On Valentine’s Day, this supermodel turned modern-day Willy Wonka might be the most unusual and ironic second act ever and an inspiration to love what you do.
The Dutch-born fashion model, Kristel van Valkenhoef, and owner of New York City based Botanic Bakery laughs and informs me that the stereotype that models never eat is a misconception that drives her nuts.
It’s hard to imagine anyone, model or not, able to resist the nature and art-inspired confections van Valkenhoef is turning out in the East Village. Her sweet treats, especially her realistic geode candies, are stunning and definite Instagram #foodporn.
“Growing up in my garden, we had lots of rocks, and I really loved cracking them open with a hammer. It is incredible how a grey, brown dirty looking stone has so much magic inside of it,” van Valkenhoef said.
“For as long as I can remember I have collected stones, shells, fossils, shark teeth and snail houses on every holiday trip we went. Finding those things felt like true treasure. Each of them has a long story, there is not one the same, and that’s the beauty of it. My geode candies are inspired exactly by that concept of natural beauty and uniqueness.”
As the youngest of three children in Utrecht, van Valkenhoef grew up with a mother known in the community as the “arts and crafts mom.” van Valkenhoef and her siblings were always doing creative projects with her.
“My mother also baked a lot when I was little and it was definitely a big part of growing up,” she said. “It was a way to relax and still is. But now it has grown into the base of an art for me—like a canvas to a painter.”
Inspired by her mom, van Valkenhoef learned the confectionary craft on her own by reading countless books, scouring the Internet for information and endless trial and error.
And while on the surface modeling doesn’t seem to dovetail with candies and pastries, it has been an integral step on her journey to this new career.
“Over the years, I have worked closely with many designers from fashion houses like Céline, Dolce & Gabana, Narciso Rodriguez, Theory, Helmut Lang amongst others,” she said. “And while spending time in their ateliers, I learned about the design process—how to draw inspirations, how to carefully or radically choose colors, the art of perfection and how imperfections can make something perfect, the element of surprise, the process of trial and error, believing in yourself, always giving your best, and performing under pressure, to create what you feel like and that creativity can be drawn from all around you.”
van Valkenhoef was originally scouted at age 15 after her older sister sent in her pictures to a modeling contest. She has been modeling ever since.
“Over the years, I have worked closely with many designers from fashion houses like Céline, Dolce & Gabana, Narciso Rodriguez, Theory, Helmut Lang amongst others.”
“Right now modeling is still my full-time job. I channel all my free time into developing my concepts, gathering ideas, and I accept limited collaborations. I am trying to multitask myself to my next destination,” she said. “Modeling has been an amazing tool to get a bigger picture of the world. And it has given me the luxury of time to get in touch with my true personal journey and destination.”
Through her modeling work, van Valkenhoef has had the opportunity to see the world, a key influence in her work at Botanic Bakery.
“Definitely, travels are inspiring in many ways. It has mainly given me a better understanding of flavors, flavor pairings and ingredients,” she said.
It has also led her to create strategic partnerships bridging her two worlds and helping build up her new brand. Botanic Bakery has collaborated with Dom Perignon, Viktor & Rolf, Jill Stuart, Helmut Lang, Justin Alexander and Wilhelmina Models.
While she is still modeling, it’s clear that van Valkenhoef’s true passion is more candies than cocktail dresses these days.
“Sometimes I feel like the direction I am heading in has always been my path, at least it has always been my passion, she said. “And with 15 years of a career in modeling in my pocket, I started to feel the need to look into, and take control over the destination of my own future.
To that end, van Valkenhoef has many exciting plans for Botanic Bakery in the works.
“I feel like 2019 is a prep for a transition in 2020. I’m letting everything grow organically,” she explained. “For my business I’m dreaming of whimsical stores in New York, Paris and Amsterdam, where I can creatively direct. In life I aspire to build my future in a way that I will be able to have a steady base in New York and Amsterdam. “
For my business I’m dreaming of whimsical stores in New York, Paris and Amsterdam.
For others who are debating a radical career transformation, van Valkenhoef encourages them to go for it.
“If you feel strongly that your passion can flourish into a career then give it your all, envision where you want to be in five and 10 year and set real goals towards your destination. “
Sweet advice to make sweet dreams come true.