We had the good fortune of connecting with Lisa Clayton and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lisa, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
To me, creativity is like an obsession or a compulsion. There isn’t a moment when I don’t have multiple ideas in my head for things I want to create, and I find it difficult to stop thinking about them. Coming from an artistic family perhaps it runs in my blood, but it wasn’t immediately obvious that I would end up in a creative career. I completed an undergraduate degree in biology at the University of Oxford, which is of course a very academic institution, and for four years after graduating I pursued a corporate career but was completely miserable. At work I would daydream about creative projects and carry a notebook around for writing down ideas and designs. One of the things I struggled with the most was pressure from myself to justify my degree but also all of my peers had successful careers in academia or medicine and I couldn’t help but measure myself against their yardstick. One of the biggest challenges for me was (and sometimes still is) to find my own definition of success and allow myself to embrace my creativity. But even then, I don’t think I would have ever guessed that my creative career would come in the form of being a baker. A friend once said to me “I feel like you’re an artist who happened to choose bread as a medium, rather than necessarily being a baker or a business person” and I’d never thought of it like that but I think it was actually a very perceptive observation. In my early days of baking sourdough, the visual artistry was definitely a big part of what drew me in and got me hooked, and since then it’s grown into so much more than that but I think that you can still see the artistry and creativity in the way I bake today. Not only am I quite obsessive about how the loaves look visually, but I am constantly experimenting and trying to come up with interesting and unusual flavors and as such the type of bread I offer constantly varies from week to week. I could perhaps make things simpler for myself and my business by narrowing what I offer, but I think a large part of my personal fulfillment comes from the process of creating something new.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
I run a micro-bakery specializing in sourdough bread. All of my bread is made using natural fermentation using a sourdough culture and I am part of a growing group of artisanal bakers who are bringing back the old-world methods of bread making from before it became heavily industrialized. From when I first started my bakery the goal has always been to provide nutritious bread to my community using high quality ingredients. I am very particular to the point of obsessive about the ingredients I use and never cut corners if it would compromise the flavor or nutritional content of the bread I make. For instance, I have been milling my own whole-grains using two home-mills to ensure the flour I use is as fresh as possible.
One of the things that sets me apart perhaps is that on one side I am a very creative person, but on the other side I am extremely analytical and have a rigorously scientific mind and approach to baking. Sometimes this can be a hindrance, but I think it gives me a unique skill set when it comes to understanding the biological processes that are involved in sourdough baking. This helps me troubleshoot my own baking but will hopefully also put me in an unique position to help others understand the process and give me the skills that would make me a good teacher, which is what I hope to do in the near future through workshops.
The journey to where I am now in my business has been gradual and I feel it has unfolded in a very organic way. It started very small and gradually grew mostly through word of mouth. I have been very fortunate that my community has embraced me and been very supportive and encouraging. I wouldn’t say it was easy but I think most of the struggles have come from within the bakery. Sourdough making is by no means easy and I think I will continue learning every time I bake. One of the biggest challenges for me is in accepting my own shortcomings and mistakes. As a perfectionist it’s often difficult to see past the faults but the worst bake days are always the ones I learn from the most and come away from as a better baker so I try to remember that. I think sometimes it’s easy to project your own expectations onto others and imagine they are judging you with the same critical eye, but I’m hoping that when buying something from a human being who has made something with the hands, heart, and soul, customers appreciate that there is always going to be an ebb and flow and not compare it to the perfectly consistent products that come out of mechanized factories.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
In order to answer this questions I’m going to imagine this is happening pre or post-Covid.
One of my hobbies outside of the house (and sometimes inside the house!) is swing dancing. I started swing dancing about 5 years ago and it’s one of the best things I ever did because LA is probably the best place in the world for it. There is a wonderful and thriving community of swing dancers in LA and you can pretty much dance any night of the week to live music! I have heard from dancers from other countries and this is very unique and we are very lucky to have this. Even if you are not a dancer it’s so much fun just to enjoy the incredible music and watch the dancers and feel like you’ve travelled back to the 1940’s. It’s just a really wholesome good time that lifts the spirit. So in the evening I’d definitely visit one of my favorite dance venues, like Clifton’s Republic in DTLA or if we’re looking for something a little more swanky then the Cicada Club. Other than dancing though, being an introvert who doesn’t drink and doesn’t really like crowds, we probably wouldn’t go out to a bar but we might visit my favorite restaurant Satdha, a plant-based Thai restaurant in Santa Monica. During the day we’d likely pack a picnic and go for a stroll in Palos Verdes, visit the science museum to see the space shuttle Endeavor, and maybe take a day trip to Santa Barbara and Carpinteria to visit my favorite alpaca farm. I absolutely love animals and to me a day spent in the company of animals is a day well spent. Oh and I’d take them whale watching too if it’s the right season. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
As a self-taught sourdough baker I definitely owe a lot of my learning to all the authors of the books that line my bookshelf, but actually perhaps more so to the wonderful community of bakers who generously share their knowledge on social media platforms. Instagram has been a particularly valuable resource to me for learning, and I have even had phone conversations about bread with bakers I have become friends with through the platform. But even with all the skills and knowledge I acquired, my bakery would never have come to fruition if it wasn’t for the support and encouragement of my husband. He has given me courage and confidence in moments of doubt, emotionally supported me through all the challenges, physically supported me through all the heavy lifting and cleaning (and boy is there always a lot of cleaning) as well as helping me with the logistics and financials of the business (which isn’t always my strong suit). It’s definitely safe to say I wouldn’t be able to do it without him.
Claire Oring (claireoring.com)