In today’s society, we see how baking has evolved into an art form with some pastry chefs being almost as famous as rock stars, as well as a host of baking television programmes that showcase the talents of modern bakers. Much like the art of performers, painters, and other artists, the products that bakers make can provoke emotion and reflect creativity. As such, bakers use flavours, aesthetics, and textures to create edible art pieces, applying their unique ideas and skills to create unique cakes, and confectionaries.
Saira Faruqi is a Karachi-based patisserie who is renowned for her customised cakes for birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and other special occasions. For Saira, baking is something which she enjoys tremendously. Though she has no formal training, her distinctive cakes speak eloquently of her creativity and aesthetic sensibilities. “Sometimes it is really difficult to complete my orders and delivers on time. A regular work day is 12 hours long,” says Saira. My interaction with Saira was a happy one. We were sitting together at one of the network luncheons, hosted by Ladiesfund, we started our conversation with small talk which culminated into an informal interview. Here’s Saira’s sweet journey...
You! When did you first get involved in baking?
Saira Faruqi: I always used to help my mother and sisters bake in my childhood - that’s where the interest came from. My mother was an avid baker; she is the one who actually taught me. I started baking independently at the age of 11.
You! Do you have a sweet tooth?
SF: Funnily enough, no. Dark chocolate is the only sweet thing I enjoy, and that only occasionally.
You! What motivated you to take baking as a profession?
SF: They say you should do what you love and love what you do. Baking is that for me.
You! How long you have been baking?
SF: I have been baking from a very young age, but I started my business in 2009.
You! How would you define your style?
SF: I am deeply influenced by aesthetics and try to bring an element of beauty to everything I make. If you look at one of my cakes and feel happy, I have achieved my aim.
You! What has been the biggest order of your professional career?
SF: A 7-tiered cake for a wedding. It weighed approximately 80 lbs. The design was such that stacking the tiers on-site would have been challenging, so we stacked all seven tiers and drove 20 miles at snail speed, with our hearts in our mouths, but managed to deliver it in perfect condition! But the stress was crazy.
You! What is the most challenging part of your job?
SF: Karachi weather. The humidity is a killer for all kinds of cake. Another challenge is the inconsistency in supplies. There was a time when we couldn’t get hold of any marshmallows so we couldn’t make fondant. Or they would be coming in yellow, or squashed.
You! What is the best part of your job?
SF: The instant gratification of seeing a design come to life, and the positive feedback that clients give me. It’s the best kind of high!
You! How do you stay up to date in your profession?
SF: I am constantly educating myself in new techniques and skills. Luckily we live in an age where you can learn just about anything from the internet.
You! An ingredient you can’t live without?
SF: Chocolate! It makes the world go round.
You! What is your signature cake?
SF: Do you mean flavour? My most popular one is probably chocolate and salted caramel.
You! The cardinal rule of baking is…
SF: Mise en place: it is a French culinary phrase which means to measure and put everything out in place before you start. It helps prevent disasters like leaving an essential ingredient out.
You! What is your all-time favourite dessert?
SF: I’m not a big dessert eater but if I had to choose then it would be a flourless chocolate and orange marquise cake.
You! In this age of fad diets and fitness regimes, do you have customers asking for sugar-free or ‘healthy’ cakes?
SF: Absolutely. But what is life without sweetness in it?
You! What do you have in store for your health-conscious clientele?
SF: I am working on some gluten-free, low-carb dessert choices, but it’s a work in progress right now.
You! Have you ever had any culinary disasters?
SF: Many! The most memorable would be an 18 lb Disney themed cake that fell flat on its face right before delivery because it didn’t have enough supportive structure between the tiers. That day was particularly crazy because we were also catering for 200 people, so we hardly had any time to fix it!
Another one was when I had to deliver five cakes in one day; the last was a jungle-themed cake. After it was gone I kept thinking I had missed something. I later realised that the lion, the monkey and the elephant were ear-less.
You! Do you take baking classes?
SF: None at the moment.
You! What kind of challenges do you have to face as a woman in a male-dominated society?
SF: This industry is not maledominated - perhaps the other way around actually. At least not in the home based bakers circle. As for the inequalities in wider society, I have never let them hold me back.
You! Who is your favourite celebrity baker?
SF: I follow lots of talented local and international bakers on Instagram; it’s hard to choose just one. But to name a couple: I love the minimalistic style of ‘Don’t Tell Charles’ and the sheer art in LiMa Cakes creations.
You! Your top tip for amateur bakers:
SF: As clichéd as it sounds, follow your passion! Never stop learning, and never under-sell yourself! If you yourself don’t know your worth, no one else will value you too. Baking is hard, it’s full on and nonstop and is only the right field for you if you truly love it.
You! What do you do to relax?
SF: When work is in full flow, I find very little spare time. But I do love to hang out with my core group of friends, some of whom I have met through this industry.
You! Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
SF: Today Karachi, tomorrow the world!