Elle is unbelievable

In collaboration with Dr. Martens

I call Elle Azhdari from New York. Persian by blood, bred in Stockholm, educated in London, worked in, among other places, New York, she surprisingly picks up from Barcelona once I give her a call, a “last minute” thing. Elle emerged from being a designer, to, in 2020, taking a turn toward the culinary arts. Elle Azhdari’s pastries are aliens, transcendent in both aesthetics and taste. Yet they’re 100% handmade. Each ingredient is handpicked and squeezed for a good 30 minutes at the supermarket, before she puts her spell on them and transforms them into pieces of edible art, sometimes on request per Google or Spotify and sometimes for a picnic in her bed.

Vilda: What are you doing in an AirBnb?

Elle: I’m in Barcelona, having a ball. I took the train from Madrid, which I have to say I prefer way more.

Vilda: How so?

Elle: I’ll be honest with you, Barcelona is just too grimy for my taste. I feel like I’m in old Camden, if you know what I mean? Like, what Camden used to be like a hundred years ago. I used to live in London, but that was never my hotspot. Regardless, they have good galleries in Barcelona, the buildings are decorative, unlike in Scandinavia, and the food is amazing. I’ve just been hitting up a bunch of pastry shops.

Vilda: What’s the best pastry there is?

Elle: I prefer savory… which is kind of at odds with what I’m doing.

Vilda: If I had a bite of Elle Azhdarib what would that taste like?

Elle: I’d be something quite tangy, like sour cherry… it’s a very Persian flavor. We call it albaloo.

Vilda: Are you spiritual? Do people have souls?

Elle: 100%, God yes. I’ll tell you a story, which happened this past Friday. I was in Madrid, and met up with an old friend of mine. We hadn’t seen each other since 2003, but it felt like yesterday the minute we saw each other. I really wanted to go to a flamenco tablao so she took me to Corral de la Morería – the best tablao in town. She got us the best seats in the house, right by the stage – I could see the performance so clearly, literally smell it if I’d liked. Five minutes in I realized that “oh my God, I know him, the flamenco dancer. It’s that fucking guy.” I met him when I was 19 and used to live in Spain. Before we went separate ways all those years ago he told me he felt such a strong connection to me, and he was certain that our paths were going to cross in the future. No joke. Then he gave me a Paulo Coelho book.

Vilda: The Alchemist?

Elle: Yes, about pursuing your dreams and stuff. We met after the performance, at first he couldn’t remember me.

Vilda: I’m surprised you even remembered him. I suck at face recognition, then I listened to Mark Levengood’s “Sommar i P1,” and now I have self-prescribed prosopagnosia.

Elle: It’s not just his face. He’s short like the artist Prince, and has the same body type. Once he’s on stage he’s one of those people who just commands respect, it’s so powerful, and his dancing is just next fucking level. Anyhow, 20 years later and here we are, in Madrid. I hope that answers your question.

Vilda: Is he your soulmate?

Elle: I don’t think so, things like these happen to me all the time. I often get people – psychics – coming up to me at random times and start telling me stuff. Sometimes it’s in bars, sometimes it’s on the street, or if I’m grabbing coffee with a friend.

Vilda: Some law of attraction?

Elle: I honestly think it’s all about frequency.

Vilda:The only interaction I’ve ever had with a psychic was this winter when one kept sliding in my DMs to tell me that I have some sort of energy blockage resting over my soul. Apparently it’s a spell that somebody I should have forgiven put onto me. Are you forgiving?

Elle: I think we’re human and there’s good and evil in all of us, or good and bad, I should say. Everybody deserves a second, and in my book, sometimes a third and a fourth chance, but that’s because I’m too kind. I didn’t use to see things that way, but as I’ve gotten older– without sounding old – I have come to realize that not everyone is equipped to always do the right thing, so to speak. We are all different, right? I think we have got to try to be a little mindful of that, not to make excuses for others, but to just understand where they’re coming from.

Vilda: I was once given this great piece of advice by a friend, I mean it’s so obvious it’s touching on embarrassing to even say it out loud, but she told me that “you can’t go into different relations with the same expectations.” That still resonates with me.

Elle: We all have patterns, it’s about breaking those patterns and by doing so becoming better.

Vilda: Have you ever forgiven somebody one too many times?

Elle: Too often, but I don’t dwell on the past. I don’t like to see anything as a waste of time. In hindsight, you just didn’t learn your lesson, yet.

Vilda: When do you have time for reflection?

I used to be bam bam bam, next next next

Elle: I used to be bam bam bam, next next next, but again, I hate to say it, it sounds like I’m fucking 105 or something, but I outgrew that, reflection comes with maturity. And, when you spend as many hours as I do working alone, there’s a lot of room for that.

Vilda: Do you go shopping for work alone as well, or are you one of those Sunday farmer’s market girlies?

Elle: Never, I go to the supermarket, and I go by myself.

Vilda: Everytime I’m at the supermarket I feel as if I’m on a mission, it’s like a choose-your-scavenger-type of game: there’s the list-er, the seasonal shopper, the sales-spotter, or there’s the Ben-and-Jerry’s-and-I’m-fucking-out-of-here type.

Elle: Haha, I’m neither. I’m a mood person, so if I’m shopping personally I’m completely guided by my intuition.

Vilda: You’re the one who just floats around in there, squeezing tomatoes for half an hour?

Elle: That’s me. Well, it’s the Persian in me, we’ve got to touch and feel everything before we take it home. That being said, I can be at the supermarket for a really long time, I come out with the most random things, and then I love to have a picnic in my bed – that’s how I do things. I don’t ever sit by the table when I eat.

Vilda: What about the crumbles?

Elle: I’m not a sloppy eater, I arrange things beautifully on a plate, make a little presentation for myself, and eat in peace.

Vilda: Whenever I ask somebody to pick something up at the supermarket for me I know I’m setting myself up for disappointment – would you ever send somebody to get the groceries for you? 

Elle: I get my own shit, if you don’t, they always come back with the wrong stuff right.

Vilda: But I feel like you’re such a trusting person?

Elle: Not when it comes to my food. But generally speaking, I’m one of those people who find it a hard time asking, nor am I a good delegator. 

Vilda: Is it because you want things your own way or because you don’t feel comfortable commanding people?

Elle: If I ever ask for something I make sure to do it in the politest way possible – A: Because I need them to do it, B: Because I don’t want to be a bitch. But then again I rarely ask, I think it’s coming from me living on my own at quite an early age, I’ve gotten used to doing things on my own.

Vilda: What about unpopular opinions, do you have any?

Elle: Haha, I have too many – politically, socially, philosophically. There’s one thing that I’ve been taking notice of lately, I tell my friends and we have a good laugh about it: I am a huge Ye fan, and sometimes I post about him, or anything Ye-related, and all of a sudden, all of my online interactions are gone with the wind. Normally you put something out there and you get a bunch of likes or comments or whatever, but if it’s about Ye I hit 0.0.

Vilda: Is that coming from people not liking him anymore or from the fact that people are too scared to flesh that out publicly?

Elle: I think it’s a combination of both. I think people don’t understand half of the things he advocates for, perhaps because they don’t take the time to or because his delivery is really problematic at times. The audience can’t always read between the lines when it comes to him, or they don’t get his persona, which is surprising, because he has always been himself: a living stream of consciousness, super raw and unfiltered. It’s almost as if he’s writing a diary in the public eye, just jotting thoughts down. Saying that, I also do think that sometimes he is very well put together; he’s just ahead of his time. We can’t put him in a box, other than as an amazing musician.

Vilda: Do you fancy him as an artist or a persona, then?

Elle: He’s just polarizing in so many ways, but also really uplifting. You can dissect him all you want but you still end up with this walking contradiction.

Vilda: He’s also the perfect embodiment of your forgivingness ideology, the third and fourth, maybe fifth chance. Also, his relationship to Kim is a paradox in its entirety, him being no filter and her being nothing but.

Elle: I definitely have an opinion about her, but I think it’s the fact that I do that annoys me more, do you know what I mean? I think her level of curation is quite inhumane.

Vilda: If Kanye were a woman, do you think people would go easier on him? Is it easy to point the finger at him because he’s a man?

Elle: No, look at Madonna for example, in her heyday people did the exact same thing to her. Had we had cancel culture back in the 90s, this woman would have been canceled about twenty thousand times.

Vilda: She kind of was though, I mean, SEX with Meisel…

Elle: I have that book.

Vilda: No you don’t.

Elle: I do, the original copy.

Vilda: They only printed 800 copies! I was at Christie’s just a few months ago, watching the photographs sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Where is your copy?

Elle: At home, in Sweden.

Vilda: Aha, and the address is?

Elle: Haha, I’ll stop you right there. Basically, no I don’t think that it’s necessarily gender related – I think people love to see a train wreck.

Vilda: Because it makes us feel better about our sad selves?

Elle: Supposedly so, I mean that’s why the media exists to begin with, to build someone up only to tear them down because we all love the show.

Vilda: Is a donut from Dunkin’ a pastry to you?

Elle: A what?

Vilda: Speaking of the inhumane – to a pastry artist – I thought a Dunkin’ Donut could be a qualified analogy. She’s all sugar coated but empty inside. 

Pastries are cultural

Elle: A pastry is something highly cultural to me. For instance, I’m not a cinnamon bun person at all.

Vilda: I can walk a mile on the weekend just to get to Fabrique in West Village.

Elle: To me that’s just a pile of dough.

Vilda: Ouch.

Elle: But I obviously appreciate and respect it because I see the broader significance behind that roll of dough.

Vilda: I’ve never thought of a pastry that way, but when thinking about a cinnamon roll I do see myself and my Grandma in her kitchen, pouring up milk. And it’s 3pm sharp, “fika.”

Elle: Right? I never look down on pastries because they’re so much more than their physicality. Pastries are cultural. 

Vilda: Is this you justifying the donut from Dunkin’s existence?

Elle: I mean, there’s so much American culture in that little ring. However, I wouldn’t call it a pastry, I’d call it a sweet treat.

Vilda: Speaking of pastries, what about your own, “100% handmade 0% AI,” what brought you to making that case [in your Instagram biography]? To me it reads like “swear I’m not using Chat GPI in the kitchen.”

Elle: People started questioning if my creations were NFTs, which doesn’t strike me as an insult at all, rather the opposite. It means that they’re quite otherworldly, but I still felt like it was important to clarify that they’re actually edible.

Vilda: Did you ever sell one as an NFT?

Elle: I didn’t. But I’m big on Midjourney, it’s a software you can use for creating content, merging images, putting in prompts and what not. I tell it to create cakes out of my references and it gives me something to work towards visually.

Vilda: I like the interplay of you touching just about every grocery at the supermarket contra adding prompts to a computer, it’s quite man-versus-machine… Are your pastries catfishing?

Elle: I’m actually going to blow my own horn here: They taste as good as they look. That aspect is crucial to me. Being selective with your ingredients and making everything from scratch goes a long way.

Vilda: What ingredients do you always have in your fridge then? I just got back, opened my fridge, and staring me right in the white eye are two jars of mustard, half a pack of eggs and Swedish Västerbotten cheese. Felt like an accurate self-portrait.

Elle: Haha. I don’t really fuck with stuff that can sit on the shelf for the longest time…

*takes a punch at my cheese?*

Elle: …therefore my fridge is often very empty, because everything has to be fresh. But I’m never running low on cream, eggs, or butter.

Vilda: That’s basic-girl vibes.

Elle: Well, and I always have cucumbers! I absolutely love cucumbers. I have them with salt, I put them on my sandwiches, in my drinks or on my eyes.

Vilda: That’s not helping. I was expecting you to say cake, you know, that leftover piece that you spoon straight off the shelf wearing nothing but your robe in the fridge-light?

Elle: My customers keep the cakes for three, sometimes even five days, but I’m personally not so fond of fridge flavor.

Vilda: What’s fridge flavor?

Elle: If you keep things in your refrigerator and eat it straight out, you taste the fridge. Take a salad for example, always let your ingredients sit in the room before you serve them, get to room temperature, and you’ll taste the difference.

If you keep things in your refrigerator and eat it straight out, you taste the fridge

Vilda: Seriously?

Elle: The taste rubs off!

Vilda: Do you find satisfaction in the direct quality of pastries?

Elle: One of the main things that drew me to this profession was indeed the pace of it. Previously I worked in an industry where it’s not unusual to wait months for samples or production, whereas with food, I can make it right away.

Vilda: I’ve been meaning to ask, what was so boring about fashion that it turned you toward food?

Elle: I honestly had a full on burnout.

Vilda: I assumed it might be because the mortality of food makes it more meaningful, or rather places it outside of art’s impossible task of constantly having to justify its own existence, especially in the 21th century, do you agree with that?

Elle: Right, I mean it’s meant for consumption, but it still shouldn’t be rushed. My father always says to me “Did you rush this one?” And I’ll be like “What?” He tells me that he can taste whenever I rush it, that I “haven’t made it with love.”

Vilda: He should be the advocate against the Hello Fresh movement. It’s as inhumane as Kim K.

Elle: I always say Hello-Goodbye-Fresh. It fully erases the ritual of cooking, which is the second best thing, it’s no longer therapeutic.

Elle is wearing Dr. Martens The Ramsey Monk Kiltie Creeper in lime green

Vilda: What’s the best thing?

Elle: Serving and sharing it with others. I always, always, always, hand deliver everything that I create, oftentimes I stick around just to see them unbox it as well. And, I recently realized that sometimes I need to be on location to cut up the cake just because of the social setting it’s in. People view it as art rather than food, which means they don’t dare touch it unless I’ve cut it up for them already.

Vilda: Just ship me with the cake and I’ll make sure to serve everyone by having the first bite. I take no shame in that.

Elle: What sign are you?

Vilda: I’m a Taurus.

Elle: Of course you are. That’s why you like to indulge in these things.

Vilda: I wouldn’t know, people tell me I’m stubborn, and I can’t argue with that, but that’s about it. Astrology is not up my alley.

Elle: You should look into it.

Vilda: Only once the trend has passed. It’s been such a hot topic for some time now, as has gastronomy and merging food with art. How do you feel about culinary arts being so in fashion, is it merely another means by the bourgeois or could we argue that it’s democratizing by its very practice?

Elle: I can only speak on my own behalf, but being Persian means that everything we do trickles down to presentation, regardless of what class you’re from. Persian heritage is built on the basis of poetry – Hafez, Saadi, Rumi – which implies that it’s very artistic. Even if you don’t have access to much, always expect it to be really, really well presented. Think about our tea sets and rituals, our fruit plates, they’re more like beautifully orchestrated sculptures. But food could also be quite indulgent, what I’m creating is not a necessity, it’s just another form of luxury.

WordsVilda Krog