Friday, December 3, 2010

"Something Sweet" A Baker's Dozen with Lisa Bugeja of Flour Confections

As all of my faithful readers know, I recently spent a few days in beautiful Pickering Ontario where I studied under the amazingly talented Ron Ben Israel.  The class was hosted by Lisa Bugeja, owner if Flour Confections.  Lisa graciously accepted my invitation to complete a Baker's Dozen.  Read on to see what she has to say about running a successful business, competition, and not eating cake!

Lisa and I at Flour Confections in Pickering Ont.  For RBI's class

Morsels By Mark: Hi Lisa.  Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions!  What drove you towards a career in cake design?

Lisa Bugeja: It really came about as a combination of my 2 loves – art & dessert! I have been drawing, painting, sculpting things for as long as I can remember and almost went to Fine Arts school. I have also always helped out my mother in the kitchen – she is a great baker. When I was in my 20’s, I travelled to Europe to look at art & to eat dessert – so it seemed like combining the 2 loves made sense! I took a 10 day course on cake decorating at McCall’s and immediately got a job at Loblaws in the bakery as a part-time decorator. It was here that I learned how to fill & ice cakes with speed. After a year there, I went back to University to finish my BA and then starting working at American Express. After working in the corporate world for a few years and being miserable, I convinced my husband Scott that I needed to go and give baking a try, so I enrolled at George Brown College for Baking & Pastry. After graduating I worked in a few places, but soon became pregnant and the standing all day became an issue.
      Once my daughter was born, I quickly grew tired of being only a “stay at home mom” and was desperate for a creative outlet. So I decided to get back into cakes. My 1st cousin was the one to really launch my business. He was getting married and asked me to make his wedding cake. This was to be my very first “live” wedding cake! As I had to deal with the venue, I needed a business name and Flour Confections was born. That was back in 2004 and I haven’t looked back since!

MBM: Not only are you a designer, but you also run a successful store and school. What prompted you to branch out?

LB: Thank you! My love and passion is cakes & cake design – but I was running out of room and growing tired of working out of my dedicated basement kitchen – and I wanted out of the house! As you may know, we cake designers acquire many tools and toys and they take up a lot of room – and I was tired of not having my home just my home.
      However moving out of the house would mean overhead and I needed to find a way to make up for the slower cake times. One of my “pet peeves’ was that there wasn’t anything in the East end of the city in terms of cake supply or retailers. And being that I had a small child, I had to make sure I got out and back before the bell rang – this was a difficult task. It took a few years of convincing before the expansion took place. Scott and I worked out a business plan to see if it would all be doable, and once we decided it could, we looked for our first location.
     Shortly after opening our first store…we realized we were going to need more space and pronto! We grew more quickly than we expected – seems like that void I always felt in terms of cake supply was widely felt and people came in. You know the saying “if you build it, they will come” well that’s exactly what happened! Our retail opened first, then we got going on the online – once that opened up the business took off and we haven’t looked back since. Scott quit his job and came on full time.
      This past November we moved into our 2nd location and it’s still growing…who knows what the next 2 years will hold??!!

MBM: You have competed and have been judged by such amazing artists as Kerry Vincent. How does that feel?

LB: Just to be clear – Kerry Vincent is the organizer/founder of the OSSAS show – she doesn’t judge the entries – she looks at them, will even comment about them if you ask her, but no judging ;)  How does it feel to be judged?? Hmm I never really think about it – I go into these competitions maybe a bit differently than most – I get excited about the theme, find a source of inspiration and challenge myself to do something new to me each year – so the only judge that I’ll ever listen to is myself – and I’m probably the worst one ever!! I see every single little flaw, error, mistake, you name it I see it and criticize it to death!

MBM: How did you get into the competitive side of the art?

LB: I really love to branch out and try something new. I also love to see the art and how others interpret things – it’s my favourite part of the industry. I get to make a cake for me and me alone – and that is what drove me (mind the pun) to trying out for competitions

MBM: Please explain your design process. Where do you go for inspiration?

LB: My design process is so convoluted I don’t think I can even express it! LOL! Seriously I go ALL OVER the place when I’m seeking out inspiration – it’s like I know what I’m looking for but can barely visualize it until I see it – do you follow me?? My main source is Google – I love Google! I type all sorts of combinations of words in the theme and go searching madly through the images – saving as I go in a folder of inspiration for each year’s theme. Each image then takes me on another path and my original search gets lost as I get inspired by other things….lets just say it takes me a while.
     Once I find my “inspiration” I get down to designing…and sometimes in this stage I scrap the entire thing and start again. I can't ever commit to a cake design until I have all the tiers planned out – they might not STAY that way in the final design, but I need to love it before I commit. After I settle on the design I get to thinking about execution and transportation – and this is often where I scrap ideas and even come up with better ones….not one of my last 3 years entries have gone from sketch to final cake exactly as planned – and I always thing they turned out better in the end.

MBM: What is your favourite aspect of the industry?

LB: That the industry is so widespread – people from all over the world have a passion for cake – and each area expresses their passion a bit differently – it’s fascinating! I have friends in Australia , Germany , all over the USA , the UK …and our common bond is the art of sugar! Using social media and cake forums, every sugar artist can share instantly with the world – and it’s amazing to see all the creations!

MBM: What is your least favourite aspect?

LB: Even though social media is an amazing way to instantly share your creations with the rest of the world, it’s just as easy for others to take those images/ideas etc and “claim” them as their own. I’m really tired of seeing people stealing images of cakes and placing them on their websites as their own – even going to the trouble of removing watermarks or changing colours! It’s pretty low – and it is happening more and more… to the point there is now a blog called Stop the Cake Thief so you can “report” these websites when you find them.

MBM: What is your preferred type of cake to work on (ie Wedding, celebration,...)?

LB: Wedding cake – by far. In fact in 2011 I’m phasing out most other options, and focusing on weddings and more elaborate cake designs such as sculpted cakes.

MBM: You have had many celebrity instructors teach you and teach in your classroom. Who would you like to still learn from?

LB: Yikes – the list will be endless! There are so many talented people out there whom I would love to meet or learn from – and for so many reasons too. Hmm lets see if I can narrow down to my top 3 – in no particular order:
Planet Cake – I would love to travel to Australia to take a class or three at Planet Cake
Debbie Goard of Debbie Does Cakes – her design & sculpting skills are MAD!
Rebecca Sutterby of Sugar Creations – she is a really good friend of mine and a SUPER talented lady – I would love to learn some of her secrets to perfect fondant and execution!
Ooo another one Margaret Braun…piping queen!

MBM: As a teacher, how do you pick topics for classes? Is it purely dictated by what your customers are asking for?

LB: Sometimes it is based upon what the customers are looking for, but lots of times it’s things that I feel would be fun to teach and give good value. I feel that even though everyone may not like piping, it’s a skill that you should try not to fear – so I like to share tips that have helped me along the way. And even though sculpted cakes or sugar flowers may look scary to many, when broken up into small segments and achievable goals, they are not that bad! I never show one way or say “this is the ONLY way to do this technique” because that is not my way. I like to show options for all levels and hopefully one of those options will work best for the student. I always say you need to “train your brain” meaning you may not get it perfect or even right the first time you try it, but when you go back at it, you’ll find it a bit easier and you might even find your own way to do things – so long as the end result is what you are looking for, who cares how you get there??

MBM: With such an influx of “cake” tv out there, have you ever thought about having your own show?

LB: Ha! Um no – haven’t thought of having my own show! I’ve considered what it would be like to be a contestant on Challenge, but not sure if it’s my cup of tea or not….but I never say never!

MBM: What is your favourite flavour of cake?

LB: Honestly?? I rarely eat cake – when you have worked with it for as long as I have it really doesn’t tempt me – give me a crème brulee or gelato any day! But if I had to choose, I’m partial to Red Velvet myself – or something extremely chocolate – deep chocolate cake with chocolate truffle finished in chocolate ganache!

MBM: What one piece of advice can you give the readers about the world of cake?

LB:  Don’t take it too seriously – it’s ONLY CAKE!

Thanks Again for hosting the class Lisa, we all had a blast.  Readers, checkout Lisa's online store :

On a side note, I have added a newsletter feature.  To join, click the link in my favourite places on the left hand side of this page.  I have also added class info to the store tab at my webpage

Until Next Time,
Happy Caking!