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Dani Fiori

Posted in Culinary ArtsTelevision on Jul 16, 2010

EMMY-WINNING SET DECORATOR/STYLIST FOR MARTHA STEWART & COOKIE GURU

dani fiori and her Emmy

  • Daniele Boglivi-Fiori (Dani Fiori as she’s known professionally) is an Emmy-award winner for her set decorating and styling on “The Martha Stewart Show.”
  • Dani is the on-air Resident Cookie Expert on “The Martha Stewart Show.” Martha has called Dani “one of my favorite guests.”
  • Dani is the owner of a wildly successful business, Sweet Dani B, which offers a wide array of “couture event accessories” such as custom paper goods, guest welcome baskets and unique party favors, including the most divine tasting cookies that are truly works of art.

It’s no wonder why one of Dani’s favorite mantras is “Life is Sweet!”

I met Dani years ago and asked her to do all the paper goods and favors for our wedding. Working with her was a fun, collaborative process – she is one of the most vivacious, creative people. Because we had a destination wedding, we did wind chimes instead of her famous cookies as favors, but my tastebuds had the experience-of-a-lifetime when we had Dani’s cookies at her own wedding!

It’s not just that her cookies are scrumptious, but they are also these gorgeous art pieces. You must must check out the Sweet Dani B website to see some of the edible artistry she creates. If you want to try your hand at home, she’s sharing some of the tools of her trade in the Sweet Dani B Icing Expert Bottle Kit. You, too, can create these lovely works of art (with some practice!)

Dani, who has decided to go freelance for “The Martha Stewart Show” to give her more flexibility with Sweet Dani B, explains in the q&a what it is she does for the award-winning television show that earned her an EMMY. It’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at what goes on off-camera to make everyone and everything look so great on-camera. She’s currently working on Martha’s baking show which is being shot at Martha’s home in Bedford, NY.

toolbox cookie basket

With all that’s going on in Dani’s sweet life, it’s hard to believe she’s managing to fit in one more thing, but there’s also a potential cookie cookbook in the works. More on that in the q&a, where you can also link to a fantastic cookie segment she did with Martha…I will not be one bit surprised if Dani ends up with her own show in the future!

If you ever have a chance to hire this Emmy-winner for an occasion, you’ll find it to be a wonderfully rewarding process. Dani even has a DIY system, if you’re the handy type. In the meantime, if you have any good cookie recipes share them…I’m inspired by Dani and want to break out my cookie sheets!

enjoy!
-lm

for another tv/food personality on Mom Culture, check out Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard


dani & martha stewart

You are an Emmy-winning set designer/stylist for Martha Stewart’s television show “Martha.” Explain what a set designer/stylist does.

We are responsible for styling and “dressing” the set. In Martha’s case, her show set is modeled after her home in Bedford, NY, so for the day-to-day show, we choose appropriate items that she would use in her kitchen, craft room, greenhouse, etc. For holiday, we brainstorm as early as we can and decorate accordingly.

We are able to purchase some of the items, and in other cases we borrow from Martha’s amazing prop library (which is an incredible collection of anything you can imagine – from table surfaces, to tableware, to vases, to cake stands to holiday decor and on and on.)

batali's fettucine with lemon, hot peppers and pecorino romano (photo:marthastewart.com)

In addition to the set decoration, we are also responsible for segment styling. A live show is shot in segments that are divided by commercials. Each stylist is assigned a segment or segments per show and that person is responsible for setting the segment up with needed props, displays etc.

For example, I styled a few of Mario Batali’s segments for the “Martha” show this past season. The producer he was working with on our team would email me the recipes and let me know the direction of the segment (modern or rustic? color or white?) Often, a chef is promoting a cookbook so we can also use those images for reference. Based on that info, I pick out “mise en place” (small dishes and bowls, flatware, napkins, etc., that are put “in place” for assembling the recipe) for Mario to use with Martha during his segment.

The final plated shot is called a “beauty.” The final dishes and accessories used for the beauty are an important part of to making the chef’s recipe look delicious while still keeping within the Martha aesthetic. Our final beauty shots are shot by both the tv cameras and by a photographer. The photos go up on the website so when viewers search them, they can visualize the final recipe or project.

dani transforms a cookie into a work of art


How did you get into set designing and styling for “Martha?”

It was a very roundabout process. I was very lucky to have gone to Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), an amazing art college. What was difficult for me was picking a major because I was a bit of a “jill of all trades.” I wavered between apparel and illustration, but opted for the later because it was most flexible. After crying through most of freshman foundation, I settled in and decided to take any “different” class I could take to get the most out of the experience.

After too many bad critiques on my illustration style, I decided to take a photography class. That was was a turning point. Photography helped me develop my sense of framing and composition – something I struggled a lot with in illustration. By the time I graduated I had dabbled in a bit of everything (minus architecture and industrial design.) Strangely enough, my first “real” job at Ralph Lauren melded together the use of photography, illustration and graphic design – and I was also surrounded by apparel. Amazing!

For the first 5 years at Ralph Lauren, I was in the Men’s design department working on design boards that the buyers use to sell designs and product to our merchants. I started off doing the graphic layouts of these boards, then began illustrating men’s sweaters. Eventually, I became the manager the team of Sportswear artists.

One day, a friend and co-worker of our Art Director was visiting and I heard him mention that he was looking for someone to do graphics. I had been feeling like it was time for something new creatively and inquired about the position. I was hired and moved over to the Creative Services area of the business, which tended to the stores. There I worked with the store visual team and merchandisers. These were the people who “prop out” the stores and windows – from fixtures, to signage, to decor. I didn’t realize it at the time, but all along I was honing my understanding of themes and concept.

I left Ralph Lauren just shy of the 10 year mark to start my own business. I did that for a few years while freelancing. My best friend, Tamara, was working at Martha and suggested me for freelance there. I freelanced on the television show, as well as with Martha’s New York field producer which meant going and styling Martha’s appearances on shows like the “Today” show, “Letterman,” “The View.” It was fun to see behind-the-scenes at all those places!

When Tam (Dani’s best friend who was working at “Martha“) decided to go back to school for her teaching masters, they offered me the full time position. It was an amazing experience!

Not only did I join an incredibly talented group of artists in the art department (which consists of stylists and crafters), but since the show is ‘lifestyle’ and is shot live, I learned things I would have never imagined…like how a live show runs and works, camera shots (very different from still photo styling), not to mention what I learned from the amazing prep kitchen staff and our in house garden expert!

I was also lucky because Martha took a liking to my cookies and they invited me on the show to do baking segments with her – lots more to learn there! I will never forget how my hands were shaking during my Santa cookie segment (which was my first time solo with Martha). It’s a crazy weird, but fun, thing to be on the other side of the camera!

Speaking of your amazing cookies, you also are the owner of Sweet Dani B. What is that business?

It’s an event design business – I can be hired to do one or all elements of event design. I offer concept-related paper goods such as invites, menus and programs. I also offer the cookie favors.

For example, if a bride hires me to design her save the dates, we base them on the concept of her entire wedding day and then the invites, programs and menus and any other paper good will be related. The cookies are my favorite suggested favor since I prefer food favors. I have over 300 cookie cutters so its very easy for me to work in themes. I offer other favors, but I do encourage the cookies since they are edible and always make people smile.

hand illustrated baby shower invitation

baby shower cake topper

baby shower cake toppers

Can you work with anyone, anywhere?

Yes, it’s a little more challenging, but with email and the internet it’s definitely possible. I worked on a destination wedding in Tuscany without ever meeting the bride or groom in person. After our initial phone interview, she mailed me her invitation and emailed their icon that a friend had drawn for them. I designed the program, welcome itinerary and escort cards and mailed them to her parents to hand carry to Italy. Years later I ended up working on her sister’s wedding and was so happy to finally meet her!

hand illustrated wedding inviation

What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned in your own business, Sweet Dani B?

Know what your product is and what it is worth. I am in the business of creating custom items, but I also try to be competitive in pricing. That said, it’s not a discount business.

In the beginning, if I lost a job to pricing I’d be upset. Now I know who my target audience is.

I’ve also come up with ways to offer better pricing. One of my most popular solutions is Dani B “DIY.” With the DIY (Do It Yourself) process, I design and the client has the option to assemble. For example, I just worked with a crafty bride in June. She wanted to do custom cocktail stirrers, but needed close to 300! In order to cut costs I designed the flags and formatted several to a page. I printed 30 sheets and she and her groom cut and attached them to these adorable stirrers she had purchased. They started the job one night. The next night she ended up working late at her job, but when she got home her future husband had finished them all! How cute is that? What’s also nice about DIY is there’s a certain feeling of pride and excitement to have a hand in your own party.

Where do you find creative inspiration?

I am always inspired at random. For brides, location is a popular way to develop a concept or theme, but I always find inspiration in who the people are, and the story that goes along with it: how did they meet, where do they live, what do they love?

For birthdays and anniversaries, photographs are always fun inspiration for invitations – especially if they are vintage! I also offer custom illustrations for invites, so for showers fashion sketches of the bride to be is another popular way to go. People love to see themselves drawn in that style!

For basic inspiration, I go shopping! I find inspiration anywhere from bookstores to the farmers market, to my fave baking store. Antique stores and garage sales are super inspiring too! Travel always inspires me, but if that’s not possible the internet is an amazing alternative.

What’s your creative process like? For example, do you plan out what you want to do or just start into it? In other words, how do you get from nothing to something?

If I’m trying to add a new cookie to my line, that process starts with buying the cutter. At that point, I’m already mapping out the icing in my head and I’ll try to do a quick sketch if I can. Once the cookie is baked I scan it in and draw the icing template onto the cookie in Illustrator.

With invites or announcements, I surround myself with all the inspiration the client has given me and do anything from sketch to playing around with fonts in Illustrator.

You’ve become a cookie expert – can you share a favorite recipe that bakers at home can use?

Well, I don’t want to jinx it, but I have been in talks to do a cookie book, so I’ll be happy to share my sugar cookie recipe, which I refer to as the “2 x 2,” when the book comes out!

(in the meantime, find a recipe for the stunning stained glass critter cookies, along with the templates you’ll need, and the segment from the show where Dani and Martha show you how to make these beautiful cookies. link to watch and get the recipe)

dani's critter cookies

What’s your favorite cookie to eat?

Top 5 not in any order and all served with lowfat milk please!

1) Chocolate chip from City Bakery (NY)
2) Grandma Nettie’s (my grandma) Santa Snacks: they are a gooey chocolate coconut bar cookie (Sweet Dani B offers these around Xmas in cookie baskets and tins)
3) My friend Amanda’s Italian cookies: this recipe, from my friend Amanda’s Grandmother’s friend, are also called Italian love knot cookies. Amanda also makes a great chocolate chip cookie – they are kind of like cookie dough – yum!
4) Whole Foods vegan Ginger snap
5) Coconut macaroon dipped in chocolate (Godiva)

Also, nothing beats an oreo with milk, but I try not to eat processed stuff like that. Martha’s Everyday Food has a delicious Oreo type recipe that I have been meaning to make. (link to the recipe)

My husband and I really can’t be “left alone” with cookies in the house, so I don’t buy packages of cookies. If I make a batch, we’ll keep a few and then I give the rest away.

mom-to-be cookie

Were you always creative, even as a kid? Were you raised in a creative family? Did your parents support your creativity as it showed itself? Who encouraged or mentored your art?

I was always a quirky, un-shy, creative type. My mom loves to tell the stories of when I would get off the bus (she’d be watching out the window) and every day I’d have a different art project in my hand, on my head, or around my neck. One day I made a pilgrim bonnet in class around Thanksgiving and I loved it so much I wore it home. At first she panicked when she saw me step off the bus because she thought my head was fully bandaged!

My family has always supported me and my husband has been amazing, as well. We have our moments because I’m messy and he is neat, but since he is also a creative it’s great to have someone to bounce ideas off of or “talk fonts” with. My mom is creative and actually, my Dad is pretty crafty too. They both help me out with the business which is amazing.

Proust Questionnaire

My favorite snack is:  cheese and olives

Don’t ask me to:  clean (ever!)

I would put into a time capsule my:  copies of fave photos, a packaged cookie, this interview

My favorite place is:  anywhere sunny with good restaurants & great wine

When I have a creative block I:  shop

My favorite mantra is:  follow your heart & life is sweet

  • 3 responses to "Dani Fiori"

  • Haasan Morse
    20th July 2010 at 9:32

    What a fantastic Q+A!! I’ve seen Dani’s work on Martha but never knew she had her own business. Fantastic! Now I can get some goodies for myself instead of drooling over them on the TV. Woo-hoo!

  • Marcela Shine
    19th July 2010 at 13:38

    Dani, it was great to see your cookies featured here! Glad we were finally able to get our hands on the cookie icing kit! Can’t wait to try it.

  • Liz
    16th July 2010 at 14:04

    Oh my gosh. Those are the cutest cookies I’ve EVER seen! Great interview! I love reading about the journeys people take to be successful doing what they love to do.