A few weeks ago, I announced that I was working on a new feature where I interview various cake artists. My first interview ended up being 13 questions, so I decided this would be the format for all future interviews. I am calling this feature, “Baker’s Dozen with…..” . I am very excited to bring you this interview, so without any further adieu, I give you, “Baker’s Dozen with Jennifer Dontz” where we talk about how she got started, and about her brand new dvd - “Sensational Sugar Flowers (vol. 1)!
Morsels By Mark: Hi Jen. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to have you as my first interview! I’m hoping my readers enjoy this feature and I can interview many other talented artists in the future. Let’s start by talking about how you got started in the industry. You were originally a florist, right?
Jen Dontz: Yes, I started in the flower shops when I was 16. I LOVED working with flowers and creating beautiful arrangements that made people smile. I think that is why I enjoy working with the sugar flowers so much. The skills I learned as a very young girl, have helped me along the way with my cakes. My dream was to have my own shop, but then wanting a family made me realize with a shop, one is married to it at holiday times. I did my first paid wedding cake when I was 16 and from there, it just kept blossoming. I came to the realization that I actually could do this art, make money at it, and stay home with my children. Never did I realize the many directions, twists and turns, it would take me :-)
MBM: What about the sugar arts intrigued you to make the switch?
JD: It really was wanting to stay home and raise my two boys and the "passion in my belly" I felt for cake decorating. I really do love it, and still get that excitement when doing a new technique or getting that new cake toy :-) I especially love doing wedding cakes and being a part of someone's special day. Even after 36 years the passion drives me.
MBM: If I’m not mistaken, you are self taught, correct?
JD: Basically yes. I've taken one formal class, but of course, have learned techniques along the way with the help of the internet, tapes/DVD's, books and ICES (International Cake Exploration Society). I started out with a kit from the grocery store when I was 13.... one of those Wilton foil pan, cover with stars cakes :-) I then bought Wilton yearbooks and memorized the tutorial sections and practiced, practiced, practiced..... I started in the age of piping and MORE piping. Now the cakes are different. It's been fun looking at how the styles have changed throughout the years. From piping and fountains to fondant and sugar flowers.
MBM: What is your favourite part of cake decorating and design?
JD: Hands down the sugar flower work. I just love striving to get them more and more realistic. I love seeing the look on people's faces when they realize the flowers/foliage are made of sugar. It blows them away! As far as design, I love the clean, simplistic, romantic look.
MBM: Your sugar flowers are beautiful, very lifelike and rank up there with masters like Nicholas Lodge and Ron Ben Israel. What is your favourite flower to make and why?
JD: WOW!!!! What a nice compliment, thank you! To be named in the same sentence with either one of those artists has me beaming at my keyboard :-) I would have to say I have a tie for first place..... it would be the cymbidium orchid and alstroemeria. The reason being, I think they are the two that look the most real to me.
MBM: Not only do you travel and teach, you also have an online store and teach via your series of Dvd’s. Can you give us a hint as to what the next topic will be?
JD: I have three out now, one that teaches my semi-homemade white chocolate fondant, the second that teaches pearl clay (both recipes I've developed) and the third is on arranging sugar and fresh flowers on cakes. The next DVD is the first of a sugar flower series. It will cover the rose, stephanotis and rose foliage.
MBM: When will it be available for sale?
JD: It's ready now. You can read about it along with the other DVD's on my site, http://www.sugardelites.com/ . When you go to my site and look at the DVD, you will also find a button that links you to a bundle offer on all of the “toys” you’ll need to create these flowers - it’s basically a one stop shop! It really is a good to get the tools I use in the DVD as this way the viewers will get the same great results. As I have said in my classes, I have nothing against people using their own things, but different cutters and veiners do give different results.
MBM: Do you plan on doing a series of sugar flowers Dvd’s?
JD: Yes, I hope this is the first of many.
MBM: I have amassed quite a collection of cake dvd’s. One thing I find myself doing is re-watching an entire disc in order to remember what materials I will need. Have you ever thought of including a supplies list with your Dvds either as an insert or on the actual disc as a bonus feature?
JD: Yes, on each DVD there is either a scrolling supply list used in the video or I actually go through and show each piece of equipment. The sugar flower DVD has a very nice supply section in the menu and also running at the end of the DVD. It shows what section in the store each piece can be found. I liked the way we did it so much on this latest DVD, my guess is, all will be formatted like this. The menu section makes it easy to go right to that section.
MBM: Talk us through the process of making an instructional Dvd. (How do you pick a topic? How long does it take to do the pre-production then shoot and complete post-production?)
JD: Well, the more one does, the better and quicker they get. As far as picking a topic, the first two were chosen because they hi-lighted recipes that I've developed. With the DVD bandwagon happening..... I thought maybe someone else would do a DVD with my recipes, so I didn't want to see that happen. So, that is what gave me the push to do my own. We really feel we put out a quality product. Each DVD is equipped with a menu section so if you want to find something fast, you don't have to go through the whole tape to find it. Another unique detail of our DVD's is they are professionally replicated on to the disk, not burned. They should play in any NTSC player worldwide. We even have a hand sewn case which makes the outer appearance different from what is normally seen. It usually takes a good part of one day to actually shoot the DVD. Then, it goes into editing stages. This time frame can vary depending on how many revisions are needed. Usually it takes about three months to edit. Then a few weeks to produce and get them back. Digital Experience Productions films/edits my DVD's. They do a wonderful job.
MBM: I am pretty much self taught as well, and have had the pleasure of studying under you recently. What challenges do you face when teaching a class of cake artists?
JD: My biggest challenge when teaching is trying to remember ALL the equipment and things needed for the class. Especially if it's a brand new class. I have lists from previous classes, but it always amazes me how much "stuff" it takes to put on a class. Also, trying to determine how much gumpaste we will need. Another challenge is packing. Trying to pack in a smart way, in case a suitcase would disappear in transit. I actually had that happen when I was teaching in Missouri. I arrived, one suitcase didn't. I was ready to have a cow. Luckily, the students had this and that, and we worked through it. But each experience like that, makes me have to rethink the process of getting it all to the class destination.
MBM: What is your favourite cake flavour?
JD: Chocolate :-) I'm a real woman :-)
MBM: What advice can you give to budding cake artists out there?
JD: My best advice is this.... this profession can bring you huge rewards, but be prepared to work. It's very long hours and sometimes the pay doesn't come with that. But, with that said, if you have that "fire in your belly", the love of the art will get you through those long hour days. If someone had told me 15 years ago that I would be traveling the world, producing DVD's and be operating a successful online store.... well.... I think I would have told them they were crazy! But life has really been a magic carpet ride, and I'm truly loving it! My e-mail is like opening a present. I never know what opportunity will open up next.
MBM: Thanks again for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer these questions - you truly are an inspiration to me and many other artists out there!
JD: Thank you, Mark, I'm truly honoured you chose me to be your first blog interview.
OK readers! I am so happy to have brought you this feature, and I hope you really like it! Tell me who else in the world of cake you would like to see interviewed and I will do my best! Keep your eyes posted here for a DVD review of Jen’s latest DVD! Take it from me - I have learned from Jen personally and she is an amazing teacher! I cannot wait for this DVD to arrive so I can watch it myself - Jen shipped me an advance copy which should arrive any day. Jen was also gracious enough to give me an autographed copy of Sensational Sugar Flowers (Vol. 1) to give away to one lucky follower. But in order to win, you must be a public follower of the blog and post a comment sharing a tip with your fellow readers. I’ll choose the winner randomly in 1 week’s time. Good luck everyone!
Until next time,