Mad4Madeleines' Ninja Turtle Costume? It's All Proust's Fault

Dirk Wyse/
Street-food vendor Gail Fermin in her Mutant Ninja Turtle get-up.
​Ever since she started selling French madeleines on the street in March under the Mad4Madeleines moniker, we wondered why Gail Fermin seemed to be dressed like Raphael the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle just about every time we saw her. Her madeleine flavors seemed to change with every outing ― s'mores, guava strawberry, even St. George absinthe ― but the outfit rarely did.

We needed an answer to this burning question, so we asked Fermin, not expecting the answer to connect with one of the greats of French literature.

"I first started wearing my Raphael costume for Halloween and to the annual Bring Your Own Big Wheel event during Easter," she explains. "Like madeleines for [Marcel] Proust, the costume gives me feelings of nostalgia. Even though some people probably think that I look like a little kid in my Raphael costume, I really am 29 years old.

"Proust would look back on his past and would remember madeleines [as] 'squat, plump little cakes,'" she continues. "As a child of the '80s, I remember watching things like Goonies, Ghostbusters, and the Ninja Turtles. I miss those simple times ... despite the fact that I have a master's degree in counseling, I don't have a steady job, and I still have a mortgage to pay. Eating shell-shaped butter cakes and wearing my Ninja Turtle costume is a way for me to feel like a happy, carefree kid for a brief moment."

Fermin also has fond childhood memories of trying madeleines during a third grade "diversity day"; she brought lumpia and her French classmate brought madeleines. Despite the fact that the French girl accidentally got egg shells in the batter, a lifelong love was born.

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