When a food critic turns the poison pen on herself

My first cake order August 27, 2010

Filed under: Birthday cakes — crummb @ 10:43 am
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In my former life as a journalist, I had this internal switch that I turned on each time I stepped into an interview to profile a personality. In an instant, I’d become chatty, full of questions, thoroughly interested, and dripping with charm and good manners. It was all necessary if you are to probe the inner psyche of a complete stranger.

But 15 years of practice couldn’t obscure this fact: I was, and always will be, an introvert. I’m incurably shy when it comes to meeting new people, and I will always need a legitimate licence — such as a journalist’s badge — before I dare poke a toe into someone’s private life.

But, as I happily found out last week when I delivered my first cake, my second career can also usher me into strangers’ lives — this time, no charm offensive needed.

The venue was a gleaming, immaculately renovated studio apartment in the heart of CBD, and the occasion was a surprise birthday party for a girl named C. As I assembled the cake on the swanky kitchen countertop, I could hear the whirl of excitement all around. Friends chatted, new people were introduced, music played, drinks circulated.

“It’s like we can gatecrash parties all the time now,” I whispered excitedly to husband Z, who was my co-deliveryman. But instead of having to do the dreaded small talk, I was left alone to do my work. I was invisible, but privy to all that was going on. A bit like a taxi-driver, I thought.

I was curious about the birthday girl, whom we didn’t meet because we had to leave before she arrived. Clearly, she was very well-loved. She is a hobbyist painter and had drawn many paintings for her friends over the years. So as a surprise for her birthday, her friends gathered all the paintings she had given away and displayed them at the party as like an art exhibition. There were canapes, uniformed waitresses and, of course, a three-tier cake made by me.

The cake was designed to hopefully appeal to the bubbly, artsy girl. The three square tiers were stacked off-centre, and each layer was decorated with different sugarpaste motifs in bright, happy colours.

But the evening ended on a sour note for me. Halfway through my set-up, Z poked me in the ribs and pointed at the countertop. After turning the cakestand round and round so I could coax the chocolate fondant into shape, I had left ugly streaks on the spotless stainless steel surface. I placed a rag under the cakestand and tried rubbing away the scratches, but it was too late. They were permanent.

No words could describe how gutted I felt. If someone had done that to my kitchen countertop, I’d be pissed. But the homeowner was totally gracious about it. And to remedy the situation, I have sent my contractor over to polish down the damage.

The repair job will cost me the price of the cake and then some. So this is one hard, expensive lesson learnt. You can bet that every time I go on a new job from now on, I will not need that internal switch. I will bloody need a rag.


20 Responses to “My first cake order”

  1. Chris Says:

    Aiyo aiyo! My commiserations….it’s good to always have a spare cardboard cake round on hand to place underneath the cake stand, just cause you never know where the cake’s going to be put… ;-p

    And btw I have a hawaiian shirt that exactly matches that middle tier.

  2. clare Says:

    chris: hahaha about the hawaiian shirt.

    tpl: don’t fret it’s always like that the first time – remember the first few interviews where you have to psych yourself before picking up the phone to call a stranger? only thing to do is to learn from mistakes. 加油!你可以的!

    • crummb Says:

      you remember! yes i wrote my lines on a notebook and read them out over the phone. “hello, this is paulin from the ST. may i speak with xxxxxx” HAHAHA. anyway xie xie. i suppose the only way is up 🙂

  3. Oh poor you!

    Oh well… it’s over.. Congrats for your first order.. and now you know – never buy a stainless steel counter top! :p

    • crummb Says:

      i know! i’ve always known about how high-maintenance stainless steel surfaces are so i didn’t choose it for my kitchen. but funny the brain just didn’t register on this job. sigh. expensive lesson!

  4. Corrie Says:

    hugs hugs hugs. and yes i am sure tons more people will order from you (like me!!!).

    • crummb Says:

      Thanks midear! Am beginning to feel demoralized cos I had another baking meltdown yesterday. But I shall press on!

  5. Denise Says:

    Hi I love reading your blog entries 🙂 they always make me smile and I was wondering where did u learn to make such gorgeous cakes?I’m a big fan of baking but wow, making such cakes calls for superb skills!

    • crummb Says:

      Hi Denise, thank you for your kind words! I took some classes in basic sugarcraft (gumpaste flowers, sugarpaste frills, ribbons etc) but the main thing is trawling through wedding blogs and sites every day for the past three years to see what the best cake artists are doing. I still have a looong way to go 🙂

      • Denise Says:

        Yes i have seen your entry about the BIY store,have been tempted to take up their courses as well! I hope your business will be off to a good start. Do u read mysweetandsaucy website?They have one of the prettiest cakes around!

      • crummb Says:

        I loooove sweetandsaucy! Their blog is super inspirational. The owner is really nice (she replied to my questions!) and started her biz from scratch too 🙂

    • Denise Says:

      Ooh I’m aspiring to be like her haha(I’m kidding) but i guess to dream big may make dreams come true :p btw have u tried your hand at making swiss roll? In particular from okashi treats?

      • crummb Says:

        Yes, I tried the brown sugar swiss roll and it turned out like a dream. Really yummy! I love Japanese cakes. Right now I am toying with the idea of interning at a Japanese cake shop for a week for free. Haha!

      • Denise Says:

        That sounds great!I have always wanted to try working at provence!they have the yummiest breads! Ooh interning at patissiere glacé?

  6. gfad Says:

    I like your style – simple but classy. Nice!

    Don’t be disheartened by your mistakes. Life is always a learning experience. 🙂

    Let me share this story of Ferran Adria with you:
    In 1995, he had to prepare a meal of lobster for 3,200 guests. Prep of the lobster was done the day before in another location and they were placed in insulated boxes to be delivered to the restaurant. When the lobster arrived, they were promptly refrigerated. In the insulated boxes. On the day of the dinner, they discovered the lobster had spoiled because the boxes had insulated the lobster from the cold, and had remained in room temp throughout. But, after an excruciatingly stressful day of frantic phone calls and hard work, he and his team managed to pull it off and they survived.
    His advice: Every day is a new challenge, a new adventure and you must never be complacent. You must be constantly on your toes, ready to deal with the unexpected, ready to respond – with as cool a head as you can – to whatever surprise comes.

    • crummb Says:

      Thank you so much for taking the time to tell me this story. If the great ferran Adria makes mistakes, I better get used to it!! Oh and by the way, your food looks scrumptious, and I am a hakka moi too (well, ok, just half) 🙂

  7. cookie Says:

    Every learning will make you wiser… dun be too harsh to yourself my dear!

  8. Yasmin Says:

    Amazing and Fantastic, Looking so sweet. Thanks. I love it.

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