Putting the icing on a baking career

IT takes patience, perseverance and passion to create perfection in beauty.

Young baker Mason Lee took at least six months, learning to make flower buds and figurines for cakes with gum paste from a professional baker in Peninsular Malaysia.

By the time the 24-year-old returned to Sibu some months ago, he was able to create different kinds of flowers using gum paste.

He made one and posted it on social media and was flooded with questions.

“They asked whether the flower is real. Of course it isn’t real. I told them it’s sugar and edible. Some asked how I did it, how was it possible. They were very impressed,” he told thesundaypost.

From there on, his dream of owning a cake business began taking shape.

Lee has always loved arts and baking and decorating cakes since young. None of his family members knows how to bake.

At 13, with the support of his parents, he tried his hands at baking his first cake — a black forest gateau.

“It was a total failure. Black forest is not very hard to bake but since I did not have the basics and knew nothing about baking at the time, it was a disaster,” he chuckled.

But that did not stop him from trying to do better next time. Not one to have the cake and eat it, he never stopped looking for ways to bake a successful cake.

He picked up tips from YouTube and through articles from the Internet.

From age 13 till he went to college, not a single cake he baked turned out right.

“I think I threw away more than 20 cakes back then. It just didn’t work. I also didn’t ask for guidance because I was a bit shy,” he recalled.

A cake with a Superman suit design.

After finishing secondary education at Catholic High School, Sibu, Lee enrolled for a Diploma course in Culinary Art at Sunway University, Kuala Lumpur.

Finally, with proper training and guidance, he was able to put the icing on his baking by delivering his first ‘real’ cake from the oven.

“While studying for my diploma, I began to understand why I failed. The wrong mixing and the wrong temperature were the major mistakes,” he remembered.

After obtaining his diploma, he went on to pursue a degree in culinary management at the same university.

Throughout his diploma and degree courses, he had a chance to work as an intern at various bakeries, restaurants and hotels.

After completing his degree, he worked part time for a bakery in Kuala Lumpur. It was there that he learned the importance of patience when creating flowers and figurines for cakes.

After working about six months in Kuala Lumpur, he decided to return to Sibu.

“I love being home and I also want to find out what the Sibu market is like. I think in any place, there are opportunities and it’s up to us to get to know people and let them know our products,” he said.

Lee understands the all-encompassing reach of social media and once posted a picture of a gum paste flower on the web platform.

He said that was the first time people started noticing his skills and the quality of his products.

The first few cakes he baked were given away as wedding and birthday gifts for friends.

Cupcakes with different figurines.

First order ruined

His first order was for a birthday cake.

All was well until delivery time. He remembers ruining the cake on the way to hand it over because of the uneven road.

Although the cake was a birthday gift for a relative, he was very disappointed.

He said he had learned his lesson and from then on, would bring someone along when making deliveries.

“Whether it’s my mother or my brother, they will drive and I will hold the cake.”

Lee never stopped learning and improving, and over time, mastered the ropes to make a success of the baking business.

Today, he runs a home-based business with orders rolling in almost every day.

Innovative and creative

He said since starting his own business, he has learnt to be innovative and creative in his baking, especially when he has to cater to different markets.

“I think it’s a great challenge if you are to bake cakes sort of western-style, not the typical local birthday or wedding cakes, because not many people can accept it as the price is a bit expensive. Moreover, it takes some time as well for people to accept a different taste.”

Lee said he not only made sure his cakes looked beautiful but also tried to introduce new flavours to the people in Sibu. He would incorporate what he learned from abroad into his baking, duly taking into consideration the local palate.

A basketball themed cake.

Expensive cakes

He said there are two reasons why his cakes are expensive — first, the ingredients are specially ordered from Peninsular Malaysia and secondly his gum paste flowers are hard work.

“I can’t find the ingredients I want here, so I need to order from outside. The gum paste flowers are all hand-made. To make one flower, I need at least half a day. Some even take about two days to finish,” he pointed out.

Despite the challenges, he feels inspired to continue baking by the support of the public in Sibu.

“The public, event planners and my parents are great motivators in inspiring me to continue doing what I love,” he said.

Lee has a dream to own a bakery one day and a bigger dream to be a successful baker in Sarawak.

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