Cloudy Kitchen’s Erin Clarkson: From Scientist to Baker (With Almost 400k Followers Along the Way!)

Kiwi baking influencer Erin Clarkson has been cooking up a storm with her drool-worthy Instagram, @cloudykitchen, since she turned her homesickness into a full-time career five years ago. A trained geologist, Erin traded science for, well, more science – but the kitchen kind! – while she was living in New York with her partner. Now, she’s everyone’s favourite go-to baking authority – and she’ll be at Wellington on a Plate chatting all things cookbooks in a few weeks. We sat down and had a chat in the lead-up!

Hi Erin! Tell us a little about how you ended up working in food with Cloudy Kitchen!

Hi! I have always grown up around food – I have a huge family with a ton of cousins, and so food was always something that brought everyone together. We spent the summer holidays each year with my Grandparents and my Grandma was a huge part in sparking my love for baking, but I also grew up in a house where I was allowed to just let loose in the kitchen and go for it – I started following recipes when I was super young. I moved to NYC in 2014 to be with my boyfriend, now husband, and we started his design company, Richard Clarkson Studio. I was super-homesick so started to bake the things I missed, and took super bad quality photos of them to put on Instagram! Slowly it grew and people started asking for recipes, and so my husband built me a website. At first it was just a fun sort of hobby thing, I had no idea it could actually turn into a job, but it did, and I have now been blogging full time for about the last five years. 

Geologist to baking seems like a complete 180 – does anything from geology help your baking?

Having a science background has helped my baking in so many ways – the main one being the obsessive testing and re testing, making tiny tweaks and testing all sorts of variables until I am happy with a recipe. Baking is an absolute science, and I definitely have that to thank I think for some of my methodology when it comes to recipe testing.

How do you fuse American vibes with Kiwi classics in Cloudy Kitchen?

I find that New Zealanders have a much stronger ‘make it from scratch’ mentality – there are recipes from NZ that so many Americans have never heard of before (particularly our slice recipes!). I love taking a classic American recipe and putting my own spin on it which is definitely influenced by my NZ upbringing, or making my own version of a US classic which is always interesting as I didn’t grow up eating them like some people did! There’s some amazing things that are super common in the US that I wish were more popular in NZ like fruit pies, so I love making a mixture of both things for my site, sometimes combining them in the same recipe. 

What’s your food philosophy?

Food should be fun, stress free and something that is accessible to everyone. Knowing the basics and why things work the way that they do and how different ingredients can impact the final outcome is such valuable knowledge. 

You’re appearing at Wellington on a Plate’s Eat Your Words sub-festival on May 13 and your session is called Is the Cookbook Dead – strong title! What are your thoughts on this?

I definitely don’t think that the cookbook is dead – I would love to write one one day myself, but the right timing hasn’t come up yet. In saying that, I don’t think that people realise that it is very possible to create a career based solely online. A cookbook would be a passion project and something I would love to do so much, but I think that my blog is where I will keep coming back to as it is something that can be continually evolving and something I can use to reach such a wide audience. 

What’s your favourite thing to bake?

That’s a bit like asking me to choose between my kids! Haha. I tend to go through phases – right now it is an oatmeal cookie rabbit hole that I am deep down in. I LOVE making cookies, but there is also something so special about making bread from scratch too. I just love all of it. 

If there are three things you think everyone should be able to bake, what are they?

I am a big believer in base recipes – knowing the base of how something works, and knowing it well enough that you can change things up as you like. I think everyone should have a great bread recipe up their sleeve, I have a focaccia recipe that is super super simple and almost anyone can make. A great base muffin recipe is also so good to have on hand, along with a kickass chocolate chip cookie recipe. 

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