Samantha Mountstephen experiences joy through cakes, cupcakes and cookies. Trained by Planet Cake Sydney, where she was a facilitator and teacher and With an honours in archaeology, it’s baking and decorating that makes Sam’s heart warm. Sam specialises in wedding and novelty cakes!
A Woopi girl at heart, tell us about your childhood and how this impacted on your creativity?
I moved a lot growing up, from Tasmania, to Bryon Bay to Maclean and finally to Woolgoolga at age 14. This transient life fostered my creativity more than anything; it is a coping mechanism and it manifested in arts, hobbies and baking.
After studying archaeology, you then went and worked out west … But still, your creativity ached for you to make and decorate cakes on the side. At what moment did you think, “I must quit archaeology and pursue this”?
I never quit archaeology, because I never really started. After my Honours year of archaeology and writing my thesis, I was burnt out; finally the stress and long hours of study and lab analysis caught up with me, and I was casually making cakes on the side to help with rent. So I moved to Karratha for a new adventure with my now husband, Jack, to get my mojo back. While I worked full-time at an industrial supplies company, Blackwoods, I ran my cake business, The Sugar Kitchen, from home and realised how much I loved it. I would work from 7am – 4pm at Blackwoods and bake and decorate until late at night; I was learning as I went and it was kind of hectic, but in the best way!
I still have a passion for ancient history and archaeology and I am very proud of my First Class Honours thesis; I have a feeling we will meet again, when I am ready to dive back in with gusto.
You then went on where you were formally trained by Planet Cake Sydney, where you also became a facilitator and teacher. What did you learn during that period of your life?
Yes, my life took another turn when I was chosen as an intern at Planet Cake. So we packed up Helga (our 100 series Land Crusier) and drove from Karratha to Sydney, sleeping in our swag, stopping in at gourmet specialty stores along the way; Australia is so beautiful!
The fabulous thing about Sydney is that it is such a hub for cake artistry. It is where the boutique cake decorating market started in Australia. My time at Planet Cake was an eye opener and helped me take my cake decorating skills and knowledge to the next level. Working with incredible artists such an Anna Maria and Ritzy Roo taught me so much about specific cake decorating techniques, such as airbrushing and royal icing embroidery. I was honoured to be given the opportunity to pass on my knowledge and give students a hands-on lesson on cake decorating.
Teaching and facilitating was a wonderful experience; students are so eager to learn about cakes! It was always a joyful, chocolate-fuelled classroom!
From there, I was offered a position as a cake artist at Celebration Cakes Sydney, and that is when all my past learning came into play. Planet Cake is a boutique business, and I was required to only cover about six cake tiers a week. That all changed at Celebration Cakes! I was covering on average 30 tiers a week, sometimes 50! I learnt so much about teamwork and efficiency from Celebration Cakes Sydney owner Andrew Hill and the head decorator Kim Watt, who is an amazing decorator and a wonderful mentor.
You have also won many awards; what do accolades teach you?
Coming Runner Up at the Sydney Cake, Bake and Sweets Show was very rewarding, but the best part of the experience was designing and making a cake that I envisioned. It was inspired by J.K. Rowling’s book The Tales of Beedle the Bard. I love one of the judge’s comments: “Dark and mysterious, yet striking”. Creativity can really thrive when you push yourself for a specific goal such as a competition; it keeps that fire burning.
Finally, you have decided to move home to the Coffs Coast, where you are focusing purely on your creative side.
What types of cakes do you make, and why is it important to use the best quality ingredients, including organic eggs?
The Coffs Coast was always going to be home. I have travelled and lived all over this country, and the Coffs Coast has so many things that I love. There is the climate, the beach, the people, and now I have my cake business!
I want my clients to indulge with my cakes. They are delicious art! I use free range eggs (straight off the farm), organic ingredients where possible and the best quality chocolate. I eat chocolate every day, and I only want the good stuff for me and my cakes! Because I don’t like chocolate … I love it.
You specialise in wedding and novelty cakes, cup cakes and cookies – what is the craziest thing you’ve made for someone?
It is a long list! During my career so far I have seen a wide variety of crazy cakes go to clients. From pet cat cake replicas for weddings (eating your cat on your wedding doesn’t scream romance), a cake with a water birth as a topper (this one is imprinted on my brain – rather funny, yet gross) and hen’s night cakes are always a laugh, but I will leave that to your imagination …
Where do you cook? Do you have a commercial kitchen, or do you cook at home?
At the moment I am cooking from home, but I am in the process of setting up my specialised cake kitchen!
What is the process of cooking a cake? How long does the process take?
I only use mud cake, so baking time is around 1-2 hours depending on size, and my gluten free cakes take longer because of the almond meal. But it is worth the wait, there is nothing better than the smell and taste of freshly baked mud cake! Mud cake is also much easier to sculpt for all my novelty cakes.
Have you ever considered entering in television competitions such as Bake Off?
There was an opportunity to go to the trials, and I did consider it, but my passion is in the art of decorating. When I bake and cook, it is with pleasure and I take my time. I think sometimes all these shows dramatise it a bit. Bake a cake and take your time, follow the recipe and enjoy it.
To contact Samantha, visit her Facebook page: www.facebook.com/pages/The-Sugar-Kitchen-Cakes-Cupcakes-and-Cookies