In 2013, Nashville native Audrey Shulman, then twenty-six and living in Los Angeles, set out on a highly unconventional quest to find her first boyfriend. Over the course of a year, she baked fifty different cakes, which she took to fifty different bars, proffering slices to dozens of romantic prospects and chronicling the results on her blog. Now she’s collected the most colorful stories of that year, along with fifty new recipes, in her first book, Sitting in Bars with Cake. Accompanied by illustrations, her sugar-fueled odyssey tracks her adventures and the personal revelations that surfaced as a result. She recently answered questions from Chapter 16 via email
Chapter 16: Originally a blog, Sitting in Bars with Cake describes an incredibly original plan for finding a boyfriend. How did such an idea occur to you?
Shulman: This was very much an accidental discovery. I’d always liked baking birthday cakes for my friends, but I’d never taken a cake to a bar, and I didn’t hang out in bars, period. Then one summer I baked a birthday cake for my best friend Chrissy, and we took it to the Edendale bar in Los Angeles, really just to take advantage of their awesome photo booth. I was cutting pieces of cake for all of our friends when I looked up and noticed that the guys across the bar were staring at me, and staring at my cake. I could tell they wanted some, but they didn’t know how to come over and ask for a piece. I decided to walk over and offer them cake, and wound up talking to all these guys by the end of the night. It was the best icebreaker ever. As we were leaving, my best friend joked that all I needed to do to find a boyfriend was bake cakes and go sit in bars. I didn’t think it was something I could actually do, but as the rest of the year went on, I decided it could be a really fun project to try and great material for a blog.
Chapter 16: In which ways has this project of “cakebarring” been a catalyst for growth in your personal life?
Shulman: Forcing myself to go up to strangers every weekend with cake became really good practice for going up to strangers without cake—not only guys I was interested in talking to, but people I wanted to network with at industry events, girls I wanted to befriend at parties—I think this new kind of fearlessness even helped me in job interviews. Cakebarring definitely made me braver, and the sheer routine of keeping up my blog about what was unfolding made me a much better writer. I’m much more confident in my writing voice now.
Chapter 16: You grew up in Nashville. What drew you to Los Angeles, and what kind of work did you do during the day when you weren’t baking, going to bars, and blogging about both?
Shulman: I got really interested in television writing during my senior year of college, and decided to move to Los Angeles to try working in the entertainment industry. During the year I was writing my blog, I was working as a development coordinator for a reality TV production company. This means I wrote up documents that would be used to sell reality-show ideas to different TV channels. Even though that kind of writing is totally different from script writing or the narrative writing in my blog, that constant brainstorming and writing practice really helped me start sharpening my voice.
Chapter 16: As a home chef with no professional training, how did you come up with so many original recipes, such as Angel Food Cake with Chocolate-Avocado Frosting, Curry Carrot Cake with Gingery Frosting, and Sweet Potato Cake with Cauliflower Frosting?
Shulman: I had a huge breakthrough when I realized the recipes could describe the guys I was writing about, and that chapters could describe the flavors of both the cakes and the guys: sweet, salty, bitter, fruity, and savory. Angel Food Cake could describe the guy who was really angelic, Curry Carrot Cake could describe a hot rocket scientist, and Sweet Potato Cake could describe someone sweet but not too sweet. My publishing company was nice enough to put me in touch with a recipe consultant so I could make sure my ideas would make sense: Would ginger frosting make sense for a savory cake (and still taste good?), or what’s the best way for me to incorporate chicory root into a cake? My recipe consultant, Patricia Austin, was amazingly patient and an enormous help.
Chapter 16: What became of the guy who got on one knee and proposed after a single bite? Any updates on these other men?
Shulman: Ha! That’s one of my favorite essays in the book. I think he must be performing Christian rock songs somewhere in Oklahoma. I haven’t kept in touch with any of the other guys, but I would hope they’d get a big kick out of seeing my book and realizing they’re a part of it. (I do have a superhero-nice boyfriend now, whom I met on a blind date right after I finished my blog.)
Chapter 16: What do you view as the single most successful experience of your yearlong endeavor to bake and bait a boyfriend?
Shulman: The single most successful experience of my project was that this ongoing mission gave my best friend Chrissy and me a sense of normalcy and routine and fun after she was diagnosed with brain cancer in June of 2013. That was the lowest point of the project—it was a very scary and uncertain time for us, not only as close friends but as roommates whose parents lived far away. I really thought I should stop the project so we could shift our full focus to her health, but Chrissy insisted we keep going, and I’m so glad we did. She loved that this project started leading to other opportunities for me—that I started writing for The Huffington Post, got featured on The Rachael Ray Show, and, most incredible of all, was able to write a book. Chrissy passed away earlier this month, and she was able to see an advance copy of the book the day before she died. Promoting the book is heartbreaking to do without her, but it’s also a way for me to stay connected to her; she was the biggest champion of the whole project. She would absolutely want me to keep going full steam ahead.
Chapter 16: What are you working on now?
Shulman: I’ve just written a script about a girl who takes cakes to bars that I’d love to pitch as a TV show or a movie, but I’m also hoping to write a memoir about my dear friend Chrissy.
Sarah Norris holds an M.F.A. in creative nonfiction from Sarah Lawrence College and has reviewed books for The Daily Beast, Christian Science Monitor, San Francisco Chronicle, and Village Voice, among other publications. She lives in Nashville.