Orange county has many fine places for dining and catching a wonderful after dinner dessert if you know where to go. The Caffee at the Resort at Pelican Hill (Leading Hotels of the World member) for example has a wonderful cake stylist by the name of Sara Heslington, who creates all the beautifully sculpted cakes that are available for purchase through the resort's Caffee located in the main hotel area.
Ms. Heslington is a biology graduate, who found her passion for baking while still in college. Through the urging of friends who admired her skills, Sara went to the The French Culinary Institute and searched for the right mentor, learning the craft of cake styling from New York based cake guru Ron Ben Israel.
Sara recently agreed to an interview for Sur La Table Cusine and here are some of her responses to my questions:
1. In the article it mentioned that you began making cakes in college as a distraction. Having graduated in Biology, what made you consider pursuing an art in cake making?
I never really thought about pursuing a career in making cakes until my roommates in college convinced me that I was born to be a pastry chef. They all noticed how much I loved baking so they starting encouraging me to take photos of desserts I made to build a portfolio and helped me do research on different options for Culinary school. I knew that dropping out of college would be a huge mistake, so I finished with the degree I started with knowing that I would go to Culinary school after.
2. How did you go about finding the right mentor?
I have been very lucky to find some great mentors throughout my career. I never really searched for mentors, I just always ended up working for some great people along the way. My greatest mentor has been Ron Ben-Israel in New York City. I told a counselor at my culinary school that I really wanted to go into wedding cakes and she set up an internship for me at Ron's. I started there as an intern in February 2002 and later returned many times to help out with special projects. I learned all about sugar flowers and detail work on cakes. It was a great way to start off my career because I learned early on how to always aim for perfection. I was also very lucky to work with Richard Ruskell while I was at the Montage. He is extremely talented and a really great teacher.
3. What made you move from New York to California?
I really loved my work in New York, but the hustle and bustle of the big city started wearing on me. I wanted a change of scenery. I was born in California, so it almost felt like coming back home. I love the beach and I wanted to be able to live close enough to see it everyday. I had a few friends from college that were in the Orange County area, so I came out here to look for work.
4. How did you go about finding a job in a new State?
Each time I have found employment it has been threw a different manner. A couple were the result of finding job openings on my culinary school's job menu. When I moved out to California I just looked on the internet for business that were close to the area I wanted to live in. I wrote letters to all of them letting them know I was looking for a job and I heard back from quite a few people that way. Some have been the result of word of mouth. I always bring a resume and a portfolio to each interview I go to. I have been very fortunate to work at some well known places that add a lot of credibility to my skills. I haven't ever had to bake anything for anyone.
5. You put in long hours at the Pelican Resort, how do you balance your private life with the professional demands?
I think I am still trying to find a balance, and it will probably be something I work on for the rest of my career. One thing that you have to do is decide what is really important and make a point of scheduling around that. For example I had a really hard time getting into a routine of exercising. It was a lot easier to put it off and let work get in the way. Then I decided that I had to take care of my body, so I scheduled private classes with an instructor so I have to be there every week.
6. What is the biggest blunder you made as a cake stylist?
Well, there was this one cake that was just awful. They wanted pink with a silver design that matched their invitations. The invitations were a little odd, but that is what they wanted so we went with it. It was late Friday night and we were all working on this cake together trying to finish up for our weekend. The pink was a little brighter than it should have been, but we just kept going with it because we thought it would be fine. Then once we started adding the silver it just looked horrible - it was like Pepto Bismol and platinum. So we just finished it and hoped that the room would be very dimly lit. This was early on in my career and fortunately I learned that sometimes you have to stop in the middle of a project and reevaluate. And if necessary, start over. So I'm a lot more cautious now, and if I notice something doesn't look right I stop what I'm doing and fix it.
7. What are your dreams for your career as a cake stylist?
I would love to have a cute little shop where I could just create beautiful cakes and listen to music and have a good time. Sometimes I miss having social interactions with my friends because I spend a lot of time at work, so it would be nice to be in an environment that could be like a gathering place for friends and family. I don't know anything about the business aspect of things, so owning my own business seems a little daunting. But in my dream someone else would take care of all of those details for me.
Thank you Sara for sharing some information about yourself with Sur La Table Cuisine!
If you like to special order this Valentines design or any other cake made and decorated by Sara you can contact the Cafe at 949-467-5990 Address: 22701 Pelican Hill Rd S, Newport Coast, CA 92657-2008