Bold traditional flavors and textures in an accessible form factor of an American cookie.
by Bao Nguyen
After starting up their confectionery company Sugar & Spice, Audrey Szeto and Michael Wang sold their first cookie during a public event held at Kai Market. For Michael, it was an incredible milestone. Someone was willing to give him money for a product he and Audrey had made.
Michael “kinda freaked out” on the unsuspecting customer. He blurted out, “Oh my god you’re the first person to ever pay for our cookie. I just want to say thank you!”
The excitement wasn’t quite mutual and the whole thing went down as you might expect, that is to say a little cringy. The cookie buyer gave an awkward nod and quickly walked off. Michael still laughs sheepishly as he recalls the exchange, obviously still embarrassed about it.
“It was a big moment for me but just another cookie for him.”
Of course, it’s hard to imagine what Michael was feeling unless you’ve also created something from scratch that another person found worthwhile to give money for.
The idea for Sugar & Spice came, like how most good ideas come, while Audrey and Michael were eating delicious homecooked meals. They were visiting their home towns in Northeastern U.S. and a particular conversation topic kept coming up. Here they are, 100% products of America (they are third generation) but both also identify strongly with their Chinese heritage.
“There’s a hodgepodge of all these different cultural influences from growing up in the U.S. and there’s also knowing about your heritage and all the things that come from that,” Audrey explained. “Why don’t we mix those two together? Let’s call it Asian Americana.”
With a financial and business development background, Michael handles marketing for Sugar & Spice. He’s more specific about their concept.
He observed that the first generation of immigrants made watered down versions of their food in order to appeal to a wider American population. But in the current generation there’s a rising interest in more authentic flavors. Instead of “Chinese food” we now have Sichuan, Taiwanese, Hunanese, etc. Eaters are clearly more open and knowledgeable about ethnic cuisines. Is it possible to blend these two ideas?
“This is our attempt at bringing Asian flavors and textures – and our culture – in an accessible form factor of an American cookie,” Michael says.
The list of cookie flavors they’ve come up with reflects this union, often combining a familiar American ingredient with a more exotic element. For example, there are Sichuan Hot Chocolate (with tingly peppercorns), Matcha Marshmallow, Black Sesame Toffee, and Ginger Osmanthus (a popular leaf/flower for tea). Yet still more flavors are available that highlight increasingly popular foods like Mango Sticky Rice, Halo Halo (a Filipino dessert), and Vietnamese Coffee.
For Audrey, the “creative” between the two and the chef in the kitchen, excitement comes when she sees someone take a bite and “understands the cookie.”
“It’s really interesting watching the reaction wash over their face,” she says. “That‘ll never get old to me.”
With Sugar & Spice, Audrey and Michael join a wave of young local Asian American food entrepreneurs, like Mi Kim of Raised Doughnuts and Chera Amlag of Hood Famous, who they consider inspirations and mentors. According to Michael, this is the “edge of their generation.” Far from being embarrassed about the bold flavors of their ancestry, they highlight ingredients and tastes that their parents might have publicly toned down or avoided in the past, incorporating them into their American identity.
Sugar & Spice cookies are currently available at Uwajimaya and Kai Market. They can also be ordered online from the website.