By Patrick Camara Ropeta, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau
(The story as it first appeared on abs-cbnNEWS.com)
LONDON - Two Filipino bakers bagged the bronze and silver prizes at an international baking show with their luxurious and bespoke cake creations.
UK-based cake entrepreneurs Valeri Valeriano and Christina Ong won the awards for the multi-tier wedding cake category at the Cake International Show held at the NEC Birmingham in November.
Valeriano, who is from Manila, was given the silver prize for a stained glass cake design, while Ong, from Isabela, snatched bronze for a lace-inspired cake.
“It is just overwhelming. The competition displays were just across our stand and we could see everyone taking pictures of our cakes. The judges came back so many times to scrutinize our cakes, which were beside each other, and even the press were taking photos too. It was such a wonderful feeling,” recalled Valeriano, who attended the event with Ong to promote their joint baking business, Queen of Hearts Couture Cakes.
Ong added: “We were so busy talking to lots of people who came to our stand but when I saw the judges putting the decision cards on the winning entries, I dropped everything and ran towards our cakes. I was over the moon to see that we both have won. It is such an amazing feeling.”
The pair launched their very own cake service in June 2011, offering bespoke cakes and baking demonstrations to clients in the UK and beyond, specializing in the lost art of buttercream.
“Buttercream is made of butter and icing sugar. It’s very soft and it’s not easy to manage,” explained Valeriano, a self-taught baker who studied buttercream cakes through video tutorials on YouTube.
She continued: “We tried to have a little twist, because buttercream is usually known for simple flowers and swirls, very old school. We wanted to change it and show people that you can do something more with buttercream, and we gained popularity very quickly because of that.”
“We need to be different from the rest. Otherwise, we’ll be eaten alive by competition, especially in the UK where everyone is good at what they do,” said Ong, who is also a self-taught baker and cake designer.
She revealed: “We always have to stay one level ahead of everyone, and so we always aspire to do something that nobody has done before.”
Starting from an experimental cake they intended as a gift for a friend on Mother’s Day in 2011, their baking and design skills quickly developed into a fully pledged start-up business.
“It was challenging at first, but it’s just like anything new. We had to learn everything rather quickly, and to top it all, we were doing it in a foreign land. We had to sell our concepts and make demonstrations to foreigners. It was tricky at first, but we got through it,” recalled Valeriano.
Ong added: “When we started, no one was answering our emails, no one paid us any attention. We used to send letters to everybody, and we literally mean everybody, hundreds of people. We wanted to show what we can do and we even gave everything for free. But now people come to us and they even pay us. It’s a blessing and a bonus.”
The baking duo moved to the UK as nurses before discovering their talent for cake design through a “sweet accident.” They believe their “caring” background has helped them to drive the business forward.
“Our nursing background gave us the foundation and the patience. It’s the love and care. If you are looking after people you don’t know who are not related to you, but you need to have the passion and the love to take care of them. Same goes with the cake. At first it can be hard to handle, and if you don’t have the love, you will just give up,” Valeriano said.
The pair, who have been long-time friends since a chance meeting at a restaurant in Manila, recently came back from the Philippines where they were commissioned to make a cake for a prominent commercial director.
“We’re really happy. It’s nice to wake up everyday reading good news about the business. We just can’t complain. It’s hard work but we’re happy,” said Ong.
On the secret of their success, Valeriano said: “Keep on innovating. If you started on something, say for example a business or a hobby or something, don’t just settle for what’s already there. Be resourceful, be more creative, appreciate the beauty around you, turn it into something, and just add a little bit of passion, patience and love. Put your heart into it and I’m sure you’ll succeed.”
The London-based Queen of Hearts Couture Cakes have been featured in numerous media outlets including Manila Bulletin and CNN iReport, as well as industry events like The National Wedding Show and Food Spectacular by Experimental Food Society, gaining an expanding client base around the world.