Cake Convention organised by Reema Siraj was held at Hilton, Colombo on 18th August, 2018. This was held last year as well, with a participation of 20 guests but this time it blew all proportions with a whopping 150 guests and tickets were sold out in the matter of days. Reema Siraj is a Sri Lankan baker based in Dubai and she conducts masterclasses mainly in cake decoration and hosts exhibitions and conventions for networking and collaborating. Such an event has never been held in Sri Lanka and Reema wanted to change that because she has seen a lot of potential in the home bakers here, but there isn’t anything being done to uplift them.
The event was organised by Elegante & Co. and its Co-Founder, Carl De Zilva was the backbone behind successfully organizing this event. The Platinum Sponsors of the event was Spectra Bakery Solutions, the Gold Sponsors were Fonterra Brands and Homelux and the Silver Sponsor was AB Mauri Lanka. There was a separate hallway filled with stalls of all the sponsors, so the guests could network with them. The Cake Convention commenced at 3.30 pm and it was compered by the lovely Vraie Cally Balthazaar. It had a great line up of bakers giving motivational speeches and showcasing intricate techniques of different extents in baking.
The evening started with an inspirational speech from Rukshi Nethicumara, the owner of one of Sri Lanka’s cake hotspots, Butter Boutique. She shared how she started as a baker. She has been in a very unsatisfactory job working for her mother and one day she had quit the job and thought about giving baking a go. What is now one of the most sought-after stores in Sri Lanka, started at the back of the garage in 2009. She insisted that maintaining quality consistently is the secret to success regardless of the field.
After her customers pushed her to open a store, she has opened one in Flower Road in 2015 and it has been able to accommodate 8 to 10 people, which overflowed almost instantly after opening. Now she successfully operates two outlets in Park Street and in Rosmead Place. Her advice was to step out of our comfort zones and do what we are petrified of the most and to be passionate about whatever it is that we do. She also shared that whilst she has an amazing customer base and a wonderful set of followers on Instagram and Facebook, she gets a lot of negative messages on a daily basis and that this is something regular with any entrepreneur, especially when you’re a woman. So, her take on it was to build a thick skin and ignore the haters and embrace the love. She ended her speech leaving a great set of points to think about.
The Second speaker was Chammarie Daniel, the owner and founder of Savy’s Cakes. She did a demonstration on how to make life-like faces from a just a ball of fondant. She also pointed out that this was a niche market she found that has not been tapped by any baker in the realm. In addition, she had wanted to do something different and say that she did that with pride. With this she has hit the jackpot. There was a selection of her sculpts on display as well, portraying her immense skills. What’s even more amazing is, she is self-taught. She has got to where she is after a long journey of trial and error. So, her advice was to practice and keep at it.
“With practice, there’s nothing you can’t achieve”,
she said. She used fondant mixed with gum paste for the sculpture and started with the contours of the face by making small indents. Then using fingers and tools, she started carving the eye balls, nose and then the mouth. She said the beauty of a figurine is in the details. She also shared when she’s replicating a face of someone, she tries to mimic the smile the most and that gives the sculpture its uniqueness and makes it look like the person a lot more. She also likes to put teeth on the smile, because it makes the smile more natural. She uses makeup brushes to give the face a more life-life like appearance and in addition, she uses separate white fondant balls as eyeballs to give more definition to the face and draw on it using paint dissolved in alcohol. Using alcohol dissolves the paint better than water. She shared a lot of important tips and tricks during her demonstration which was very valuable to the audience.
The next speaker was Sumeya Thawoos, owner and founder of Baked with Love. She is a mother, a student and works an eight-to-five job whilst managing the baking business. One of her lecturers has inspired her to find within her what she was passionate about and after some soul searching she has found out that she loved baking more than anything else. So, she had wanted to pursue it and convert it to something that would make money. Her speech was on Design Inspiration, which is how to draw inspiration into baking. She started out with her own definition on design inspiration, which was
“You see something and you make/do something else”. Her main advice was, “Create your own design. Be yourself. Don’t copy”.
She went on to say that there are many ways that one can draw inspiration from. It can be a painting, a car, furniture or even a celebrity you love. Also, she said not to limit oneself to one mode of inspiration. Not only nature, not paintings, to free oneself to explore different paths. She insisted that the audience should be encouraged to ask their customers to try something new rather than bringing an old design and asking for an exact replica of it. She said that, it’s a great obstacle for a baker’s creativity. She said that as designers they all copy or rather draw inspiration from existing designs all the time, but there’s an ethical way to go about it. If the customers ask for an exact replica of a design of another baker, the baker has to give credit to the original baker, because it’s not his/her own creation, neither do they have any ownership to it. Also, she said, with the digital day and age, the probability of stealing one’s design and showing it as your own is very high and that is illegal to do so. Therefore, she encouraged the audience to show their own designs on social media and if they’re sharing another person’s design, to give due credit. She showed one of her creations, for which she drew inspiration from one of Aslam Hussain’s saree designs. She said that creating something like that, can’t be done in a day. She has personally met him and enquired about the design and how he has gone about it, the concepts he has followed and dug deep into the design to find its roots. She ended her amazing speech with the words,
“See the good in another’s work and do the best to understand why you think it’s good”.
The fourth speaker was Rubeena Ibrahim, a world-renowned baker and the founder and host of “Cake Talk” in Dubai. She shared with us the story of how she came about to be what she is today. She said that she’s a clean freak and being a baker was the last thing on her mind. But her father is a chef and her mother is a very good cook, so she had a really good background for it. After marriage, she has moved to Oman and she has felt a bit lonely and that something was missing. She has already had her hands full, with maintaining a house, three children without a maid or a driver but still she has taken a leap of faith and started baking, which gave birth to “Ruby’s Cakes”, her first Facebook Page. She said that doing what she does is not an easy task. She gets a lot of visitors, unplanned journeys and so much more and she often feels like she can’t manage and wants to drop everything. But every time, she rolls up her sleeves and gets back to work! She said that she loves to dream big, so she has wanted to put herself to the test and show her worth. At that time, there has been no platform for home bakers to showcase their talents and home bakers have been illegal in Oman. She had thought to herself, if there’s no such space, she will create it herself. She had worked day and night and finally hosted the first ever cake exhibition in Oman in 2015, “Cake Talk”. She said,
“In a country where you’re only an expat, I could have lost it all”.
But she never gave up and she has had a support group of three people to help her out through all this and she hadn’t even known them before “Cake Talk”. She shared the wonderful message, “Support your sister/ friend to come up with their lives. We feel that sharing our knowledge will be a threat to our own growth. Your knowledge is replaceable, but not you! You’re unique! The other person will never achieve the standard of the original work. So, don’t fear. Please lend a hand to another”. She strongly believes that in success, there’s a really hard chance, luck will come our way. But to her surprise only a few weeks before Cake Talk, 2015, big brands like Lurpak Arabia, Malabar Gold and Betty Crocker had asked to sponsor the event. When she had talked about Cake Talk, people had laughed at her, given that it’s a very conservative society and because she was a housewife she has had no knowledge about the outer world. She said,
“Never let small minds make you think otherwise, I 'baked' it happen! I am self-made. Today I handle a 600,000 business, including chefs, 200 participants and 800 people in the audience. I made Cake Talks happen. What is your excuse for not taking that extra step?”.
She said to not make excuses and that the family will be tricky at first, but they will be the biggest supporters. She said, her family, friends and her team helped her get through it all. She also stated that she never stopped learning and to not fear to dream big. She ended an astounding speech with the words,
“Build a dream. The dream will build you!”.
That ended the first session of the evening which led to a networking session. All the home bakers were let to talk with each other and talk with the sponsors stationed outside in the hallway as well.
After the networking session, Reema Siraj took the stage to give a demonstration of her signature roses. She started saying to keep the center light by using Styrofoam and wiring it across. Then she brought it together and twisted because otherwise the stem will look unnatural. For the petals, gum paste, flexi paste like mixes can be used. She said to start by making the point using some gum paste, so it’s easier to work with. Then for the petals, the gum paste should be rolled very thin to build in to a nice flower. She advised to use metal tools in the process. The metal cutter was pressed a little to give a more real-like petal look, rather than being more elongated, which looks like a water drop. When making a full bloomed rose, she said to start with smaller petals and then make them bigger and bigger.
In this demonstration she showed how to make a bud, because of the time constraints and she said in the making of a bud, to use three petals first and start. The gum paste should be rolled on a foam pad and the edges should be made even more thinner using a ball tool. To make the calyx, she advised not to use any cutting tools and to do it by hand to give it a more natural look. To attach them to the flower, a bit of water should be applied on the bud and then, the sepal pieces should be attached. When making a bud, the calyx has also not bloomed, so the sepal should be kept closer to the flower. Then to finish the calyx, a small knot should be placed at the end of the bud. In addition, using floral tape knots can be placed here and there on the wire, to give the look of thorns and then the wire should be taped from top to bottom. With that the demonstration ended and the bud was passed along to the audience for everyone to take a look.
Next, a small game session was held. Where two teams of five went into an epic cupcake battle. The winning team got free entrance passes to the next Cake Convention which will be held next year.
Afterwards, Anchor Food Professionals did a presentation on the differences between dairy and non-dairy whipping cream. Non-dairy whipping cream is made out of vegetable oil and is rather less in taste whereas dairy whipping cream is made of milk and has a pleasant taste. The yielding volume of dairy whipping cream is also greater than that of non-dairy whipping cream.
The last speaker of the evening was Fathima Nazrun Nasoordeen, the owner and founder of Scrumptious Cups. Reema Siraj referred to her as the 'Buttercream Queen' because of her seamless talents in decorating cakes with buttercream. She brought an already made double barrelled cake with the crumb coat. She said after layering it and applying the crumb coat, it’s important to refrigerate it, otherwise the icing won’t stick. She did a demonstration on how to get sharp edges using buttercream icing and her advise was not to mess with it too much and also to make the buttercream thicker.
She said that people think making it thinner would be easier to handle but when you make it thicker you can use as much as you want, which makes it easier to cut down when shaping. She used a Pyrex glass tool to shape the icing after putting it and she said it’s important to have a bowl of hot water next to the baker, to dip the tools, so it would be easier to handle the tools. She ended the demonstration with a simple floral decoration and stated that going simple makes the cake look more elegant than showering it with flowers.
The last session of the evening was a small Q&A session with Reema Siraj, where she talked about how Cake Convention started. She said that she was from here but now she lives in UAE now, where all the home-based bakers are well connected through a group and everyone helps each other out. But she has seen that, that is lacking here in Sri Lanka. So she had wanted to promote networking and sharing the knowledge with each other. Thus, she started Cake Convention with only 20 participants in 2017 and now it has grown up to 150 people this year. She was so humble and happy about the big turnout and she said she’s going to make it even bigger next year.
Then she was asked about what her inspiration behind this event was. She said she wants the Sri Lankan bakers to be noted internationally, not locally. She said that Indians are recognised all over the world through higher levels of networking and the Sri Lankan presence in the Cake Master Magazine is less too. She wants to change all that. Afterwards she was asked about the plans for the next year. She said Cake Convention 2018 was more like a test drive, she hasn’t been so sure about how the event would pan out. But to her surprise there has a been a very high demand for the event, so she’s very excited for the coming year. She wants to conduct exhibitions, in which not only her students can take part. Finally, she was asked to share a little bit about herself. Initially, she has had no interest in baking. Her mother has been a baker for more than 30 years and she had never helped her mother because she had disliked it that much. She had been a teacher at the time and after marriage she has had two kids which led to her quit teaching. So, she had been bored at home and had wanted something to do from home; thus began her career in baking. In four years, she has been able to start her own show and do master classes. With networking she has become even bigger. And that was her story. Her advice was to learn time management and with that nothing is impossible.
The event came to an end with a huge raffle draw, where all the sponsors, the speakers and other brands gave passes for free master classes, baking utensils, gift baskets and many more. The Cake Convention marked a turning point in the industry of baking in Sri Lanka and will return next year, bigger and better.
Pics by Pradeep Dilruckshana