Certified baker and pastry chef, nutritionist and owner of Sweet Revenge Inc. shares her passion for food as well as the ups and downs of the culinary industry.
When did you start getting interested in baking?
Let’s start by saying that baking is only one facet of what Sweet Revenge Inc. is about – but a very important part, indeed! My interest wasn’t a choice, really! I was born into a culinary family and have been attending “school” since birth. Food has always played a central and primary role in how my family (immediate and extended) interacts, so I truly do come by it naturally. All of my life I’ve been drawn to food as if it’s had a spell over me, for these very reasons. I’ve seen many experience health and lifestyle difficulties with it and because of it (including myself), and that played a huge role in my decision to pursue a culinary career in addition to become a registered holistic nutritionist (RHN), personal trainer (PTS), and life coach.
I’ve struggled with food, eating, and health issues associated to poor diet choices since adolescence, potentially even before. About 10 years ago, I was at a real crossroads with my health, most notably my weight. Upon digging deeper, and consequently learning a bit about health and nutrition, I created a diet that helped alleviate my intolerances to wheat/gluten, starches, sugars, and other minor foods (though not eliminating them just yet!) I’d made it my mission to find foods that I could tolerate, but that also tasted good and were good for me; not so easy – as many that have suffered a long time with similar issues know!
From then on, I decided I COULD have my cake and eat it too (literally.) After graduating university in 2003, I went to culinary school and pursued a career in baking and pastry arts – and yes, I was the only one in my class that was allergic to everything we were making! I continued on my own time, learning the basics, and recreating/experimenting with countless recipes at home for my needs, using the best, most fresh ingredients – and always completely from scratch, making sure it not only was healthful but tasted amazing.
Last year I decided to truly “put my money where my mouth is” and go back to school to become a registered holistic nutrition (RHN). This is different than a regular nutritionist as well as a dietitian; holistic nutrition uses a mind-body-spirit approach, taking all levels and elements of a person’s life into consideration, and analyzing their total effect on the body and its systems – dealing with the root cause, not the symptom. As this is able to determine the many reasons why people develop conditions and illnesses (and yes, allergies!) – pairing it with my background in food preparation was essential and the natural next step in my professional progress. Doing so has amplified and enhanced my baking and cooking skills and knowledge ten-fold for both myself, my family/friends, and customers/clients, as I’m able to bake “around” and even help to alleviate symptoms of illness/disease. While we all love to eat, share, and celebrate with sweets and other foods – many that suffer with dietary limitations due to illness, disease, weight issues, etc. truly believe they are restricted from certain foods for the rest of their life, and suffer not only physically but mentally and emotionally because of this. It is my life’s aim, with Sweet Revenge Inc., to give this ability back to those people, to teach and educate them in healthful and mindful ways about foods and how the body works, so that they themselves can embrace foods and eating, and enjoy a natural quality of life, health, and true harmony and balance.
What kind of food training have you gone through?
Formally, I attended 2 years of culinary school at George Brown City College in Toronto, during which I became an apprentice within the Ministry of Ontario’s rigorous apprenticeship training program to be a baker/patissier. I diligently participated in this apprenticeship program for 4 or so years (in tandem with school, which is required) choosing to work and experience many and various large-scale places (mass quantities of non-food being produced) in addition to the tiniest of country-road kitchens (making fresh and from-scratch pastries every morning) in both pastry chef and baker roles (very different – and both very grueling!) Several times over the last few years I’ve been certified and re-certified in food safety and handling, and after meeting all the government requirements for completing my apprenticeship, I obtained my Red Seal – the official certification for chefs – and am a certified and professional Pastry Chef and Baker.
When did you start Sweet Revenge Inc.?
In conjunction with culinary school and my apprenticeship, in 2004 I decided to throw my chef hat into the ring (starting small at that point) and began baking for family, friends, and some other clients, using the name Stephanie’s Bakeshop (only to make it more professional looking at the time.) Over the first year, I realized I did want to pursue a private business, but didn’t want to have my name tied to it in the title (I had dreams of being quite big!) so I changed the name to a name that I felt represented what I was trying to do – bake in the face of dietary restrictions, and help people have their cake! In 2006, I formally changed the name to Sweet Revenge Custom Bakeshop. Growing still, and in many different ways, I recently decided to tweak the name to Sweet Revenge Inc. As I’m preparing to offer a variety of services all within the same healthy umbrella (holistic nutritional consultation, coaching, and education; personal fitness and education; healthy food preparation and education; and of course – a custom bakeshop!) I feel that this name really encompasses a traditional feel with an assertive and confident approach to health and well-being that I want to convey.
What are some of the challenges you face as a baker and an entrepreneur?
I have big dreams with both the business I have, in addition to what I feel I’m meant to accomplish in this life and for our society’s advancement. Challenges have been many – mainly since I feel that I’m the “creative” behind my endeavour, and am lacking the practical business protocol and know-how to really move things forward positively and productively. In addition to the challenges of creating a start-up business, I’d say the true main roadblock is financing.
With the state of our economy, and my having been gathering my credentials over the last few years, and ingredients, machinery, and rent being as expensive as it is – money is the only true obstacle that’s standing between me now and the successful, booming, and busy storefront bakery that I’d like to have. I’m in the market for serious investors and even partners to help bring these dreams into reality.
What advice would you give to someone looking to get into baking as a career/hobby?
If it’s your dream, your passion – don’t let anyone stand in your way. The culinary industry is not for the faint or weak of heart; it’s long and often grueling hours, dangerous and hazardous to your health, and mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically abusive; I’ve had a few bosses that could make Gordon Ramsay falter!
That being said – I wouldn’t take my experience back in a heartbeat, but then I had my larger vision and purpose of helping the world to keep me sane and comforted when things got a little too hot in the kitchens and bakeries I worked in. If you love food, and your goal is to help bring food and people together, that is more of a hobby – and again, there’s passion there to override the unsavory bits of industry. If this still doesn’t help you to make a decision, then I’d say start small; get a part-time job, or volunteer at a local restaurant or bakery, and see what it’s like before you jump in head first. If playing it safe doesn’t suit you – and you want a real taste – hotels and big-time restaurants are always willing to hire inexperienced workers on dish duty! If you’re lucky (and one in a million are) – you’ll find a nice, small bakery or restaurant where the owner and employees interact and work as equals, almost like a group of friends; after all the places I’ve worked, and all the miles I’ve logged, this is what I’m aiming for with Sweet Revenge Inc. one day; in a few years, look me up!
What has been your favourite baking project to work on so far?
I could say that it’s one of the amazing cakes and goodies I’ve been so fortunate to make (NKOTB was cool!), yet nothing compares to the experience I had with a 60th wedding anniversary cake I made a few years ago. It was commissioned by the daughter of a lovely couple for the dinner party they were having to celebrate, expecting about 40+ people to attend. I recall the cake was carrot, a particular favourite of her father, the “groom”, although he was a diabetic; her mother, the “bride” often didn’t eat dessert, as she always felt poorly after doing so, and as a result, hadn’t eaten baked goods in over a decade or so! The daughter spoke with me for a while about this, and she relayed that her mother abstained from dairy, gluten, and large quantities of sugar – could I still make this cake? Of course, I told her. I did my best, and it turned out perfectly. Knowing I was facing a tough critic (the daughter even told me not to get my hopes up, although she was crossing her fingers!) I delivered the cake and hoped for the best. A few days later, I received a glowing email from the daughter – both her guests and her father enjoyed it immensely (no adverse reactions), and to her astonishment and disbelief – her mother had not one but two slices that evening, and asked to take the few remaining slices home for herself as it tasted just like how her mother used to make it for her (obviously this was okay!) The email thanked me profusely, as this served to make the celebration all the more special for the entire family and guests in the know. She has been a client of mine since, and I’ve recreated that cake each year, as with their anniversary, it’s become one of their special family traditions. Knowing I helped her overcome her food issues made all my hard work completely worthwhile; I’m so grateful for being able to be a part of their special date!
What’s your favourite and least favourite part of the business?
There’s so much I am grateful for. Namely – that I get to choose to follow my passion everyday, and that I continue to want to do so. Being in the industry isn’t my aim – doing what I love, sharing it with as many as I can, and spreading around good energy and well-being is. I don’t like the competition that there is out there, but then – I see what I’ve got going right now and what I’m aiming to do as so specific, the market isn’t quite there yet, so I’ve still got some time and a niche for myself and my business. That excites me, and keeps me going, too. I love making pretty things, and knowing they’re good for you is almost like a secret I’m dying to tell! Being able to share them, teach others how to make them, and share my tricks and tips is a gift; continuously being allowed and asked to be part of others celebrations and sharing, I’m so grateful and lucky to be able to experience this with each item that leaves my kitchen. All in all, I’m grateful for the fact that I keep making the choice to give this creative and loving part of myself to others, in addition to the desire to truly want to see people healthy and well, and however I can make the dots connect is what keeps me interested, motivated, and inspired.
Right now, everything is dependent on me and my schedule. Although it’s planned for the future (perhaps the very near future!) I don’t have the ability to have a paid assistant or help as yet, so if I get sick, or I need time off, my business suffers. This makes vacations tough, and scheduling things weekly even tougher. That being said – I love what I do, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m intending to have financing available to expand, both in having help and having a bustling storefront at some point, so that will release some of the pressure I’m currently dealing with, and my schedule will become less of an obstacle between me and complete success.
What else would you want people to know about baking and your business specifically?
Through all the experiences and experimenting that I’ve been through, (in addition to learning what doesn’t work!) I’ve been able to heal myself and my body from the issues I set out on this journey with 10 years ago, and am excited to share what I’ve learned! I know our world is a finicky, jaded society – used to treats loaded with butter, eggs, and refined sugar and flour. News flash: Preservatives, artificial stuff, and mass quantities of refined “fake foods” don’t belong in my bakeshop; organic, whole, and healthy fresh foods and ingredients do. I bake and prepare foods with the finest, freshest ingredients – always completely from scratch, that’ll get your taste buds asking for more. While healthfulness is almost always besides the point when speaking of sweet eats, I also know how the body works, and how and which foods need to be combined to lessen the body’s workload. I specialize in gluten-free, low-glycemic (almost sugar-free and diabetic friendly), and dairy-free goodies and sweets, yet I’ll take on any challenge if that means putting a smile on someone’s face, making a stomach happy, and helping to bake them a happy memory.
I maintain that my business is “old-fashioned”, and even “retro”; in effect, Sweet Revenge Inc. doesn’t sacrifice quality and taste, and uses the values and tenets from when food was real and baking, food preparation, and domesticity was respected. Literally, like mom (and grandma) used to make; whether you suffer from allergies, illness, disease, or are a vegan (or for you sugar-loving traditionalist!) Sweet Revenge Inc. is your key to an enlightened, indulgent, sweets-filled future!