Creativity – In the Studio Kitchen with Vaughn Dorrian
In this series on The Southern C, I am thrilled to introduce our readers to some of the great Southern creative minds we run across on our social network and at The Southern C Summits. These individuals are the artists, designers, makers and doers that are shaping our landscape with their vision and ingenuity. Go behind the scenes to get a glimpse into their studio, find out what they are working on, discover the path that led them to this moment and gain insight into what motivates and inspires their work and lives.
The subjects and their niche may vary but many share the paradoxical traits of creative individuals – they daydream, observe, ask big questions, people watch, seek new experiences, view life as an opportunity for self-expression, take risks and bounce back all while following their true passions. We hope you will be inspired as we spotlight the creativity that abounds in our region. According to Einstein, “Creativity is contagious” and this is one thing we are happy to spread.
This week, I would like to introduce you to Vaughn Dorrian, the Florida-born home chef and creator of Hummingbird Fine Foods, a collection of sauces and marinades to brighten and enliven every meal. Vaughn strongly believes in two things: taste and transparency. With this new collection of small batch, artisanal products, Vaughn has developed a product line that is all-natural, gluten free with no synthetic flavoring, GMO’s, MSG or high fructose corn syrup. ** In full disclosure, I got to try her products and The Southern C Summit and oh, my… they are delicious!
How did this brand come to be? Well, it’s a interesting story… Vaughn created Hummingbird Fine Foods when her friend Karen kept lovingly pestering her to put her favorite dressings into bottles for her. It was a little concoction that Vaughn had whipped up one day and Karen couldn’t get enough of it. It is now called her Mediterranean Vinaigrette. Soon enough, another person begged for one of her salad dressings. This time it was her sister-in-law, Carol. That is now her Asian Vinaigrette. Vaughn knew that she was onto something!
Now here comes the heart of gold part of the business plan… Vaughn came up with the Hummingbird name as a nod to her favorite southern desert, the Hummingbird Cake and to a dear family friend, Carla Griffin, who lost her battle with brain cancer in 2012. She was someone who Vaughn always looked up to and they both loved Hummingbird Cake. Carla wore many hats and wore them all well. During a visit with Carla towards the end of her battle, Vaughn was inspired to finally give the condiment business a go. Carla was, as most women are, just like the hummingbird: beautiful and graceful with their wings flapping up to 200 times per second to keep it all going. Every time Vaughn thinks about giving up she sees in some form or another, a hummingbird and she knows it’s a sign from Carla to keep going.
In addition, Vaughn is a brand with a conscience and donates a percentage of proceeds to various foundations focused on pediatric and women’s cancer including The Scarlett Elizabeth James Foundation and Cook for Your Life, in honor of her cousin, Allison Hall Nelson. A successful concept brought to life topped off by giving back to help others…. sounds like a Southern creative to me!
Describe your brand and how it got started:
I was always the friend at big dinner party to be assigned ‘salad duty’. For some reason even the best cooks I know, were scared of assembling a salad! Hummingbird Fine Foods finally started after several friends and family members begged long and hard enough for me to bottle my dressings. The collection now includes a tangy-sweet Asian Vinaigrette, a bright and sparkling Champagne Vinaigrette, a richly-spiced Mediterranean Vinaigrette, a vivid, medium-hot Salsa de Serranos pepper sauce and the uniquely seasoned Moroccan Spiced Ketchup.
After being inspired by a dear friend battling cancer as well as a few other people close to me and seeing them wake up and battle every day, I had a ‘come to Jesus’ moment with a Hummingbird and the Hummingbird won! I’ve made it a company mission to give back to charities that support cancer patients and cancer research in their honor.
Describe a typical day in your studio or office?
There’s no such thing as typical, or studio or office in my case! I work in my home, in our kitchen. My manufacturers are in Upstate NY and also Florida so I spend some time working with them over the phone and email on new production runs and new item development. I have a call with my Director of Sales and try to get out as many samples as I can. I’m always trying to work on my business plan and crunching numbers while also finding time for the creative side of things and really pushing my branding. I know you have one shot to make a first impression and I’m trying to make it the best impression I can! I LOVE my branding firm, Coosa. John Maloney, the principal, has helped me find and define Hummingbird’s voice and I love where he’s taken us. I think we’ve really placed ourselves as a new, unique and identifiable food brand.
What did you want to be when you grew up and how has your background influenced your work?
I always wanted to be on the creative, communicative side of business. I majored in Communications in college. After college I worked in PR for some major fashion and consumer goods companies. It was a great skill set in learning how to position brands now that I am an entrepreneur trying to market my own.
Favorite biz tool, app or resource?
I wish I had time for blogs and networking events. But having a husband and 3 kids makes it hard. Right now my favorite business tool is talking to other entrepreneurs. Emily Stroud, founder of Hayden Reis, is a childhood friend and she has been invaluable to me – from managing the work vs. family balance, to sourcing, to media outreach, the topics are endless and she’s always got great advice. I have a few friends like that, and I really couldn’t get through the day without them. I also recently met so many like-minded people at The Southern C Summit!
Where do you find inspiration?
I’m constantly on social media. There are so many amazing food bloggers. It’s great to see what others are cooking up! I also had so many great culinary experiences growing up in Florida. My grandparents were southern so I had that influence. Living in Florida, there is so much vibrancy and freshness – seafood, fruits, and vegetables so I draw on those past eating habits to come up with great products. My favorite meal, cheese grits and stone crabs. So simple, but so good, am I right? I try to remember to just keep it simple.
The rare day off – what do you do to unwind?
Hmmm, I don’t know, do mom’s have a day off and I missed the memo?! I love to go out with my husband and just grab a margarita or explore different parts of New York City. Now that the kids are older I have to admit I’ve dusted off my dancing shoes a little! As a family we love to ski and surf and be outside enjoying life. I’m a Pisces and really love to be near the water!
Best business advice you ever received?
Two mantras I live by in business and otherwise:
“Slow down, don’t take your self too seriously.” – my Dad
“Sometimes the only difference between winning and losing is most often not quitting.” – Walt Disney
Thank you, Vaughn! It was a pleasure “meeting” you.
For more of Whitney’s Southern Creatives Q&A’s click the names below:
Whitney Wise Long, co-founder of The Southern C and The Southern C Summit, loves to connect with Southern entrepreneurs and learn more about their creative endeavors.
This series – “In the Studio With” – offers her the perfect opportunity to do so!