In 2009, then-architect Carolina Montoya was let go due to downsizing. To make matters worse, her husband Fernando, also an architect, was let go as well. Facing the uncertainty of job loss in a time of economic crisis, the two were faced with the question so many have had to answer in recent years: What now? The answer to this question came from a blending of Carolina’s two loves, architecture and baking.
Nearly four years later, Carolina and Fernando have risen above the setbacks and disappointment of their earlier job losses and have found success in running their own business, UNIQUE Designer’s Cake. Their architecture skills are still put to use today, but instead of working on larger-than-life structures, the two create cakes that look too good and too real to actually eat.
Celebrating their success, which encompasses participating in Food Network’s Sugar Dome and three consecutive years of winning the annual Coral Gables Museum’s Gingerbread House competition, Carolina and Fernando have opened the doors to their first showroom in Miami. Before the Grand Opening Event on Friday, March 15, Carolina shared her joy, hopes, and dreams for the continued success of UNIQUE Designer’s Cake.
When you lost your architecture job in 2009, the time of the deepest construction crisis started, did you ever imagine that you would be a successful cake maker in the future?
I never imagined, truly not even in my wildest dreams, that in my life I would be baking and creating cakes! But it is amazing what a person can do when faced with troubling times. However, I knew somehow that this was my calling. I was even amazed at myself by the creativity that came from within that was always in my roots.
If you had to make a cake that symbolizes you and UNIQUE, what would the cake look like?
That cake would look like a multi-color building with various textures on each floor, symbolizing every stage of my life. Each floor would have different colors and texture finishes, signifying my life, the growth and transformation. And of course, on the penthouse would be a fabulous bakery studio filled with vibrant colors, very artsy and radiating nothing but fun!
What has been different than expected when you made the switch from architecture to cake making?
I would say that the grade of difficulty that it takes to create a cake and achieve exactly what we want. It is really funny to think; some people believe “the cake business is a piece of cake.” We switched from using acrylic and plastic materials, to sugar and food. The grade of difficulty to recreate a scale model, out of edible materials, is 10 times harder than trying to make it with the help of a laser machine and super sticky glue…Not to mention that the time to create it, is not even comparable since we have to make this happen in very short time in order to ensure our edible pieces are fresh!
What are your hopes for your showroom?
Our hope is to share this space and our passion, which we have built with love, with many people and integrate them into the industry in a fun way. Everyone is a baker at heart and this is why we will also be holding interactive baking parties, the perfect way for kids and adults to have a crafty celebration, from Baby Showers, to Birthday parties, to Bridal Showers and even Bachelorette celebrations. The host can choose from a variety of party packages. They all include a demonstration of various techniques, as well as decorating your very own cake, cupcakes, cookies or cake pops. These parties allow guests to be creative, have fun, roll up their sleeves and get a little messy!! And the best thing…they can eat their mistakes!!!
What has been your funnest cake to make?
We truly have fun creating most of our cakes, but when we had the opportunity to generate the replica of Villa Vecchia, it was a dream come true! A real mansion in a really large scale, with intrinsic detail and all edible pieces, that was truly amazing!! We used all of our architectural equipment and tools and we were able to incorporate all the architectural techniques possible, such as making our own silicone mold to pour the white chocolate balconies …using Photoshop prints in edible sugar sheets and creating gum paste palm trees…it does not get better than this!
What lessons has cake making taught you that can extend to other areas of life?
The most valuable lesson that I have learned is: If you are good at something, use it in life regardless of the medium or materials. The possibilities are endless; you have to look inside of you to create outside the box. The other lesson that I learned is that a cake brings smiles and happiness to people’s lives! Regardless of what they are living or what situation they are facing, a cake fills the room and generates memories for year’s to come.
What were your first cakes like?
My first cake was an iPod for my husband’s birthday! For that one, I was really experimenting how to work with edible materials and trying to figure out how they worked. It was a great try, but now, as you can imagine, my cakes look so different. It was a great first try and learned invaluable lessons from that experience.
What is the creative process like for each cake?
Clients come into the showroom with images, pictures and sometimes just an idea in their head! They convey their feelings and sometimes let us know their favorite colors. They pick their favorite flavor and voila! we begin the process. I sketch their thoughts into a piece of paper, then we begin the design and begin creating the structure. My husband and I discuss the various techniques, the structural design and we move forward with the baking, the decorating and placing the final touches.
What has been the most challenging cake request?
The most challenging cake request was by far the Sugar Dome Show challenge on the The Food Network. We had to recreate a cake that was 5ft. by 5ft. in 6 hours. I had to work with a team of people that I had never met or worked with before. Especially when one member was a sugar artist and the other one was a sand sculptor. They had not worked with edible, food products before and mostly, the sand sculptor whose work is totally unrelated to food! The theme was Gladiators. I know everyone has the ability to adapt to situations, however, when under the microscope in front of TV Cameras the pressure is truly on! Fortunately we completed the challenge, finished the cake and I was very impressed and proud of the piece we had created in such a short time.
What advice do you have for other aspiring cake makers?
“If you think you are good at what you do and if you know you are passionate…go for it!!!! Nothing will stop you.”
In addition to cakes, UNIQUE Designer’s Cake also makes cupcakes, cake pops, and cookies. For more about UNIQUE Designer’s Cake please visit their website, Facebook page, or call (786) 351-4276. UNIQUE Designer’s Cake’s is located at 69 NW 9th Street in Miami.
Stephanie Diaz is the writer behind Confessions of a City Eater. For more on baking visit Confessions of a City Eater or send your emails to email@example.com.