For some, food goes beyond nourishment and sustenance. Food is an art form, an expression of oneself, an outlet for creativity. Not all artists have the fortune of basing their career off of their art form, but when your art form consists of little morsels of delight, beautiful sculptures made of butter and sugar, and chemistry experiments that end up in little miracles, it’s not hard to believe that a pastry artist could have a successful business in a booming city.
Vicki Manness is a young entrepreneur with a vintage passion for pastry arts. Through her business, Pretty Sweet, she markets hand-made baked goods. “My ‘thing’ is taking old recipes, usually from my Grandma, and modernizing them,” says Vicki. “I have an old soul in a modern world, so I try and mimic that through my baking. After all, who doesn’t love a good dainty or square?”
Who indeed! Vicki started Pretty Sweet in 2007 making cupcakes and cakes for people she knew and before long she was getting other customer orders as well as bulk orders from a local ice cream shop, Village Ice Cream.
“I started out selling privately, making things at home, and then I found out about a great local artist and artisan market in Calgary called, Market Collective,” explains Vicki. “I started selling my baking there and it was received really well. Market Collective helped me get my name out there. I now rent a commercial space to bake, but I still sell privately and deliver right to clients’ doors.”
Vicki knew at a young age that she wanted to be a chef. Ever since she can remember, she loved to wander around the kitchen and watch what her mother was whipping up. “Both of my grandmothers and my mom are masters in the kitchen, so I’ve been around good food since I was born.” Her love of cooking and trying out recipes stayed with her and influenced her direction in education.
It was the baking portion of her culinary arts program at SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology) that hooked her. “I realized I was meant to bake. As soon as I graduated from culinary arts, I enrolled in the baking and pastry arts program, and it just felt so natural to me.” She honed her skills by working in restaurants and bakeries throughout the city to gain the most experience she could. Vicki says that she always knew that she would have a business of her own; she was always coming up with new concepts for restaurants. But when she fell in love with baking, she knew it was the right career path for her.
She spends a lot of time experimenting with recipes, learning from mistakes when experimenting, and tweaking her brand to make it better. “I’m always thinking of my brand. My sister, Kate, is an amazing artist and graphic designer. My brand would definitely not be what it is today without her.”
There is more than thinking about brand and trying recipes in being a success in the pastry business. “As a pastry chef, you have to have a good palate, time management, common sense, and passion,” says Vicki. “Passion isn’t really a skill, but it’s an integral part of this business. I can be baking from 6:00 a.m. to midnight one day, go to bed, and then go back for more the next day – it’s something that’s ingrained in you.”
For Vicki, the creative process of making desserts is one of her favourite parts. Once she has a bit of background about the event, the people, and the story they are trying to tell, “then the process really begins and the wheels start turning.” She loves to work with colour in her dessert creations, but she also likes things to be natural. “A touch of colour,” says Vicki, “can make something that was good, amazing.”
The chemistry of baking and the creativity of being a chef go hand in hand for Vicki. “For me, the knowledge I have from both gives me the edge that I need. In baking, it is believed that everything must be measured to the gram and you shouldn’t go off-recipe, but that’s not me. The chef in me wants to throw in a bit of this and a lot of that. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t, but I might just create a masterpiece.”
Flavour is a major factor in her creations, of course. “I work with every flavour imaginable,” she says, “but I’m a sucker for caramel. I like to sneak caramel into everything. What isn’t better with caramel? I’ll make something and then I’ll think, ‘maybe I should put some caramel in this’, and then everyone is happy.”
And her instinct about caramel has proven to be correct. Her number-one top seller? “I make a chocolate cake with a salted caramel frosting and salted caramel sauce draped over it. It’s just so visually appealing. I’ll post a photo and people will call me immediately saying, “What is that? I need that.”
Presentation is also part of the creation, and Vicki gives her temptations that extra allure by dressing them just right. “A lot more goes into an itty-bitty pastry than someone might think,” confirms Vicki. Colour, flavour, and presentation are all necessary in this business making the creative process that much more gratifying for the chef and customer alike.
Vicki loves being a pastry chef and business owner because she can express herself through her baking. “I have had a lot of creative freedom in most of the bakeries I’ve worked for, but you’re always a little limited when it’s not your own company. Now I have the freedom to experiment with anything I desire – I can keep creating and learning and never reach any sort of limit.”
Balancing creativity with generic market demand can sometimes be a challenge. As a business owner, no one can afford to ignore what the customer wants, but there can be a cost to that, too. “I need to set some sort of line that I won’t cross to keep me in check with my original vision. I think that my brand is unique, and I try to make most of what I create unique. How else can I set myself apart from what’s already out there? If I’m compromising the integrity of my brand, it’s not worth it to me.”
What is Vicki’s advice for someone interested in becoming a pastry arts chef and/or a business owner?
Success comes with time. “You have to truly want it and love it,” affirms Vicki. “If you don’t, you won’t last. I’ve seen so many people leave this industry because they don’t want icing in their hair all the time, they want normal working hours, they don’t want to be on their feet all day, etc. To last in this business, you have to have a passion for it, simple as that. My philosophy with baking and business is to always be the best I can be and to never stop improving.”
The personal rewards of doing a job you love cannot be given a price. As Vicki says, “I can create something with a few simple ingredients and it can turn into a piece of art. I think that’s pretty sweet.”
You can check out Vicki on Instagram @prettysweetyyc and take a look at her website, prettysweetco.com
Written by :: Nadine Dzisiak
Photographed by :: Genevieve Renee