflecting optimism, not gluttony...or sometimes both. And my loosely-kept travel plans might extend through a weekend or maybe through a decade.”