Lifelong science fiction geek Jessica Clark-Bojin had a problem. She had given up refined sugar as her New Year's resolution, but she still craved desserts constantly. "I was so disappointed to discover that very few desserts don't involve sugar," she tells SYFY WIRE, "but then I discovered pies."
But it wasn't your run-of-the-mill lattice crust apple pie that captured Clark-Bojin's imagination. She wanted to combine baking with the decades she had already spent geeking out on Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings, Firefly, and "basically anything with sword-fighting and space." When she decided to make geeky pies, she hadn't just found an art project; she discovered a niche on which to build a unique business.
Now, Clark-Bojin runs Pies Are Awesome, a far-reaching online brand, video tutorial program, and pie distributor (though she can't sell her pies at most comic conventions because almost all food isn't allowed in Hall H). As the head of Pies Are Awesome, Clark-Bojin regularly combines her own innovative techniques with baking processes lost to the annals of time, whipping up dragon pies, superhero pies, and pies with Elijah Wood's face on them for her 29K Instagram followers.
SYFY WIRE caught up with Clark-Bojin to talk about baking, reading, and obsessing — three of her most treasured hobbies.
So you were a geek long before you were a baker, correct?
Jessica Clark-Bojin: Yes! My father’s background was in science, and my uncle's was as well. So I grew up with an open library of sci-fi and fantasy books. I remember my friends at school weren’t into that stuff, they liked horses and boys, but my brother and I grew up on Star Trek: The Original Series. We were young when Next Generation came out, and my dad treated it like a cinematic, once-in-a-lifetime experience. We were so hyped for that. Then, as an adult, my brother got into anime and I followed him down that rabbit hole. I also got very into Firefly and experienced the grief and heartache that comes with that.
Why Harry Potter? Were you a fan of the novels? I notice your HP pies look like the film actors.
I came to Harry Potter initially when I saw the first trailer for one of the films. Probably the first one. It was just a teaser that depicted the Great Hall with all the floating candles, and I remember seeing that image and thinking, “That is incredible, what is this?”
Up until that point, I was more of a sci-fi fan, really just Asimov, Star Trek, Star Wars, with some Lord of the Rings sprinkled in. That was the first I’d heard of Harry Potter. I went straight to the bookstore and they explained the book series to me, so I bought the first four, which were the only ones available. I binge-read them all. The first film was incredible and magical. In particular, the score was amazing. I was blown away by the world building.
Did you realize that your geeky pies were going to be so marketable? How did you initially decide to put your work online?
I already documented everything in my life, just a force of habit. The first pie I made, a pretty simple dragon pie, I put online. The next week, I did one with a pirate ship being pulled underwater by a great Krakken, and that did very well online. From there, I started thinking about color and texture, and I researched what other possibilities I could play with. It was around that time that my family suggested I start posting the pies on Instagram. I remember asking, "Why?"
But then BoredPanda did a story on the pies, and that was the first time I was shocked by the reception I got. I had gotten into baking hoping to find templates for pie crust design based on the art I loved, but there just wasn't much out there yet. I inadvertently was one of the first. Not since the Middle Ages or the Renaissance had there been new pie designs of this sort. Of course, it's taken off now, which is lovely, but years ago, it was a bit... tumbleweed-y.
How do you decide which fandom you're going to play in? Do you only make pies based on stories you like?
Well, sometimes it’s a subject that I’ve gotten a lot of requests for over and over. Right now, I’m working on Disney princesses because there’s such a rabid following for anything Disney. That’s pretty straightforward.
Other times, it’s just what I'm watching at the time. I love Rick and Morty, so I did a 3-D portal pie, like something they'd travel though. A few weeks ago, I did some Dalek pie pops for Doctor Who because I had just watched all the new trailers after Comic-Con.
Wow, you get requests! So you've sort of got your own fandom base going. What's that like?
I do some stuff for my fanbase because they ask. I always do May the Fourth for Star Wars, of course, or around Christmas I'll do something for the new Doctor.
I know that many people don’t understand nerd culture, or there’s still a lingering sense at Comic-Con that some people don’t have the right to call themselves a nerd or a geek or a fan. For me, and I know people get touchy, but I think any fandom that helps you transcend time and place, any fandom that makes you feel transported in a profound way, that's the hallmark of being a geek. That can happen to anybody, whether they’re My Little Pony fans or hardcore Star Wars fans or obscure anime fans. I like the inclusivity that’s been happening more and more in fandom.
So let's say you have an idea for a pie. What's the first step? Are you digitally rendering these, or are you sketching them out in pie crust?
I’ve got reams and reams and reams of notebooks with more pie sketches than I’ll ever be able to make in one lifetime. There’s fifty different things I want to make at every moment.
Generally speaking, though, I’ll come up with a concept or subject matter first, and then I’ll look into developing a new pie baking technique to showcase the concept. They go hand in hand.
I like experimenting in the kitchen and innovating in pie crust, or reclaiming old knowledge that I read about at the library, using 100-year-old tactics. I talk to scientist friends and friends I have who work in the Vancouver restaurant industry, and they all have ideas on pushing the boundaries of crust.
What's an example of you pushing the boundaries of crust?
Well, some pies take an afternoon, but others can take up to four days if I'm using different techniques. Some four-day pies include the Aladdin pie scraper I did, and the one for The Nightmare Before Christmas. They each were three-dimensional, quite tall projects with multiple pies inside and an edible structure. It requires a lot of experimentation because pie-dough shrinks in the oven.
The curved staircase on Aladdin was a huge challenge, specifically the angle of the stairs as it changed when the dough shrank. I had to figure out how to create the little 3-D wedges and account for how many degrees the whole thing would shrink by. I had my little protractor out to calculate it out.
But something like a celebrity's face on a pie, that's much simpler.
Have you ever had a celebrity respond to their face being on your pie?
No, actually, not yet! I’m not the most sophisticated when it comes to using social media so I'm admittedly not savvy enough to tag people, but I hope they eventually see it.
Who's your dream celebrity who'd say, "Wow, thanks for the pie of my face!"
I’m a huge fan of Elijah Wood and I’m a huge fan of Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy, but I haven’t done those two in pie form. Besides, I don’t think they’re super active on social media.
However, Nathan Fillion seems like someone who's on social media and might have a great sense of humor about the pie thing, so he'd be great. I’m also a mega fan, of course.