Ever since sampling the dazzling pink daisy cookies at her first cookie swap circa 1965, Julia has been a lover of all things sweet. As a young child, she cultivated her budding cooking skills by riding the apron strings of her mom – an accomplished home baker who ran a tight kitchen. “Make it from scratch or keep it out of your mouth” was her mother’s favorite mantra. By the age of 12 – while other kids were still tinkering with their Easy-Bake ovens – Julia was wowing friends and families with lavishly decorated yeast breads and multi-layer tortes. (Julia was also known on occasion to whip up a very lifelike soap and mud frosting cake for her sometimes pesky little sister!)
Julia worked as a mechanical engineer and management consultant after graduating from Yale with a BSME in 1984, but even while climbing the corporate ladder, she never put aside her appetite for baking. In 1994, Julia decided to turn her passion into her profession by enrolling in the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. She graduated valedictorian, receiving the coveted M.F.K. Fisher Prize for outstanding scholarship in 1996. One year later, Julia opened AzucArte, a boutique bakery widely lauded for its wedding cakes that tasted as wonderful as they looked.
After tiring of relentless weekend work, Julia closed her shop in 2005 and turned to writing and food styling to satisfy her sweet tooth. She became Contributing Editor at Dessert Professional, a 2008 James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards finalist, and an entertaining consultant, party producer, and prop stylist for St. Louis AT HOME magazine. Over the next four years, her work, written and edible, appeared in Vera Wang on Weddings, Bon Appétit, Fine Cooking, Better Homes and Gardens, Mary Engelbreit’s Home Companion, Gastronomica, Woman’s World, Where Women Cook, and nearly every national bridal magazine.
In 2009, Julia released her first book, Cookie Swap, which subsequently won three prestigious Cordon d’ Or Awards, including one for Best in Competition. And in 2011, she released a second book, Ultimate Cookies, an inspirational collection of edible cookie art projects endorsed by celebrity cake designers Kerry Vincent and Colette Peters. Never one to rest on her laurels, Julia went on to turn her books into 13 e-books and a cookie decorating app that includes instructional videos along with in-depth technique instruction and some of Julia’s first 3-D cookie projects.
More recently, Julia has gained worldwide recognition as a leading sugar artist, with a specialty in 3-D cookie decorating – a category she pioneered while pushing creative boundaries on her popular YouTube channel, Recipes for a Sweet Life. When not making instructional videos for her channel or site, Julia teaches decorating classes across the globe and online; operates Cookie Connection, the world’s largest online community for cookie decorators; and judges various sugar art competitions, including her own Julia M. Usher’s Cookie Art Competition™ and Cake Masters Magazine’s annual awards.
In 2013, Julia won Cake Masters’ first-ever Cookier of the Year award; in 2014, she received the coveted Medal of Honor from Kerry Vincent’s Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show (OSSAS) for her outstanding contributions to the sugar arts community; and, in 2016, she was recognized as both Artist of the Year USA and International Artist of the Year by Edible Artists Global Academy Association (EAGAA). She was also a finalist for four 2016 TASTE Awards related to her video work on YouTube, and launched a cookie stencil line in partnership with Stencil Ease, the country’s largest producer of craft and household stencils. Since then, Julia has earned multiple other recognitions, including Cookie Icon from Cake Masters Magazine (2018), Breakout Foodie of the Year from the TASTE Awards (2019), a host role in a Food Network documentary centered on her annual cookie art competition (2019), Global Sugar Hero finalist in the Australian Cake Artists & Decorators Association (ACADA) Cake Oscar Awards (2021/2022), and Positive Leadership Award finalist for her impact on the cookie arts community (2023).
Today, Julia’s business has extended into other decorating tools and merchandise, and international licensing agreements related to her signature 3-D cookies. But above all, she continues to do what she loves most: spreading her passion for sugar art across the world.
Julia is a Past President of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, a founding member of the St. Louis chapter of Les Dames d’ Escoffier International, and a three-time President of the St. Louis Culinary Society. In addition to her degree from Yale, Julia holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, and an MBA from Stanford.