Inspired baking, an interview with cake maker Stephanie Nixon
How did you become interested in your creative practice?
I began baking in Korea. It’s actually a funny story. After I had been here a year, I went back home for a visit. I was rooting around in my grandparents’ garage and saw a convection oven that looked as if it had never been used. I asked them if I could take it back to Korea with me. After my grandparents bickered a bit about if my grandmother had ever even used it, they said yes. I brought it back and immediately started experimenting. Cooking and baking have been a passion of mine since then and with the encouragement of family and friends, I have kept going with it. I have finally found something that I love and it’s such a good feeling.
How have you made it financially possible to focus on this?
Well, I have a full-time job, so I am able to financially support my hobby. Also, sometimes I sell my cakes and baked goods.
Where do you find your ideas?
Oftentimes, ideas find me. Someone will ask me if I can make a certain cake or dish and they already have an idea in mind. I usually adapt it and give it my own flair. My friend always introduces me to recipes that he has made or that he remembers his parents making and says, “Here it is, I know you’ll make it better.” I don’t consider myself a very creative person so most everything that I create is an adaptation of a recipe or design I have seen. I have recently started appropriating ingredients that I know work well together in other recipes, combining them, and hoping for the best.
It’s interesting that you don’t consider yourself very creative and I beg to differ. I think of creativity as having a lot to do with working hard to cultivate our skills and coming up with new ways to use them. It looks like you are doing that.
What if you’re making something new–how do you decide if an idea for a recipe is viable? Do you act on all your ideas?
I watch a lot of cooking and baking videos online and have read so many cookbooks that explain why certain ingredients are added to a recipe. After a while you begin to just know what will work and what won’t; after all, cooking and baking are quite scientific processes. I wouldn’t say that I act on all of my ideas, but I do like trying new things, so when I have the time, I certainly try.
What challenges have you faced in your creative work?
It’s difficult to come by certain ingredients because I live in Jeju, South Korea and it’s sometimes difficult to try new things. For example, I would really like to start working with fondant, a type of icing commonly used to decorate cakes, but it’s extremely difficult to make and obtain ingredients for. Most professional bakers who use fondant buy it pre-made in tubs, but that’s not yet possible in Korea. One day, I will make enough time to learn to make it from scratch, but I have put it on the back burner for now.
Do you think your clients want different things than clients you might have in the US?
No. I think they want the same thing, but there aren’t any places in my area that can make customizable cakes. Because of this, I have a huge advantage in the cake market here. The same can be said about the savory food I make.
What are you working on currently?
Currently, my priority has been creating a business plan and building up a client base. I am also working on new techniques, like gum paste flowers and figures. I dedicate my free time to watching YouTube tutorials and learn something new about caking every day. One thing that I’ve learned about cake making is that there are endless possibilities and I have found inspiration in literally everything around me and seeing what others are able to do only solidifies the idea that there are no limitations in this medium.
Do you think artists/artisans should starve? (I.e. inherently?)
Absolutely not. One of my best friends is a visual artist and I oftentimes think it’s sad that it would be extremely difficult for him to make a living by his art, something that he’s so passionate about and does very well. I feel more fortunate in that I create food, something that people need to live and are more willing to pay for.
Korea is a poop-obsessed place.
Have you ever reached an impasse where you thought your creative work had become impossible? What changed your mind?
I don’t think anything is impossible with the vast amount of knowledge available at our fingertips. Some things are definitely more challenging than others; it’s just about how far you’re willing to take it and how hard you’re willing to work.
How can people view and stay up-to-date with your creative work?
Instagram, for sure. I always post my projects there. I will someday have an Instagram page dedicated solely to my cakes, but I have yet to come up with a good business name. Have an idea? Please send it my way.
(Or leave it in the comments below.)
Are there any ideas you wish you had time to act on but haven’t yet? Do you think it will become possible in the future?
Sure, I have plenty of ideas and things that I have wanted to act on for a long time. My ultimate goal is to own a restaurant or bakery here in Korea. After 6 years of living here in Korea, I finally obtained a residence visa that allows me to own a business, so I’ve been working on a plan for that and slowly building up a client base. Juggling business preparations, work, and personal commitments is difficult and often overwhelming, but I know that it will pay off when I am finally able to cook, bake, and create full time.
Tell us something we don’t know about you yet:
I’ll tell you two things. I am a perfectionist when it comes to cooking and baking, especially cake decorating. If you’ve gotten a cake from me, I most definitely tried the script at least ten times before I put it on the cake.
My favorite thing in my kitchen and something I now could not live without is my Kitchen Aid Mixer. My girlfriends gave it to me as a wedding present and it has changed my life!
Stephanie Nixon is a self-taught cook and baker. Stephanie discovered her love for the culinary arts shortly after moving to Jeju Island, South Korea from North Carolina in 2010. Since then, she has decorated and sold custom cakes, held successful pop-up restaurants around town, and even catered 300 person events. When Stephanie is not teaching English as a second language to elementary students, she is listening to Taylor Swift, laying on one of Jeju’s scenic beaches, reading culinary books or watching her favorite cooking shows.
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