Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Do you Believe in Fate?

Do you believe in fate? I'm not really referring to a religious belief in fate (ie. god has set this path for me...etc) but more just an universal 'everything happens for a reason'.

When I think back about how I got into cake decorating I believe it was an alignment of so many things. I've always loved sweet stuff when I was younger but I never even knew that sugar art was something people did for a living. After I finished uni, I started my first office job and I was absolutely miserable. The uni student lifestyle of waking up at noon and hanging out with my friends during the day was replaced with a 9 - 5 semi interesting job with a horrible boss. It was the horrible boss that made the job unbearable and caused me to look for a hobby to keep my life interesting. When I stumbled upon a community college class near me that held cake decorating classes in the evenings I thought it sounded fun... so why not?

One of my very first cakes

The rest was kind of history as they say... except not really. In the first few years I learned a lot of things by myself with the help of the internet. Back then there were not as many you tube clips or blogs or even classes on sugar art so I had to rely a lot on trial and error. And believe me, there were quite a few errors! But hey, that's how you learn. I find someone can tell you not to do something but you really won't remember/ believe them until you do it and something terrible happens. I promise you, you will learn quickly NEVER to do it again!

I eventually found another job which I was so happy in, so cakes and sugar art just stayed on as a hobby. Then as things in the company changed and I started to get frustrated in a few things, I questioned if I should be doing something else with my life. 

My friends around me all thought my cakes were awesome (they were so sweet and encouraging. I promise you, my cakes back then were quite far from awesome! See exhibit A above) and kept telling me I should sell them. So I decided to start a little business on the side and only sold my cakes to friends.

I really enjoyed it and started to dream of one day being able to just make cakes for a living. Of course, back then I was charging barely enough to cover my costs but that is a story for another day :) I didn't have much of an idea of what my business would be like but I knew I wanted to make awesome cakes and make people happy. But where was I going to get money to live especially if as mentioned above, I was only covering my costs? So then I decided to give myself a forced deadline and started looking for 12 month contract jobs.

The idea was that I would get a contract job and then have the next 12 months to build up my business to a stage where I could actually make a living and be able to forgo a full time income. I figured that with that kind of deadline, it would really push me to make it work or else I was out of a job regardless. I landed a 14 month contract job and took that as a sign that I was heading in the right direction.

I worked full time and spent all my evenings and weekends working on my cake business. Towards the end of the contract, I was exhausted but was pretty confident I could at least survive without a full time job (Survive being the key word here).

Then something happened. I don't know if it was fate sending me a sign or maybe it was just testing me?

The lady who was supposed to come back into my role got pregnant again and therefore decide to resign. The role was now a permanent full time role and I was offered to stay on. I was so torn. I thought I was sure what I wanted but now that I have a choice am I a fool for turning away a permanent full time, decent paying job in a good company? Especially when the job market at that time was not great and people around me were getting made redundant/ were struggling to find a job.

I debated for a long time. And finally I decided to stay on thinking that I would let my business grow a bit more and give myself the freedom to leave when I was really ready. The next few months, my heart was really not in it and it really made it clear to me that cakes was what I wanted to do full time. And then, I'm not sure what really made me pull the plug and resign from my full time job. I think it was a combination of an inspiring visit to NASA during a holiday to the US and listening to a motivational speaker that ironically the company had hired to motivate our department. I decided then and there that I was going to do it! My light bulb moment :)

One of my recent cakes

So I resigned. And then proceeded to book myself into a series of classes to better sharpen my skills. The first work day after I resigned (aka my first day of unemployment) I was sitting in a cake class when I got a call from a recruitment agent. She wanted to know if I happened to be looking for work as she had a role that would suit me, in a company that I had been trying to get into for years.

My heart sank... was this another sign or another test? Fortunately, I truly believed that I owed myself to give my cakes a chance. I decided to see that phone call as a comforting sign. As a sign that if my business decides to go 'kaboom' I would still be able to find a job - and that everything will be ok.

So I pushed on... now, years later, I don't regret a thing and hope that I will never have to return to corporate life.

However, let me clarify, despite what anyone may think, my days are not filled with sugar and fun nor do I roll around in a pile of money. I face different challenges some weeks are crazy busy (think 2am finishes) while other weeks are extremely quiet. Some clients are such a pleasure to deal with and really remind me of why I love what I do, while others require a little more TLC. Some days I may be making beautiful flowers while on others I am scrubbing down the toilets, sweeping or sorting out my pile of receipts. When you are dealing with creativity and feelings, it's always an emotional roller coaster ride. But that's just the way it is in this industry and I have come to accept and love all of it - for better or worse :)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Online Tutorials Ready to Download

Some of you may remember that about 6 months ago, I got a bunch of wonderful people to road test the draft of my first online tutorial. These generous people willingly donated their time to help me with this new project and also offered lots of constructive feedback. 

After a crazy wedding season, I finally got the chance to sit down last month and finish off the tutorial. And I'm excited to launch it today with a special launch offer - the Baby and Sailboat tutorial will be 50% off for 24 hours (until midnight tonight Sydney time).

During testing I got decorators of all different skill levels and was so pleased to see all the results were very similar. Thank you to those who took part of the test! Here are some of the results.

Name: Nurainie Tan
About Nauraine: A hotel and catering graduate with a 12-years stint in academics at a local college. Currently 2 two-year old full-time home-based baker and wedding cake decorator with a small macarons business on the side. Occasionally teaches the Wilton Method of Cake Decorating at local retailer’s outlet and also conducts demonstrations in support of events organized by International Centre of Cake Artistry Pte. Ltd.  

Name: Otilia Li
About Otilia: I am a home decorator. Started cake decorating 1.5 years ago for my daughter’s 2nd birthday. Have done 1 cake decorating course in decorating a cake 1 year ago, and recently did a figurine course but have not yet attempted any figurines on my own yet.

Name: Aida Poulin from Aida Poulin’s Sweet Designs
About Aida: Encouraged by family and friends I have recently started my business called Aida Poulin’s Sweet Designs. My main influence has been my family. I come from a long line of artists who have each found their own medium in painting, sculpture and music. I have found my own in cake design. I am really excited to be following my passion and look forward to every new creation.

Name: Erika Valverde Altamirano
About Erika: I am 31 years old, married. Profession-wise, I am a diagnostic imaging (X-Ray,ultrasound, MRI…) expert and soon a licensed DVM. Last July we were planning one of my cousin’s Quinceanera party and we decided that I was going to make her a cupcake tower. After purchasing all the basic tools to start practising, I showed pictures to friends and they started asking me for cupcakes and my friends told their friends and so on. Now my husband and I own a very small, home-based gourmet bakery called Bocaditos y Colores (“little bites and colors”), you can see our work on our website: I am completely self-taught and though I have never had any formal education, I have learned a lot from the kind and highly professional decorators that are willing to share their knowledge and experience with the world!

Name: Mercedes Fitzgerald
About Mercedes: I am a hobby baker, mainly cupcakes, but venturing in to larger cakes. I have attended a couple of cupcake classes, one of which was for novelty 3D animals. This is my first
attempt at a human!! I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to test the tutorial, thanks!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Flowers in Chocolate

It's been a long time since I have stepped outside my comfort zone. 

Last week I travelled to Melbourne to attend Savour's Chocolate Flowers class. I've been wanting to do this class for the longest time but the dates never lined up for me - but last week it finally did!

So as you guys know, I decorate cakes. I make ganache with chocolate and spend my days making sugar flowers and figurines. But I don't make chocolate flowers let alone super delicate chocolate showpieces. I've been interested in the art of chocolate for a long time and have a huge amount of respect and admiration for the professional pastry chefs who compete internationally and create these decadent works of art every year.

After attending the Level 1 Chocolate class last last year, I thought making the chocolate flowers would be a fun experience. What I was not expecting, was to be making a mini chocolate showpiece complete with four large chocolate flowers, leaves, twigs and cocoa butter air brushing. And to say the flowers were delicate is a major understatement. They were temperature sensitive and would break if you were too heavy handed or start melting if your hands were too warm.

This, together with some much larger showpieces, is what we were greeted with when we entered the class. 

I must admit, at this point I was actually wondering if I had walked into the wrong class. It looked daunting... but magically, once all the components were broken down into steps, everything felt much more achievable.

Look how shiny they are!

Chocolate twigs

Flower being assembled.

Flower after being airbrushed with cocoa butter.

Both days were so exhausting (we even had to take our lunch break in shifts on the second day) but incredibly rewarding when you see it all come together...

And as I stood in front of my mini showpiece at the end of the second day, I couldn't help but reflect that less than 48 hours ago, I had serious doubts about being able creating a flower, let alone the whole thing. I guess this is how some of my students must feel. It's been so long since I have done something with a medium outside my comfort zone that I kind of forgot that warm fuzzy feeling of surprise and satisfaction.

In case you are wondering, the showpiece didn't really make it home to Sydney :( Oh well, it just means I'll have to make another one!

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