In an ordinary kitchen in Deerfield Beach, a husband-wife duo bakes a traditional Japanese snack with a delicious American twist.
They sell out at every event.
Taiyaki – literally “baked seabream” – is a beloved Japanese cake that imitates the shape of a red seabream fish and is usually filled with sweetened “azuki” beans.
Cameron Baird, son of a Japanese mother and American father, grew up eating a mix of Japanese and American dishes. He would eat taiyaki from time to time.
Years later, Cameron Baird took his wife, Heather Baird, to San Francisco and introduced her to taiyaki.
“It hadn’t come up before, but as soon as we went to Japantown, it was like a light bulb went off. ‘I have to take you to get taiyaki!’” she said.
After their trip, Heather Baird bought their first taiyaki maker – an iron cast with two fish-shaped molds that could be used on the stovetop. In the beginning, it was just for fun.
In 2013 they began selling their little Japanese-American creations and Gaijin Taiyaki—the foreigner’s taiyaki— was formed. Their first show, as Heather Baird puts it, was during a crafts fair at Undergrounds Coffeehause in Fort Lauderdale.
“We made 50, packaged in twist-tied bags with handwritten labels. We were up all night making that first batch,” she said. “And then…we sold them all.”
Then they went bigger. With no signage, display or clue of what they were doing, they sold more than 1,200 taiyaki during Animate Miami in January 2014. Now, depending on the event, Heather, Cameron and his mother, Emiko Baird, make 100 to 5,000 taiyaki.
Traditionally, taiyaki is made with waffle-like batter. However, to stop their own taiyaki from tasting like cold pancakes once cooled, the wife-husband team created a special batter with a more cake-like texture with the help of batter master Emiko Baird.
“A Gaijin Taiyaki can be eaten just the way it is, or if [the taiyaki] manages to make it home, you can heat it up in the microwave or toaster oven, and it gets even better,” said Heather Baird.
Through trial and error, Cameron Baird taught himself how to cook the fish cake to perfection. Then the experimenting began, as the duo began filling the fish with more than just the traditional “azuki” flavor of sweetened red bean paste.
The taiyaki are offered in a range of flavors, from their popular cookies n’ crème to colorful M&M’s, green white chocolate and green tea, unsuccessful fruit loops and many more.
The Bairds attend South Florida’s many comic conventions and festivals, such as Florida Supercon, Animate Miami and festivals at Morikami Museum. At each place they visit, attendees, volunteers and staff hurry to the Gaijin Taiyaki stand to buy the little cakes before they are all fished up.
The husband-wife duo’s quickest complete sold-out event was at Hurricon 2015, University of Miami anime club’s con, where they sold out of all the 100 taiyaki they brought in less than an hour.
“It goes without saying, Saturday at a con we will sell out,” she said.
Melanie Ponce, guest relations volunteer at Florida Supercon and Animate Miami events, knows the Gaijin Taiyaki as “the taiyaki lady.” She was introduced to the snack at Florida Supercon.
“The taiyaki lady is definitely a staple of South Florida conventions,” she said. “Everyone raves about the taiyaki lady and her adventurous flavors.”
The husband and wife team mostly participate in events where Japanese culture can be found.
“We knew we wanted to be at comic cons, with American kids fascinated with anime and Japanese culture, but also having American tastes. It only made sense to make something that the people we wanted as customers would want to eat,” said Heather Baird.
When the two are not busy baking hundreds or thousands of fish cakes, Heather is an office manager at Carliss and Cameron is an Uber and Lyft driver.
Currently, Gaijin Taiyaki distributes their snacks through special orders or at events. In the future, Heather and Cameron Baird hope to make their little half-Japanese business their full-time job—with hopes of having a Gaijin Taiyaki food truck.