110 Market St
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Born in Trinidad and raised in Philadelphia, Davina Soondrum is proof that childhood dreams can come true. As a toddler, Soondrum’s mom let her watch “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” nearly every day, and at the tender age of 4, she told her parents she wanted to be a candy maker. Though her dream hibernated for more than a decade, Soondrum found herself drawn back to sweets after high school.
Transforming her growing interest into a career, Soondrum attended the Art Institute of Philadelphia, where she was mentored by Chef Patrick Coue and graduated with honors in 2006. In school, Soondrum worked the counter at Godiva, but degree in hand, she hit the pastry kitchen in earnest with roles at The Restaurant School (where she worked with another mentor, Randall Hoppmann), Daniel Stern’s Rae; Marcie Turney’s retail shop, Grocery; and Friday, Saturday, Sunday in Rittenhouse Square.
Soondrum was soon tapped to run the pastry program at Ryan and Eric Berley’s turn-of-the-century soda shop and ice cream parlor, Franklin Fountain. And as the brothers prepared to re-open Shane Confectionery next door, Soondrum was a natural choice to lead their candy making debut. Starting with 100-year-old recipes scratched onto envelopes, Soondrum began to master and re-imagine Shane’s offerings. She and her team make crave-worth chocolate bars, dip buttercreams by hand, and craft toy glass candies in antique iron molds. Made with the fervor and process of a scientist and the wild imagination of a child, Soondrum’s confections are the sweet outcome of a professional dream realized.
Interview with 2013 Philadelphia Rising Star Artisan Davina Soondrum
Caroline Hatchett: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Davina Soondrum: Honestly, my love of food comes from watching "Willy Wonka." Lots of my cooking inspiration came from Mom and Dad—they came from different backgrounds. My father was a cartographer on contract in the West Indies. He took aerial photos of underdeveloped lands. My mother was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. That’s where they met. My father was born off the coast of Madagascar, and he went to school in London and learned how to cook.
CH: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks?
DS: I feel like school is not for everyone, but if you have the drive, you put in as much as you want out of it. I had my fair share of good, bad, and incredibly weird experiences in culinary school. It was the real world experience that was a big draw for me. The Art Institute [of Philadelphia] found us two working internships.
CH: Who are your mentors and what have you learned from them?
DS: In school, I didn’t have a lot of confidence. Professor Patrick Coue taught me art history and French classical cuisine. He was so sweet and gentle. He would keep me after class, and we would talk about what it meant to cook and entertain and reach people. He was the one who kept me willing to stay in school. Randall Hauffman teaches hotel and hospitality management [at the Philadelphia Restaurant School]. To me, she’s the most inspiring woman in industry. She’s willing to teach and has so much knowledge, such an awesome attitude. And she never lets adversity get in her way.
CH: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
DS: Make as many mistakes as possible. Remember, you haven’t learned anything. Every day I make a mistake that I learn from. Sometimes they become my biggest sweet successes.
CH: Why do you love restaurants?
DS: Food is more than just nourishment for the body, it’s nurturing to the soul. Some of my best memories occurred in a restaurant, and it keeps me motivated to try to do the same for others. Food is a gateway to conversation, community, and artistic expression.
CH: What is your most important kitchen rule?
DS: Don’t take things too personally. We’re always learning and mistakes just open other doors for future success. No one should put themselves or others down for what they consider a mistake.
CH: What does success mean for you?
DS: If I could make at least one person happy or give someone a memorable experience, I’ve succeeded. That’s what sustained me through a lot of this. I want people to think back fondly when they think of something I’ve made for them.
CH: Where do you see yourself in five years?
I see myself in a teaching kitchen, bringing more people in and viewing the culinary world in a different light. I don’t work in the most conventional field. I would love to share that with people. I would love to teach children’s cooking classes, maybe go back to culinary school for a while, and have a restaurant of my own.