Cake decorating over the past couple of years has taken the cake industry in Zimbabwe by storm.Back in the day cakes were very basic. You either got a square cake or a round cake and the flavours were mostly limited to chocolate and vanilla. Having your name written on it was as personalised as it got and quite honestly, the hype was really about the taste of the cake. Cakes are now a baker’s canvas, a work of art! From printing photographs on cakes to soccer team logos/jerseys like Highlanders, Dynamos, Caps United and International teams. We’ve seen, handbags, dolls, planes, baby cribs, tools, musical instruments; virtually anything can now be recreated into a cake to suit any occasion.
Every baker is trying their hand at trendy icing and cake decorating from professional bakers to recreational bakers. We chatted briefly to Avnika Patel (Tika) of ‘Quite A Stir – Baking Joy’ to find out a bit about the behind-the-scenes hard work that goes into the beautiful works of art she makes as a baker and cake decorator. Here’s what she had to say…
Q. Just in case our readers have never heard of you. What is your name and what do you do?
My name is Avnika Patel; I am currently a full-time baker 🙂
Q. When did you become a baker?
My grandmother taught me how to cook and help in the preparation of meals before I started baking. I then began baking at the age of 7 with a simple scone recipe cut out from the newspaper my grandfather used to read. Starting so early is probably why I love the kitchen so much and can never get enough of it! Although we are a strict vegetarian family and my grandfather did not allow eggs to be kept in the house, he encouraged me to learn how to bake and I started off baking egg-less and still do. He supported me to the extent of allowing me to bake chocolate cakes which needed eggs. It has been 23 years now that I have been baking where finally ‘Quite A Stir – Baking Joy’ was born just over a year ago.
Q. How did you become interested in professional baking?
I always took baking as just a hobby. I was pushed by my very close friend to start baking as he saw potential in me after I quit my day job – literally, so I chanced it (never did I see myself becoming independent doing so and coming this far!) I’m always watching
the food channel on TV and via the Internet; it’s intriguing and keeps me up to date with the baking trends!
Q. Did you go to culinary school or take any baking courses?
I’m self-taught. I experimented on basic recipes in the beginning, doing them over and over with a few variations each time, to understand the techniques used in accordance to the recipe’s guidelines for flawless results. I stick to the recipes that have been tried, tested… and tasted! Like how you find your grandmother’s recipe book, and a particular page is visibly ‘over-used’ – that’s a keeper!
Q. Have you always been a cake decorator or did you later incorporate this into your baking skills?
I used to bake very basic decorated cakes, nothing fancy. I started experimenting with fondant and various frosting and realized that the possibilities were endless with them! That took my cake decorating to another level!
Like these – the first Indian themed Engagement & Wedding cakes I made:
Q. What are the best things about being a baker?
There’s nothing more satisfying than a kitchen that always smells so good! No matter how many times I have to repeat a recipe or a cake design, I always seem to find it therapeutic and calming! The best part about it is seeing the smile of gratitude on a customer’s face.
Q. What do you think are the most important skills to have as a baker?
Patience is a virtue! Also, being detail-oriented and having a creative eye is an incredibly important part of the job – especially for cake decorating!
Q. What inspires you to create such great works of art?
I listen carefully to what the customer requires and implement my skill set, keeping in mind the fine details, after all – it’s their celebration – and that drives me to create what they want! Nothing is too far out of reach with determination and creativity.
Q. Are you a qualified graphic designer? Do you think one needs to be a qualified graphic designer to become an exceptional decorator like you?
Yes I am a qualified Graphic Designer. I hold diplomas in 3 categories of design. I don’t think anyone needs to be a qualified graphic designer specifically to become an exceptional baker, however it does help me tremendously when I personalize cakes! Its plenty fun to design the layout and even sometimes add a little light humor.
Q. What’s your favorite cake?
This was one cake I was extremely proud to pull off as first times try! Making a camera
cake, 100% edible & hand crafted!
Q. What do you do to stay abreast with new trends?
I’m always watching the food channel on TV and via the Internet; it’s intriguing and keeps me up to date with the baking trends around the world! My mum also shares recipes and videos of things she comes across. It’s always a discussion at lunch time, ‘Did you see that recipe I sent you?’
Q. What trends are you noticing lately regarding cake decorating?
I have noticed that a lot of bakers are trying out a new glazed frosting (frosting that is shiny and reflective) it’s really intriguing! I tried it; works well for me!
Q. What do you do to ensure the quality of the cakes going out to customers is always its best?
This is one thing I promise to my customers, to insure that all the ingredients I use are fresh and are of the best quality. I do not use alcohol in my baking. I try to stick to ingredients I used while growing up! (Tried, tested & still available!) Given that there are people who have allergies as well, especially kids, I make sure to get proper for orders. Customer feed back also helps a lot!
Q. How do you ensure/test the quality of your ingredients?
I’m very fussy when trying new ingredients. I always do a small mock cake for my ‘guinea pigs’ to confirm and criticize on taste and texture before I add the recipe to my list!
Q. Tell me about an accomplishment that you are most proud of in your career.
I was proud and honored to be mentioned on South African Airways’ page on the day they hosted their first Family Fun Day on the 1st of October 2016 in Belgravia, Harare.
I’m blessed to actually be able to do what I do for starters! I am a creative person, artistic & idealistic! Having Administrative and budgeting experience from my past jobs, that has helped me immensely! I have completed a Creativity & Time management course online with Universities in the USA & been accredited – this has helped in managing my business a lot!
Q. Describe your knowledge of food safety.
My mum gets edgy when I’m in the kitchen with her because if I’m not mixing and baking I’m wiping, washing up or cleaning! I’ve had a few customers who have come into my kitchen to collect their order and notice how clean I keep it (could be my OCD). I often encourage customers to see my work space so that they see for themselves that their products are made in a healthy environment. With ingredients, my suppliers know me for only accepting only fresh eggs and freshly ground floor. What needs to be refrigerated is and I always make sure to label with dates. Also, I always tell the customer how to store and keep their cakes, depending on frosting & ingredients used. Shelf life too – though on many occasions, there’s never any cake left and that’s always a good thing lol!
Q. Tell us about Quite a Stir – Baking Joy. Whatʼs the origin of the name?
I came up with the name ‘Quite A Stir – Baking Joy!’ All because I always tell my customers its my job to cause the stir and theirs to take credit for my work! Funny story – I once had a lady (the host) who had ordered desserts for a braai & a few hours later another lady (a guest) called to do the same. I had asked her (the guest) if she was attending the same braai, coincidentally she was (it hadn’t registered to her how I knew!) I had such a chuckle myself; I indeed had ‘caused quite a stir!’ I made sure neither of the two ladies collected their desserts at the same time to avoid them running into one another. Later that week, I met the guest and asked her how the desserts were & she looked surprised! Only for her to have an ah-ha moment that the host never actually said she had ordered, instead they played along as if they had baked themselves and politely smiled at each other all night long! Lol!
Q. The holidays are coming up. Do you employ more help or you work longer hours to meet the higher demand?
I haven’t thought of hiring more help just yet, I’m managing so far! I have requested customers to give me at least 48 hours notice on placing orders, only because I fear power cuts, if I can’t source specific ingredients (in case I don’t already have) & also to plan accordingly with other orders!
Q. Do you have a website? How do you market your business? Do you think you could do better? How?
People usually hear of Quite A Stir-Baking Joy by word of mouth and references from others who have seen and tasted my baking before. I have a personal Facebook page of my baking adventures @quiteastirbakingjoy for more details.
Q. What would you say are the 3 areas that have truly contributed to your success?
The recipes I use, an investment in myself and never compromising on essentials – be it ingredients, utensils or equipment.
Q. What advice would you give someone trying to get into the business of baking and cake decoration?
Practice makes perfect! Not all recipes are written well. I once tried a Swiss Roll recipe and from a professionally written recipe book – I followed the method as written, only to see it over spill in the oven, because they forgot to include flour in the list of ingredients and method. Who was I to question this, it being my first time, I thought that’s what the recipe was. I tried again with another recipe & it worked well for me! You will never learn if you don’t try, that’s the advice I was always given as a child. While I hated wasting ingredients, I took it as a learning curve.
Q. Where do you see Quite a Stir in 5 years?
Hopefully operating my own little coffee/bakery shop. One day hopefully soon enough.
Q. If we gave you an opportunity in one or two sentences to tell us why people should hire you. What would you say to our readers?
I am motivated by challenges, I have gained the ability to effectively meet the requirements of a customers needs (no matter how complicated) & have the flexibility and skills necessary to handle an inspiring order! After all – my job is to cause ‘quite a stir’!
It’s quite motivating to see the entrepreneurial spirit oozing out of Tika. There is no doubt she is set for greatness in her journey as a baker with great cake decorating skills. We wish you and Quite a Stir all the best in the remaining weeks of 2016 and much prosperity in 2017 perhaps soon our readers will be able to order your cakes through ZimShoppingMalls like they are already doing for other products, for example hardware from Bhola Hardware stores.
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