Every journey has a beginning, a first step, a catalyst. Every symphony begins with one note in which every instrument plays their own part in perfect time to create a melody in such perfect unison and beauty that only a Creator, a Writer could have planned the orchestration. The players in private instrument practice don't understand how the repetitive, seemingly monotonous tones will come together with the other notes to form something beautiful until the musicians are gathered and the piece is heard in it's entirety revealing a masterpiece. It then all just makes sense, it all fits. Thus has been the story of this journey and here the story begins.
This narrative has an unlikely beginning and an outcome that I could have never predicted.
We must rewind the hands of time to a much earlier date, the time of my youth, to the little girl that had a head full of dreams, a heart full of longings, a little girl that loved beauty and was captivated by it. Many were my aspirations as a young girl and the list was varied and included Ballet, to be a violinist and play in an orchestra, to sing, to be a figure skater, to try out barrel racing and to be a sign language interpreter.... yes, as I said varied! I pursued several of the above desires but I can add that I did discover that singing simply wasn't an attainable goal when NO singing ability is to be claimed on my part! The rather ironic fact is that none of those early dreams EVER contained baking or cake in any form or fashion. But that little dreamer was going to have her dreams fulfilled just in ways that she never would have imagined! The years passed and with each passing season new chapters unfolded, began and ended. I was a ballerina for some of my youth and the exceptionalism of my teacher and her teaching taught me about hard word, excellence and professionalism, I did pursue my musical dreams by playing the violin in an orchestra and experiencing the thrill of being surrounded by inspiring beauty that seemingly feeds the soul. No, sadly figure skating wasn't to be realized for ice is a rare commodity in Texas! My young adult years brought varied jobs, each one teaching me a new skill, from organization, completing tasks, forming a plan and executing it and feeling the satisfaction of hard work.
This brings me to one of the catalysts of my cake journey. Yes, this will get to the cake part but years passed as each note in the symphony of my life was played at just the right time by a Composer that knew the dreams in my heart and was going to fulfill them in His way, ways that I could have never planned!
I forget which string of hurricanes that ravaged southern Louisiana it was but with that series of storms between 2005-2008 some evacuees were potentially going to be staying at the church my family and I attended and we volunteered to help with anything that may be needed. We received a call from the secretary of that congregation in which she informed us that the evacuees weren't going to be staying there after all but would be at Scottsville Camp and Conference Center. So off we went to Scottsville TX where we were allowed to help in the kitchen under the head cook Brenda Harwick. I had no experience working in a commercial kitchen, but there's no training like on the job training so thus we helped. Eventually my mom, sister and I were offered a job at the campground and new relationships were formed with the wonderful people of Scottsville Camp. Though the evacuees soon left we were introduced to the duties of camp worker life. Groups from churches or retreats frequented on weekends and more popularly in the summer months. We learned about serving meals commercially, filling salad bars, cleaning tables, making desserts and working the serving line. I can't say at that time that I fell in love with kitchen work but I found I really liked the intensity of it and having lots to do! A seed was planted and relationships were formed that would later become instrumental.
We worked at the campground for several years where I learned more of how the kitchen worked and the duties that needed to be performed as a kitchen worker.
As time would have it life went on and we left the campground to pursue other things but....
I eventually found my way back to Scottsville Camp and Conference Center and started working in the kitchen once again. Through a series of events I eventually was offered the position of head cook. I took the position and what a growing experience it was!
There's nothing like being thrown in the deep end and learning how to swim. It was the most responsibility I had ever shouldered but it stretched me more than ever before and taught me what it was like to move from kitchen worker to being "in charge".
I wasn't just performing tasks handed to me now, every meal from beginning to end depended on proper planning and organization and that fell on my shoulders. Can we talk about stress? Yes, I learned what pressure felt like but something was happening. I was falling in love with food service, becoming intrigued with cooking, I was discovering the thrill of making an elaborate plan and executing it, having a vision and seeing it through and that little seed inside me started to grow.
I planned menus, ordered inventory, went grocery shopping, loaded and unloaded more times than can be counted, managed the staff, learned about time management (crucial in the kitchen, ask me how I know that? Sometimes you learn the hard way!;) and had to get meals out on time three times a day, clean up with the help of the staff, of course, and get ready for the next day. The first year was brutal! I was a rookie and an overachiever and a little too ambitious with my meal planning. It was a constant rush to complete tasks on time but I was determined, I had worked hard on the planning and didn't want to bow out and start simplifying. So push we did! It was hard! But there was something about it that was fun. Yes, it was exhausting, stressful, the pressure was high, the responsibility heavy, but I liked it! There was something satisfying about it!
The next year found me a little more tired than the first. I didn't over plan like before and the year was simpler, still a lot of work but not quite as overwhelming. Some of my favorite memories are in that kitchen! There's a sweet bond when a group of people are all working toward a common goal. My kitchen help became my friends and I will always remember my time with them with fondness! Love you guys!
By this time another person had been put in my life, another player in the orchestra of this story that would be the start of a crescendo that would again lead me where I never thought possible.
So many times our lives seem to make a circle or perhaps the word is a spiral, not one traveling downward or upward but a spiraled path. Round we go on the path of life only to find ourselves coming to a familiar place, not identical but parallel to where we once were.
It may happen in experiences or by connecting with individuals again.
My path did this in some ways and I once again began working with previous head cook of Scottsville Camp and Conference Center.
She was living at the time in a beautiful, large home and had the vision of turning it into an event venue. She hired me to be her Event coordinator and so we began this new business venture. I was still cook at the camp but it was retreat season which wasn't as insane as the summer months so there was extra time. As a means to build this business I decided to attend an Estate Sale in my area with the thought that dishes, or decorations or anything for the business may be available for purchase. I found some appurtenances and told the lady running the estate sale why I was purchasing them telling her briefly about the business venture. She eventually informed me that she did events for a living sharing that she was a caterer and did flowers for weddings. I had never met her before, she had never met me before but in the course of the time I was there she invited me to her house to learn from her. And so off I went to Tomball TX to stay at the home of Bobbie Sevy. I learned that her business was a one stop shop for brides. Not only did she offer catering, she did wedding cakes, flower arrangements and had linen rental services. Through HARD work she had created a professional, successful business and her events were beautiful.
My visits became frequent and she became my dearest friend. I had always loved beauty, from the time I was a little girl and once older beautiful events in magazines captivated me. I realized during one of my stays in Tomball that I wanted to do this and still remember telling Mrs. Bobbie, "I want to do what you do."
The several visits I afterward made not only gave me valuable skills professionally but provided me with a dear friend. Love you Mrs. Bobbie!
I continued working at the campground and working with Mrs. Brenda but I had a new idea. If a bride came to me and wanted a service wedding related I wanted to be able to say, "yes, I offer that!"
This led to me asking for cake decorating lessons for Christmas that year because after all, there can't be a wedding without cake!
I received them and took the lessons from Amy Vining, a sweet friend who had done many cakes in the past. It was a series of 4 lessons. We went through the basics of cake decorating and by the last class I created a cake. The buttercream wasn't smooth, the colors were obnoxious and some of the roses were wilted.... But it was a cake and I felt I could pursue this. I continued to make cakes when I could. Those early designs were rough, but I was learning. The tiny snowball at the top of the hill had been pushed and was rolling, slowly at first, but gaining momentum.
I decided to try my hand at some marketing. What did I know about marketing? I hadn't studied it, but it seemed to be a good idea. Because of my position at the campground in the kitchen it was the perfect place to begin practicing my budding little cake skills. I began making cakes as dessert after the meals we served, I experimented with recipes and designs and from those humble little cakes I began a portfolio and posted pictures on Facebook. I found social media to be the perfect means to advertise. A picture is worth a thousand words and my friends could easily see each new cake I made on their newsfeed, free advertising! It was from these first steps in marketing that I sold my first two cakes. They weren't grand but it was a start. I tried to find opportunities to make cakes when I could and would always try to implement new things to stretch myself. Practice is crucial! I had a drive to create and pursue! YouTube became a place I'd frequent to see new ideas and learn techniques and I stumbled upon a show that I loved with a cake artist who inspired me and through whom a childhood dream would be fulfilled.
How Dreams Really Do Come True
How Dreams Really Do Come True
Growing up we all had heroes! Those people who sang, danced, played sports or did anything that we too aspired to do. As children we long to be able to meet them, play in their band, shake their hand and while we are at, why not just get to spend the day with them!? It's easy to become frustrated as a dreamer at any age when those dreams seem out of reach. Our hopes are grand, our dreams lofty and when doors seem closed it's easy for cynicism and frustration to creep in. Been there, felt that.
Hold that train of thought for we will return to it momentarily.
As I continued to learn and watch cake videos on YouTube I came across a certain show, Man About Cake with Food Network star Joshua John Russell. Because of his incredible talent, his friendly personality and the hilarious banter in which he and his crew engaged his show was more educational, entertaining and engaging than others on the platform. He didn't just teach one technique but whole cakes, from start to finish. They weren't elementary, they were Joshua John Russell cakes, cakes that a nationally known artist designed and I was getting a front row seat on how to create them. His show became my "cake school" and I can say I have learned the most from those 10-15 minute episodes released every week than any other teaching tool I have used. Time and again his show taught me just what I needed to know at just the right time. There were occasions I desired to learn a technique but didn't even know the correct terminology to Google search it or a client may place an order in which a cake skill was needed in which I had little familiarity, but, lo and behold, Joshua would do an episode that had the very techniques or tips needed, filling the gap in my lacking knowledge . A guy on YouTube.... used by the Writer of this journey to teach and inspire me.
At this particular point in my cake education my cake trick arsenal was extremely limited. I decided to get online and search for cake classes. Opportunities of that nature are basically non existent in my neck of the woods so I searched in the Houston area. My dear friend, Bobbie Sevy lives in the vicinity and it was my hope to stay with her if I found any classes close by. I got online and began the search. I stumbled upon a class that astounded me and greatly piqued my interest for it was taught by none other than Joshua John Russell and James Rosselle! I was floored! I knew Joshua was on YouTube but had no idea he taught in person classes. I was unfamiliar with the career of James Rosselle at the time but that Food Network champion would become instrumental as well. The cake for the class was a three tiered cake, split in two from top to bottom with quilted fondant on the bottom, avant garde string work on the middle tier and as Joshua calls it "drizzly rubbies" on the top tier with sugar flowers covering both inner halves. I soon discovered, to my disappointment that class was in Canada. Seriously? Texas to Canada wasn't a possibility so I sadly had to dismiss the class.... or so I thought....
I eventually stumbled upon some classes held at Cake Craft Shoppe in Sugar Land Texas taught by Sheila Brooks. There was a fondant module in which I was interested so I gave Mrs. Sheila a call. The distance between Tomball and Sugar Land was too far to travel daily so I had to rearrange my plans for boarding. Here I was, a random girl from East Texas needing a place to stay so I asked Mrs. Sheila if I could stay with her. Out of the kindness of her heart she agreed and off I went to Sugar Land. It was so enjoyable visiting with someone who didn't tire of looking at cake pictures and cake conversation! I took the fondant module and what boundless opportunities that step opened to the world of cake design! While visiting with Mrs. Sheila one day she informed me that two instructors were going to be visiting her shop to teach.
Time and again doors opened to me that I never thought possible, a wind seemed to be at my back pushing me forward in this cake world, like God was saying, "I've opened the door, walk through it." That cynical, disappointed little dreamer was finally feeling the permission to dream and the dreams were coming true. The two cake instructors that were going to be coming to Cake Craft Shop were none other than Joshua John Russell and James Rosselle! Any guesses what cake they were teaching? Yes, the very class that had been taught in Canada was now coming to Texas! Oh I signed up! I never got to meet my favorite athlete, or singer, or violinist but I was headed to a cake class where cake greats would be! So three more players entered into the journey, Sheila Brooks and my now cake heroes James Rosselle and Joshua John Russell.
New Beginnings and Competition
New Beginnings and Competition
I completed the fondant module under the tutelage of Sheila Brooks looking forward to the Joshua/James class.
It was with the introduction of fondant that my cakes really changed. I continued posting my cakes on Facebook which proved to be a good marketing move for it lead to one of my first real custom cake orders! One cake sale lead to another. It wasn't rapid growth and it wasn't a career by any stretch of the imagination but I was growing, learning and building a reputation to my friends on social media. There was much frustration and fear in those early days. Cake is slow, particularly when first starting and it took me a good long while to realize just how slow. Yeah, pretty sure I'm still learning that lesson;) The slowness of each project, the constant mess, the sink loads of dishes and just figuring out how to do cake was frustrating and discouraging. I was so afraid of messing up a cake and I didn't know all the tricks of the trade to remedy any issues. But I was determined and stretched myself with each order by trying new things which heightened my stress at times but accelerated my learning. Pressure can be beneficial for it forces results and good ones when the goal is exceptionalism
The time finally came for the Joshua/James class. I had done more fondant cakes and had a few more orders under my belt by that time which helped me not feel too green in class. Both the guys were so approachable, kind and patient. And yeah, like the groupie I am I got my picture with the pair of them!
When I am interested in any given field whether music, figure skating or cake, I like a sponge soak up all I can, I was that little girl that looked at the same pictures, listened to the same songs, looked at the same books over and over again, whatever source that opened a window to whatever world that currently piqued my interest I was all about it and would saturate my brain with it. It was either through YouTube watching or through the grapevine that I heard about The Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show lead by legend, Kerry Vincent. The whole idea of competing seemed so lofty and grand to me and really felt quite out of my league.
At the James and Joshua class the competition came up in conversation for a student there was planning on competing. I remember thinking wow, she must be really good! Competing with cake!?
I came home from the class with my newly learned skills and when an opportunity arose for me to do a display cake for a silent auction in which I could advertise my fledgling business I pounced on it. It was the most elaborate cake I had done at that time. I poured hours and hours into it and finally, upon completion sent a picture to Joshua John Russell and Sheila Brooks. They're feedback was encouraging and they both told me the same, that I should consider competing. Hmmmm.....
The chapter of my time at the Scottsville camp was coming to a close. I loved my work there but I was tired and ready to pursue my own business and it was time to get started. I completed my last day with all the hard work, wonderful memories and valuable lessons to be taken along and off I embarked into the world of entrepreneurship.
I've never really considered myself a brave person, self doubt usually finds its way into situations and choices but there was a certain drive and courage when it came to cake pursuits, a boldness and tenacity that made me want to dive ahead, a permission to pursue, doors felt open.
I continued making cakes, trying new things, posting them on social media and occasionally sending my work to Sheila Brooks. Her honest assessment of my work was instrumental to my pushing myself just a little bit harder on the next project. The constructive criticism taught me what made a good cake a good cake, what was acceptable in the cake world, the high standards of professional cake making, important lessons if exceptionalism is desired.
I decided I wanted to try my hand at competing and attend the Oklahoma Sugar Art Show. I poured weeks of work into my entry and made sure I had varied techniques, beneficial in competition.
It was quite the endeavor as my mom, sister and I packed up the car and drove toward Oklahoma. What an opportunity!
I set up my entry and the rest was in the hands of the judges. Just ambulating at the show was fascinating, incredible cakes were everywhere and a Food Network competitor, judge or famous instructor was almost always in view. Happiness!
I placed 2nd in my division, sure I was disappointed it wasn't first but again, I was learning and very much a rookie. After the competition I again found myself in a class taught by James Rosselle. His humble spirit makes him an approachable instructor, always willing to answer questions both in class and out of it. There's great power in finding those who's work and career drive and inspire.
Time and again doors opened, people were placed at just the right moment, to teach, to inspire, each player playing a note in the composition.
Wind at my back and Silver Spoon Events
Wind at my back and Silver Spoon Events
Experience truly is the best teacher. She's tough, not always forgiving but the excitement of claiming her is extremely satisfying. I've always been the one that didn't want to be a beginner, I want to be good at whatever is being attempted in the first class. Sadly, life didn't take that into consideration in all my chosen or given paths. Several of the occupations I've had, even in my teenage years, were sink or swim. There was little or no training, just jumping in and figuring it all out as time continued. Entrepreneurship was no different! Not only was I learning cake I was also discovering the ins and outs of marketing, time management and being a business owner. I was always looking for opportunities to create cakes and get my name out there. Starting a business takes a LOT of hard work and there may be little pecuniary return initially but little by little all the seeds planted will begin to grow. I started attending Bridal Shows and inch by inch my clientele pool began to expand. Each cake created was posted on social media and cake by cake my portfolio grew. Doors were opened, one at a time and that wind at my back continued to gently push. One aspect of that wind was the support of my family. Their encouragement and support meant the world and added to the permission to keep dreaming, the doors felt wide open and I was walking through!
Cake began with a few pictures posted on social media and morphed into a little side job, then part time, to full time, to overtime, to ALL the time! The notes were becoming a melody and the tune was finally distinguishable. Each experience, each player adding a note, a layer, at a precise time, enter too early and the rhythm is disrupted, but the melody was finally playing and it made my heart sing!
Experience began to execute her rather, at times, harsh lessons but though rough on many occasions I began to learn more about cake and being a business owner.
If I was asked if I fell in love with cake "at first sight" so to speak, the answer would probably be no. Remember that disdain for being a beginner? :) Those early years held much frustration and trepidation. But with each passing cake my knowledge grew and with it my confidence. As my fears subsided my love for this craft grew and I fell in love with cake and the business that came with it. I discovered the fun of making my plan for the weeks orders, going grocery shopping, assembling cakes and creating something beautiful! That beauty loving little dreamer finally gets to dream and is allowed to fulfill those aspirations with each cake that leaves my kitchen. So many of the longings of that little girl heart were fulfilled through this journey called cake.
There is no possible way that I could have written this plan. Remember? I wanted to be a violinist not a baker! But door by door, window by window, step by step, person by person, experience by experience, note by note, all culminating to the crescendo of the goodness of God.
The Master Composer in His goodness, knowing all that was in that little girl heart orchestrated this journey and this wonderful world of cake continues to make my heart sing!