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People 2014

Valerie Gordon: The Sweet Shop Owner

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Wed, May 14, 2014 at 4:00 AM
click to enlarge Valerie Gordon - PHOTO BY RYAN ORANGE
  • Photo by Ryan Orange
  • Valerie Gordon
One of the fascinating Angelenos featured in L.A. Weekly's People 2014 issue. Check out our entire People 2014 issue.

Valerie Gordon has a work schedule that would confound even the most seasoned L.A. commuter.

"There are many days now where I'm going to three different kitchens in the same day," says Gordon, who runs Valerie Confections with her partner Stan Weightman Jr. "I'll go into one shop and work on a blood orange panna cotta," she says. "I'll go to HQ to mold chocolates, and go over jams and farmers markets menus. Then I might go downtown and deal with whatever it is - a club sandwich or how the eggs are being cooked. It's like this every day."

Last year, the couple added Valerie Echo Park and Valerie at Grand Central Market to a list of locations that includes a shop on the edge of Westlake and various farmers market stands across Los Angeles. Gordon also published her first cookbook, Sweet, which was nominated for a James Beard Award.

Gordon, 43, is Romanian/English/Jewish on her father's side and Chinese on her mother's side. The youngest of four girls, "I was perhaps slightly feral," jokes Gordon, who found that her parents took on a more relaxed attitude toward her. "No one was really holding my hand and guiding me. That's definitely informed my relationship to food and not feeling limited because I haven't done something before. It's like, well, I'll just figure it out."

Valerie Confections celebrates its 10th anniversary this month, but although Gordon had loved baking since childhood, she came to the profession relatively late. "The creation of food was always a method of escape. It's where I went to feel comfortable, to feel intrinsically satisfied. There's a vulnerability in making that public," she says.

The native of San Francisco now considers herself an Angeleno. She moved to L.A. after studying drama at San Francisco State and American Conservatory Theater, with the goal of pursuing acting. "The thing that's always attracted me to Los Angeles was this sense of infinite possibility. Every time I came here to visit, I always felt this sense of freedom, which was really exciting to me."

Until her early 30s, Gordon worked in the restaurant industry, including managing Les Deux Cafés in Hollywood, and taught yoga as a private instructor. But then Les Deux closed and she had to confront some serious health issues. "Literally, one day I couldn't move my legs. So the whole lower part of my back sort of imploded," Gordon says.

As she spent time in physical therapy, her cooking explorations at home with Weightman became more elaborate. "We gave out these very opulent Christmas gifts under the banner of Tall and Small Productions, and the reaction we were getting from people was just overwhelmingly positive," she says.

By 2003, Gordon and Weightman looked seriously into going into business. The next year they launched, with six flavors of handmade toffee as their opening product. "It felt like something that was underappreciated among confections. We thought, like Ladurée with their macaron, we'd start with toffee."

Their toffee now comes in 15 flavors, from classic to almond fleur de sel; the full range is sold at the Westlake store, with a limited variety available at their cafes. And for the traffic-averse, there's always the option to order a box online.

One of the fascinating Angelenos featured in L.A. Weekly's People 2014 issue. Check out our entire People 2014 issue.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story described Gordon and Weightman as married; they are domestic partners. We regret the error. 

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