'Make baking love' from East L.A. food blog Presley's Pantry

It tells you all you need to know about food vlogger Nicole Presley that her riff on a "holiday" such as Valentine's Day leads to a mad scientist video that ends with her marrying a salted caramel chocolate flan.

Yes, marrying, as in wedding dress and bouquet included. 

Such zaniness is a calling card of sorts for the food blogger and vlogger born and raised in East Los Angeles. Presley's food blog -- called Presley's Pantry -- is a high-spirited affair that represents her journey to rediscover traditional cultural favorites such as red chicharones -- chunks of pork fat fried crispy and drenched in a spicy red chile salsa.

That's because Presley's mother rarely cooked.

"It was fast food or starve," Presley says.

But starving wasn't an option in a neighborhood where "abuelitas" were more than happy to pass along their kitchen secrets, especially when so many 20-somethings like Presley seem more interested in dining out than cooking their culture.

Her video-driven food blog -- or vlog -- is certainly not the biggest, or even the most polished. But it is, hands down, one of the most original.

"Pee-wee Herman meets H.R. Pufnstuf" is the way Presley describes her artistic vision. (She is, above all, an artist.) Which might explain why it's not unusual to see her blog take a right-hand turn to explore the recent Stanley Kubrick exhibit at LACMA. She makes it a food story by tying it to those red chicharones.

The cornerstone of the vlog is special-effects laden videos.

They are labor-intensive projects that take weeks to put together, in part because crew members have day jobs. The blog's video co-directors are Mando Lopez and James Ford, who have made videos for Exene Cervenka and the Breeders. Tony Molina, director of photography, has worked with Aerosmith, Snoop Dog and Sting. (No one gets paid to work on Presley's videos. They do it for the creative outlet.)

Presley's Valentine's Day webisode -- in which she makes a salted cajeta chocolate flan -- was shot in December for its debut earlier this month on the blog.

But while most food bloggers use Valentine's Day to get all lovey-dovey and "sweets for your sweet," Presley zigs when everyone else zags, as you can see by the video above.

Presley emphasizes videos on her blog -- and quirky videos at that -- as a way to differentiate her work. Also, because she doesn't particulary like typical food shows.

"The truth is that I don’t really like watching cooking shows. They are not entertaining me the way I want to be entertained," she said. "I want something to surprise me. I want it to be whimsical. So I figured, 'Let’s do a show and see what happens.' "

It seems to be working. Her blog helped her land a gig contributing to the Walt Disney Co.-owned parenting website Babble.

Presley said she sees cooking as an art form, in part because of her unconventional upbringing in a family that prides itself on artistic endeavors. Her mother, a cinema fanatic, would much prefer to pack the family off for a trip to the movie theater and the drive-thru than spend time in the kitchen, Presley said.

That influence has turned into a gift, Presley said.

"For me, cooking has never been a chore," said Presley, who is mom to three-year-old Max. "Cooking wasn’t something that I saw a woman or a man having to do day and in and day out. Everyone in my family is into the arts. Music, landscaping, movies, flowers. I decided I was going to be the cook in the family. That is going to be my art form."

She adds: "When I cook I shut off the world completely, when I cook I put on some music that touches me and I lose myself completely. I'm cooking, singing, loving my nail color, whatever."

Presley's childhood favorites -- Sid and Marty Krofft, "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters" and "H.R. Pufnstuf" -- are evident in her work.

"That’s the sort of style we’re going for, just not the typical thing that you’d see,” she said. "I'm trying to meld classic Mexican dishes with surrealist satire. And I'm not taking myself seriously at all, just having fun with our culture and the culture of Los Angles, and melding all of those things together.

"I'm just trying to make something that would make me giggle. Hopefully people enjoy it."


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