Pastries, those impishly delicious, often gooey desserts we love, have a rich history. A recipe for stewed fruit, wrapped in dough, appeared in a cookbook available in the Middle East 5000 years ago. Sweet cakes ended the finest meals in Egypt, where the difference between a baker and a pastry chef was well-known 4000 years ago. Medieval Crusaders returned with decadent pastry recipes, quickly adopted in the castle kitchens of Europe.
Renaissance chefs, catering to royalty and elites, perfected new pastries: choux, a hot-water paste with eggs, puff pastries and brioche, small circular cakes. Marie Antoinette said, “Let them east brioche.” In the early 1800s, Antonin Careme, with artistic flair, raised French pastry to an art form.
Box stores and bodegas, today, sell millions of modern pastries. A modern pastry is flour, much sugar, some fruit, chocolate or caramel and air, served in a plastic bag. Long gone is any sense of pastry aesthetics.
Tiffany Jones, above, of Peridot Sweets, leads a drive to bring back the ecstasy of pastry through her enchanting and charming art form, her aesthetics and wickedly sinful tastes. The current spate of television shows, hosted by chefs “make baking pastries seem easy,” says Jones. “It takes up to ten hours to bake a four-tier wedding cake, not 42 minutes, plus commercials, as you see on television.”
Jones attended culinary school: “You can’t get an interview for an hourly wage job in a big hotel,” she says, “without it.” She worked Four Seasons Hotels, where she cut her teeth on wedding cakes. At the Mirage Hotel and Casino, in Las Vegas, she learned pastries and speciality cakes from Andrew Economon. “I was lucky to get top-notch, on-the-job experience,” she says.
“Staging or presentation,” says Jones, “is as important as is baking; pastries must look good enough to eat.” The Peridot Sweets website, which includes generous advice for home bakers, confirms her claim. There's a siren’s temptation to reach into the screen for one of the cakes, cookies or chocolates shown.
Martha Stewart is an inspiration. “I don’t care much for her recipes,” says Jones. “Her seven-minute frosting wasn’t too good. Her staging, in ‘Living Magazine,’ is the best.”
Tiffany Jones is the multitasker of all multitaskers. As we talked, she was dealing with a realtor, taking care of seven-month-old daughter, Jovi, and baking. Her style is intelligent, ambitious and determined, thus ensuring her company, Peridot Sweets, succeeds.
Peridot Sweets thrives on-line. An eponymously brick and mortar restaurant opens, in Las Vegas, in June 2013. The grand opening is in August 2013, “I want every part of Peridot Sweets running smoothly, at peak performance, before I tell the world we’re here.”
Jones is enthusiastic and untiring. In this interview, she offers practical advice to home bakers. She describes how she set up her on-line business and grew it, using social media and referrals, to the point she can open a new brick and mortar restaurant, in Las Vegas. She talks of balancing business, parenthood, marriage and much more.
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Grub Street (GS) What’s hot in desserts, today?
Tiffany Jones (TJ) For a long time, cupcakes were tops. Some event planners now think the cupcake is over. I don’t know if cupcakes will ever be out.
I think the trend for cupcakes instead of wedding cakes is likely over. Cupcakes are a good alternative, if you want a small display for photographs and such, but you can’t feed the guests cupcakes. For that, you need sheet cakes.
I find, with parties for kids, it’s almost easier and better to order cupcakes. These cakes don’t need cutting or plates, a napkin, maybe. All kids want to do is race around.
As for cupcakes being as popular as wedding cakes, I think not. Those days are gone, for now. Still, I don’t think cupcakes will ever go away.
GS I read whoopee pies are popular.
TJ Besides cake pops, doughnuts are a new favourite, too. I just received the newest issue of a food and wine magazine. There are articles about making your own doughnuts. I know that’s an up and coming trend; doughnut shops are everywhere and food trucks.
GS Do you sense any pressure to make your own doughnuts.
TJ No, I get by fine with normal, classic desserts. As for faddish desserts, someone e-mailed me about marshmallow fondant. I didn’t understand, but discovered the idea was all over Pinterest.
I guess the idea is to heat a bag of mini-marshmallows, knead in much powdered sugar and eventually get a marshmallow fondant. I told the woman, who inquired, I don't make my own fondant.
Still, the marshmallow fondant fad is huge. I get e-mails, with photographs of the insides of cakes, which is crazy. When you cut into the cake, the inside is a rainbow, zebra or cheetah print and so on, all made of marshmallow.
I wouldn’t mind trying a cheetah print inside a cake. I think it looks cool. Maybe, I will, when I get a moment.
Other than that, I don’t find much pressure to make whoopee pies. I can make them and do. It is merely cake batter piped, instead of scooped, into a cup. If a customer asks, I will make whoopee pies. There’s no need for us to make such items to promote Peridot Sweets.
I should mention that bacon is big, these days, among lovers of sweets. I make a maple bacon cake, caramel bacon and so forth.
GS How do you prepare the bacon?
TJ When baking, make sure the bacon is as crisp as possible; I caramelize it, with sugar, until it almost shards. You want the bacon to be as crisp as possible. Then chop it up.
If the bacon goes into the cake batter, I chop it as finely as possible and work the bacon into the wet batter. When you cut the cake, you want a clean cut. I made the mistake, once, of leaving bigger chunks, of bacon, in the batter; it ripped the cake. I didn’t like that, so I make it as fine as possible for inside, now.
If the bacon is part of the frosting for a cupcake, chunkier is better. Then people can know they’re eating bacon. So, for batter, finely chop the bacon; for a topping, chunks are best, but always as crispy as possible.
GS You own Peridot Sweets, an on-line company.
TJ Yes, Peridot, a lime-green gemstone, is my August birthstone. I used “Sweets,” instead of “Cakes,” because it’s a general word. My business name doesn’t limit what I do, to say, desserts.
It’s an unusual word, Peridot. My mom warned me about using an unfamiliar word. I guess Peridot might throw some people, at first, anyway.
GS What other goodies do you create at Peridot Sweets?
TJ For now, chocolates are the only non-desserts we make. The storefront opens June 2013. Then we’ll add breakfast pastries, such as croissants.
GS How long have you been in business, on-line?
TJ Technically, I have been in business for a year and a half.
GS Did you go to culinary school.
TJ Yes, before I started the company, I decided to go to culinary school. In 2004, I attended the California Culinary Academy, a Cordon Bleu school, in San Francisco. Pastry was the only area of cooking I studied.
GS Why did you pick San Francisco?
TJ Honestly, I loved the city. My choices were a Cordon Bleu in Pasadena or San Francisco.
I had an itch, when I was in my early twenties, to leave San Diego. My scratch was to live somewhere different. San Francisco was about as different as possible.
I wanted a change of scenery. Mostly, I wanted to get away from my hometown. I also thought San Francisco had higher esteem than did San Diego.
GS Esteem is in the eye of the beholder.
TJ That’s true. Even though the school, in San Francisco, was Cordon Bleu, it had a different name, the California Culinary Academy (CCA). I thought it was cool.
I had a measured outlook, for a young person, I wasn’t going to Europe or the Culinary Institute of American (CIA), in New York City. The west coast was for me.
GS Is culinary school expensive.
TJ Yes, but I went to culinary school blindly. I didn’t think about work, a job or income. I figured I would find a way to make money, re-pay my school loans and did.
GS Some events seem predestined.
TJ Yes, I think so; I was 21-years-old. I didn’t consider the future, much. Looking back, I don’t think I would be where I am, today, without CCA. I wouldn’t land an interview for a union kitchen job, with a casino, say, without culinary school; that’s for sure.
Culinary school was a worthwhile investment. There’s no assurance of a top job, only, maybe, minimum-wage kitchen work. Yet, it helped me earn enough money to pay off the loans and keep moving forward.
GS This led to you buying a motorcycle.
TJ Yes, for financial reasons I drove a motorcycle. Parking in San Francisco is expensive. The fellow, who owned the apartment building where I lived, said it would cost $350, a month, to park a car.
Then he said I could park a motorcycle for no charge. I bought a motorcycle for less than the monthly cost to park a car. I took riding lessons.
GS What make of motorcycle did you ride?
TJ I bought a Honda Shadow, the poor-person’s Harley Davidson. The Shadow was a cruiser, 600 cc, a nice bike. It’s an honest-to-goodness motorcycle, not a moped.
GS You don’t seem the motorcycle type.
TJ Outwardly, no, I don’t appear as a motorcycle person. Blame the fellow who owned the apartment building where I lived. If I could park a bike, at no charge, I would drive a motor bike.
GS Do you still ride a motorcycle?
TJ I don’t own one right now, but I have an M-class license for one, yes. I owned a motorcycle for about three years. For two of those years, it was my only way of getting around.
GS There’s much to learn about pastries.
TJ CCA involved much more than cakes. There wasn’t as much exposure to cakes and pastries, as I hoped. Cake decoration took up roughly a week, maybe ten days. I learned how to make batter, such as Genoise, a light yellow cake made with eggs and butter, as well as many different types of older European-style cakes. I also had six weeks of breads, six weeks of chocolate and so forth.
The general introduction I received at CCA got me interviews. I had to put that introduction to work. On-the-job, at Four Seasons, for example, I learned how to make cakes.
GS You didn’t learn decorating in culinary school.
TJ Some decorating, but it’s not as much the focus, as I hoped. At CCA, I learned classic decorating. It was old-fashion, in a way, rosettes and leaves. I only did one fondant at CCA.
GS Did the curriculum, at CCA, surprise you.
TJ I never thought about it. I don’t know if it’s because I went to culinary school eight years ago, when there weren’t nearly as many of cooking shows on television. Everyone wants to work as a chef, today; television makes it seem too easy.
I don’t know if the curriculum has changed. When I graduated, I knew the basics, which was enough to land an interview. Then I had to learn everything on my own or watch someone that knew how to bake pastries.
GS Did you consider savory.
TJ No, I did not. I have no interest in smelling like onions or garlic and all those good odours. I would rather smell like chocolate and caramel.
GS Your sweet tooth dominates.
TJ Yes, that’s how I got into pastry. My mom is Pilipino. She never baked at home. I always like to eat sweets. I always wanted cakes or pastries.
I would go to my paternal grandma. She was big on baking. She would always bake our birthday cakes.
As a child, I asked my father to buy me brownie or cake mix. I was naturally meticulous, a control freak about baking. When cooking, you can guess how much of an ingredient to add or add mostly whatever you wish, as it’s creative. Baking is almost scientific; I need to follow the recipe, closely.
GS Baking is creative.
TJ Most definitely, my first job out of culinary school was at the Four Seasons Hotel, in Vegas. I researched the hotel. I discovered I was working for a high-end hotel.
GS How did you find the job at the Four Seasons?
TJ On my own: I applied, got an interview and the Four Seasons hired me. At the time, pastry at CCA didn’t call for an internship to graduate. On the savory side, students needed a three-month internship to graduate; it’s easier to find a job, if you do an internship.
I started applying, everywhere. The Ritz Carlton, in Half-moon Bay, offered me a job. Half-moon Bay is forty-five minutes from San Francisco. I was driving a motorcycle, the roads to that job were winding and there was much rain. There was no way I could make the trek to work and back, six days a week.
My choices were to move to Half-moon Bay or decline the job. I wanted to be back in Southern California. I refocused my job search.
Back home, in San Diego, I worked the Hotel Del Coronado and a small retail bakery, “Heaven Sent Desserts.” I spent a year working at Four Seasons Hotels, in California. Then I transferred to Las Vegas, where I spent three years. Finally, I worked the Mirage Hotel and Casino, in Las Vegas, as assistant pastry chef.
GS What’s it like to work in a big casino.
TJ Before I worked the Mirage, I worked for Four Seasons. It has smaller hotels, about four hundred rooms. Thus, we had a smaller pastry team.
When I went to work at a big the Mirage, there was a huge staff; I was management. It’s crazy. There’s such a difference between management and the hourly workers. The hourly employees are all unionized.
Union pay is good. Where else does someone earn twenty dollars an hour to bake cookies, which sometimes come out of a box? As union workers, they get a one-hour lunch break, many benefits and great protection. This is good, of course, but if too many kitchen workers call in sick, say, management must cover their shifts.
My sense is the hourly employees have it much easier. The pay is reliable. Hourly workers can have a life away from the job; work seven hours and forget the job.
Management is stressful. We had benefits, of course, but work hours were erratic. Twelve-hour days are common for management at the Mirage. Management was on-call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, including days off.
As I understand, today, applicants need at least culinary school to land an interview for a unionized kitchen job, most anywhere. Such jobs are hard to find in Las Vegas. If anyone is lucky enough to get a unionized kitchen job, in Las Vegas, she or he holds on to it, tightly.
GS A kitchen worker needs culinary school.
TJ Yes, from what I saw, as part of part of a hiring team. It’s hard to get an interview if you don’t have a culinary school, on your resume. Maybe a great deal of on-the-job experience would suffice.
There’s much competition for such jobs. Employers need a way to filter applicants. Culinary school is one filter.
GS Peridot Sweets is your first business. What have you learned from setting up a business?
TJ I sensed this before I started. I’m sure now. Love what you do and believe in yourself.
I am not a businessperson. I’m a baker. I love baking.
GS This is why Peridot Sweets will succeed.
TJ I hope so. I dove into Peridot Sweets, without any idea of what to expect. I read the Nevada and Las Vegas laws about running a bakery. That was about all I did.
GS Why did you start Peridot Sweets?
TJ I think every chef has a wish to own his or her business, a restaurant or bakery. I can’t think of a chef that doesn’t share my urge to own, to control her or his work product. Only a chef who is wealthy, say, or happy working for someone else doesn’t crave for his or her own restaurant.
I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know where to start. I was a pastry chef.
GS Any quick advice for the new-be?
For anyone thinking about starting a business, I say, do as much research as possible. I made one advertising mistake by not researching. I paid for six months of advertising. I did not get one order.
GS Where did you advertise?
TJ I bought advertising on an inside page of the Las Vegas CBS-TV affiliate web site. It was a local news page. I was so naïve. I thought the connection was obvious, local news, local services; everybody likes fancy cakes and desserts.
My friend, Juliet Douglas, said she had made the same mistake, advertising to an audience that isn’t wedding industry specific. She said not to spend money on advertising, just do social media. Now, I listen to her.
GS I guess you don’t advertise on web sites anymore.
TJ No, I do not advertise, anymore, at all. I find social media most helpful. I get most of my business from Facebook.
GS Have you tried bridal shows to attract industry trade?
TJ No, I haven’t done a bridal show, yet, which is an industry specific event. I’m interest in talking to others that are active in the wedding industry, a photographer or florist, say. I need to find out if bridal shows help.
Bridal shows are costly, there’s a heavy investment in effort and money for a booth. I’m considering a smaller show, with fewer booths and fewer brides, shopping. I don’t think it’ll overwhelm me.
I have a great website, which is important. My baking creations display, tastefully, appetizingly. A boutique bakery, such as Peridot Sweets, grows on the website.
Peridot Sweets has a good web presence. Most of my business, though, is via word-of-mouth. Many customers find me on-line, but most of my business, for now, is referral.
As I’m the only employee, of Peridot Sweets, time management is important. Also, as I said, I’m not a businessperson; I’m a baker. I must move slowly, for now, as I’m not sure what I’m doing.
GS Any start-up mishaps come to mind.
TJ Only one is worth mentioning; it had nothing to do with cooking. This mix-up happened shortly after I opened the business. A woman thought she placed an order, but didn’t.
She ordered a huge Mickey Mouse cake for the second birthday of her son. What she did was give me her information. She didn’t confirm.
On the day of her party, she called, asking, “Where is my cake?”
I said, “You never ordered it.”
She said, “No, I did order it.”
We went back and forth for a while. She made me feel as if I was crazy. I checked through my e-mails.
Sure enough, in my last email to her, I said, “Please confirm and payment will be due two days in advance.”
Obviously, this was a big deal for her. I felt I had to do something. Fortunately, my sister-in-law, who loves to bake, was visiting from out of town.
I rushed home from lunch. Together, we make the cake out of my home kitchen. We salvaged the day for this customer.
GS What types of desserts are you making at Peridot Sweets?
TJ Very American style, sweet, but not too sweet. Rich when the recipe calls to be rich, as with chocolate. Mostly, moderately sweet cakes, cupcakes, chocolates and so on.
GS It’s not as if you have one cake, you make a wide variety of cakes.
TJ When I was working at the Mirage Hotel and Casino, I remember the food director, Andrew Economon, my boss, said, “Tiffany, you know what I think would be good and easy to make: a homemade ‘Twix™.’”
That’s what I did. I prepared a homemade Twix™. It came out delicious. I’ve been making Twix™ cakes since then. I make my own “Snickers™” bars, too.
GS I wonder if there’s a trademark violation.
TJ “Snickers™” are my favourite, “Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups™,” too. I try to transform such confections into a gourmet candy. Snickers™ bars are popular.
GS I get the impression that baking specialty desserts is time consuming.
TJ The pressure is relentless, I do almost everything myself; I make the cakes look perfect. On-time delivery is often a headache.
A four-tier cake, finished, as I ride the back of a truck, is nerve wracking. Clients sometimes get the idea I make specialty cakes, perfectly, in an instant. When I guest, say, on “Cake Boss,” as I did with Everett Williams, of the Mirage Hotel and Casino, it appears I can whip up a cake in two hours.
It’s more involved than you see on a time-condensed television show. It takes, I guess, about two hours to make a simple, one tier, its fillings, frosting and decorating, with simple butter cream. A three-tier likely takes from six to ten hours or more, depending on complexity.
GS Where to do you usually bake?
TJ To be a legitimate food business, in Las Vegas, NV, where I live, I must work out of a commercial kitchen. The city Health Department must certify the kitchen. The last minute baking, done in my home, skirted the law, a bit, and only once.
Las Vegas has an alternative to owning a bakery. I can rent space from a certified bakery, when the bakery isn’t up and running. If a bakery shuts down from 6 am to 5 pm, daily, I rent it for those eleven hours. This is what I do.
I work out of a great kitchen in the China Town section of Las Vegas. Bob Chang owns the bakery I rent. I share his accounts for flour, butter, sugar and other general ingredients. I have my own accounts for specialty items that Chang doesn’t often use, such as chocolate.
GS Seems a nice arrangement.
TJ It is. Bob Chang is great. As long as I was selling on-line and through word-of-mouth, this was an ideal arrangement.
GS Are you considering getting a store, at some point?
TJ I am. In fact, I found a good location, at the intersection of Rainbow Boulevard and West Sunset Road, here in Las Vegas. I went back and forth, working with a realtor, to find the right space; it took time.
There are major costs in getting a bakery going or any restaurant, as opposed to just office space. The city Health Department has a ton of rules. This is no surprise, when you’re dealing with food; the surfaces, walls and floors must be pristine clean and hygienic.
Every inch of the bakery must be up to code, no slacking. There’s a giant construction bill, if you start from scratch, which I did. Top of the line equipment is costly; an oven can cost ten-to-twenty thousand dollars.
GS When do you expect to open?
TJ June 2013 the brick and mortar bakery opens. I want to make sure Peridot Sweets is fully up and running before having a grand opening. The plan is for a grand opening around the middle of August.
GS What was the cost of opening the storefront Peridot Sweets?
TB I believe around eighty thousand dollars. That number includes six months to a year of running costs, with a small, but growing, cash flow. I feel I’m walking a tightrope.
GS Your work is artistic.
TJ I always had an interest in drawing and art. During the summers and in class, when bored, I doodled. I know that sounds silly, but if I were to go back and look at drawings from when I was around eight-years-old, I could draw Disney pictures exactly how I saw them.
I think I’ve always been good controlling my hands. I’m good with fonts and writing, in different ways. I don’t know where I got the inspiration or talent. I just remember drawing a lot as a kid.
GS You’re meticulous in plating, staging and photographing the final product, as shown on your website.
TJ As far as the photographs and such, I have firm control. Staging photographs is important. Looking through “Living Magazine,” for example, the photographs attract me; each one is clean and bright.
Martha Stewart is my inspiration, especially for the clean, bright staging for photographs. She authors my favourite cookbooks. Her photographic presentation of her work is exceptional.
There’s a blog, “Joy of the Baking,” run by Stephanie Jaworski. The photography on this blog is much as in “Living Magazine.” Jaworski knows how to photograph cakes. I thus decided I needed a good camera.
Sometimes, when I work a wedding or a kid’s party, the organizer hires a knowledgeable, experienced photographer. I make sure she or he takes top quality shots of my product. Then, I post these photographs on my website.
GS The photographs on your website feature lavish decoration.
TJ Today, using the website, Pinterest.com, everyone is a party planner. Lavish is expected. People compete for the best theme parties. They have so many choices on the web.
Everything they might need, tags, matching themes of chalkboards, details and loot bags, for example, is available on the web, often with next day delivery. There’s so much information, so many choices, on websites, such as Etsy. I think many people can do it for themselves.
I own about twenty cake stands and other platters that I rent. I’m not alone renting such equipment; there’s much choice. When someone rents stands or platters from me, I usually help set up the event location. I want to ensure the arrangement is coherent and doesn’t reflect poorly on Peridot Sweets.
If hired to help with the event, I set up the displays, restock cakes or cookies as needed. Sometimes, when I’m a guest, my work gets the better of me. I bring a special cake or do the dessert station. It's difficult for business and pleasure not to overlap.
Not long ago, I attended a wedding, in Los Angeles, as a guest. I travelled from Las Vegas, with a special cake and the entire dessert station. After the ceremony, as guests entered the reception room, they rushed for my cake and desserts, not the meal.
I also had a candy station, at this wedding. Candy stations are hugely popular, today. I hand out the candy in cellophane bags.
GS Adult loot bags, I would think.
TJ Yes, as I was trying to refill the candy bags, someone said, “Go get the bag off the candy station. That’s the good stuff.” People were taking fifteen or twenty pieces off the dessert station. Everything was gone in fifteen minutes.
It was a nightmare. I was a guest at this wedding. Luckily, I grabbed a box of cake, candies and desserts for the bride and groom. It was obvious, from the rush, the bridge and groom likely wouldn’t get any dessert and candy, as they would not arrive for another half an hour.
GS What are you making right now?
TJ It’s a vanilla cake for one of the tiers that I’m making for a weekend event.
GS What’s the theme?
TJ This is a Mickey Mouse theme party for a seven-year-old, using a standard Mickey Mouse. I’ve done many of the hot pink and zebra-print Minnie Mouse cakes, lately, but this customer wants a classic, red and black, white and yellow Mickey Mouse cake. She’s ordering a few desserts, as well.
GS Do you do many cakes for children?
TJ I do many events for children. I prefer weddings, though. Weddings are more fully planned, often far in advance. A kid’s party calls for much more variety, colours and so forth.
Cakes for kids are usually more intricate, with many colours, themes, characters. More work, in a way, more creative, in every way, but, sometimes, much easier. Many of the popular themes for events for kids involve a simple cake and design, such as the Mickey Mouse cake I’m making now.
Weddings are usually rather simple, as for design. People usually want more classic cakes and desserts, for their wedding. Usually, a wedding cake is one or two colours. Most people don’t go too crazy on their wedding cakes.
GS You make the most intricate wedding cakes, how do you remain price competitive.
TJ I try to stay in the price range of what a well-known bakery, in Las Vegas, might charge for the same design. I worked at Four Seasons. I have a good idea of what to charge for my wedding cakes.
Wedding cakes are many times more expensive than are cakes for an event for a child. Parents may need to feed twenty-five children and a few adults. A wedding serves one hundred and fifty people or more.
As well, a wedding is supposedly a once-in-lifetime event. Thus,it’s more lavish. The wedding cake is necessarily larger, many times the size of a cake for a child.
GS How do you build a lavish wedding cake?
TJ I never use a pearl silicone mold, as do many bakers. I roll everything by hand. As much as I can, I make wedding cakes from scratch.
I made my own wedding cake. I live in Las Vegas, but my wedding took place in Temecula, California, about half way between Los Angeles and San Diego. My wedding was a destination wedding, for me.
I used a Styrofoam dummy for my cake. I didn’t want to worry about a mishap when travelling with the cake. A cake, made of batter, might collapse, on a long car ride.
GS For your cake, you decorated the top with fondant, a thick melt or creamy sugar paste.
TJ Yes, I cut away part of the Styrofoam, in the back of one of the tiers. I put actual cake in there and covered it with the fondant. This allowed us to cut into it the cake for pictures. I’ve done the same for other brides too.
For the guests, at my wedding, I order a sheet cake, from a local bakery, in Temecula. This is always a good choice or back up.
GS If the cake wasn’t travelling, would you ever use Styrofoam?
TJ That depends on the event. Las Vegas has many destination weddings. Although some Vegas weddings are huge, most are not. The guest list often does not top thirty. In such cases, a Styrofoam cake, with one tier that’s real, is more than enough.
Still, the bride sees the online or magazine photographs, the television show and the possibilities. She wants a five-tier cake. The solution is making the bottom two or three tiers fake and top two tiers real cake.
It’s common for a bride to want a cake she saw in a magazine, say, but its size and cost don’t fit the budget or the number of guests. Again, I make mostly a fake cake, with fondant and one real tier. I cut a slice from that tier for the photographs.
The bride has a lovely cake, which makes her feel good. The cost per serving is reasonable and there’s little wastage. We serve guests from sheet cakes.
GS Much imagination or invention goes into your work.
TJ Yes, ready alternatives are always necessary.
GS You did pastries at the Four Seasons.
TJ Yes, I plated desserts for banquets. Then I learned a great deal about wedding cakes as well as special occasion cakes. My sense of aesthetics developed when I worked at Four Seasons.
My culinary education didn’t touch on aesthetics as much as I hoped. That I learned on the job. My time California Culinary Academy (CCA) gave me a solid foundation on which to build.
GS Do you watch television shows, such as “Ace of Cakes” or “Cake Boss”?
TJ Never, if I am watching television, I’m relaxing. I don’t want think about work, that is, pastries or cakes. I probably should watch cooking shows, but I don’t have much time.
I might learn something, if I watched such shows. I wonder, too, if I saw something on one of these shows, whether it might unintentionally worm its way into my work. Then someone might say I was cheating.
GS What you design, bake and decorate is all you.
TJ True, but not a relaxing pastime or thought for me. Work is work. Baking pastries, creatively, is hard work.
GS Which is your favourite, cakes or cupcakes?
TJ To eat, cakes for sure. Cupcakes, especially if from a retail bakery, have a huge pile of frosting. I do not like frosting that much. If I were to make a cake I enjoy, it would be a coffee cake, which doesn’t have frosting.
I enjoy genuine cake, that is, a dry cake. A small spread of frosting is okay. These over-iced cupcakes are not my favourite nor can I handle that much butter in one bite.
GS On your website, I think, you mention you don’t use vegetable shortening.
TJ When I studied at CCA, one of the classes was “Food Science.” I don’t remember the specifics about the chemistry of vegetable shortening, but, to me, it involved an unnatural procedure. It’s not for me.
I know vegan bakeries must use vegetable shortening. At CCA, I used it in many recipes, as it’s far less expensive than is butter. Yet, the grease sticks to you, even if wash your hands after handling vegetable shortening.
I can’t recall, exactly, but I believe the melting point of vegetable shortening is 150 degrees Fahrenheit. This depends on which vegetables you use to make the shortening. This is too hot for my liking.
The water in butter melts at approximately 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The fats probably melt around 115 degrees Fahrenheit. These temperatures seem reasonable, than 150 degrees Fahrenheit, to me.
My sense is it’s healthier to eat a food at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, that is, below body temperature. Our body reacts to overly hot food as if it is an attack; there’s a noticeable increase in white blood cells, for example. Intuitively, we prefer, enjoy, slightly cooler foods for good reason.
Science aside, I think vegetable shortening is gross.
GS Are you a health conscious baker.
TJ In a way, I guess. Everyone should be health conscious. Eating healthy doesn’t necessarily mean being a vegetarian or vegan. Once someone starts eating healthy, it’s difficult to go back.
For reasons of illness, such as diabetes, I might not use sugar. I think sugar is okay, if you don’t over use it. My sense is sugar substitutes are worse.
GS There’s also vegetable oil.
TJ Right, it bothers me. It doesn’t bother anybody else. I don’t know if other bakers or customers have a problem with vegetable oil, but hydrogenated oils are not for me.
High-end kitchens use Fluid Flex™, which is between liquid vegetable oil and vegetable shortening. In the container, Fluid Flex™ reminds me of liposuction. If an ingredient doesn’t look appetizing, as I’m using it, I stop using it.
GS Fluid Flex™ is a new one on me.
TJ Costco sells a great amount of Fluid Flex™. Maybe Wal-Mart sells it, too.
GS I looked Fluid Flex™ up, as we talked. “Café Central” readers agree with you. Are you using all butter or would you rather use oil.
TJ For cakes, I usually use oils, as far as the batter goes. From my own experimentation, I find oils stay moister, longer. Of course, I use butter in almost every filling and frosting.
GS Where do you get your recipes?
TJ My recipes are a huge jumble. Some come from where I worked. Some come from ideas in cookbooks I found. I can usually tell what I’m developing, that is, baking, will taste good. I change ingredients on the fly.
I am fortunate, for eight years I worked high-end kitchens, such as the Four Seasons. I also worked at a retail bakery. I tried every Red Velvet cake recipe written.
I’ve tried many different types of chocolate cake, vanilla cake and so forth. I stick with what I liked about some recipes and discard the rest. I pulled what I liked together into my recipes.
GS I guess you adjust recipes to suit your taste.
TJ Yes, I adjust every recipe I use. I know what works well, what tastes good to me. I adjust to fit my taste.
Every baker has a different pallet. Not everybody enjoys the same tastes. Those who like my pallet, the tastes I bake, return for more because they share my taste.
GS You mentioned “Living Magazine,” do you use recipes from Martha Stewart?
TJ Not much, when I followed her receipts, I often didn’t care for the results. For example, I didn’t like her seven-minute frosting. Mostly, I like the aesthetics, of the photographs, in “Living Magazine.”
GS Is there one baker that makes you think or say, “Oh gosh, he or she is remarkable.”
TJ I don’t think there is one specific baker. I can look at a recipe and know if I’ll like it or not. Dorie Greenspan has a good book, “Baking from My Home to Yours,” which I consult repeatedly. Her recipes always work, always taste good to me.
The most consistent pastry chef and author, I found, is Gale Gand. When I watched her, on Food Network, her desserts always made my mouth water. Yet, they weren't fussy or pretentious.
GS Is there a special recipe, a treat for you to make or eat, which comes to mind.
TJ That would be my chocolate chip cookie recipe. I tweaked it a bit from Wolfgang Puck, I think, or maybe Sherry Yard. She’s the main pastry chef for Puck, in Beverly Hills.
GS Do you like a crispy chocolate chip cookie or a soft chocolate chip cookie.
TJ My preference is crispy on the edges and soft in the middle.
GS Are party planners are important to Peridot Sweets.
TJ I was lucky. A friend, Juliet Douglass, I mentioned her earlier, was a room service coordinator at Four Seasons. Now she owns Green Orchid Events.
Juliet tried to get into catering at Four Seasons. There was never an opportunity for her. She and I kept in touch.
Then Juliet started working luxury weddings, in Las Vegas. She started a blog, where she wrote about wedding and party planning. In a year, Juliet was a star.
Juliet puts on networking events for the wedding industry in Las Vegas. I attended each of these events. I developed a great many contacts.
Some of these contacts used Peridot Sweets for their events. I don’t have the time or energy to knock on doors, trying to meet event planners, working for hotels, say, that out-source for cakes and desserts. The original contacts, made through Juliet, and, now, referrals and repeat customers, keep me going.
GS Do you sense you must blog to keep your business moving and growing?
TJ I feel the pressure to blog and keep up with social media. Still, I can’t keep up with all that blogging entails. I don’t have much computer-time between taking and baking orders as well as taking care of a seven-month old baby.
I now have an intern. He hasn’t started yet, but soon. The most I can do, on my own, is post photographs to my web site and Pinterest, which helps a great deal, as does Instagram.
GS Do customers find you through Instagram.
TJ Yes, I didn’t understand when I started with Instagram, about hash-tags. I thought, “What the heck is this? This is so dumb.” I would make meaningless hash-tags that were a mile long.
I didn’t know any better. I thought it was funny. I was making fun of the web site.
I didn’t realize you could click on a hash-tag and all the photographs other members had put these hash-tags on would show up. I started doing the hash-tags, correctly, and now I have many more followers simply from putting cake or birthday cake as a hash-tag.
GS A good hash-tag is more effective than six months of paid advertising.
TJ That seems the case, but I wouldn’t have guessed.
GS Every artist has a few good stories; what are your best ones.
TJ I think it was in 2005. Mitt Romney was having a birthday party, at the Four Seasons. I think it was a room full of three hundred politicians and their wives.
My colleagues and I made cupcakes for Romney; I think he likes cupcakes. The pastry chef wanted them red, white and blue. My co-worker put a ton of blue colouring into the icing, which made a royal blue cupcake, beautiful. We frosted the cupcakes. Our work done, we were about to make the delivery, when the pasty chief saw the trays.
In his heavy Franco-German accent, the pastry chef said, “What the fuck is this. You think we’re going to feed this blue icing to all of these politicians. They’ll go around looking and smiling at each other with blue teeth.” It was funny, but stressful: we had to reice three hundred cupcakes, in a hurry.
GS I would not have thought, but what a disaster in waiting.
TJ I was so green, at the time, a newcomer to the food industry. I didn’t think. Now, I think about it all the time, with black icing for Halloween and such.
It’s simple and scary. People have black and white weddings. They say they want black frosting for their cupcakes. I say, “You probably don’t want your guests walking around with black teeth.”
Such potential disasters are good learning experiences, especially as I look back. One time, at the Mirage Hotel and Casino, we made a cake for Terry Fator, the ventriloquist, impressionist and musician. Last minute rushes, in Las Vegas, often involve celebrities.
GS Who is Terry Fator.
TJ Fator won “America’s Got Talent,” a few years ago, and the million-dollar prize that goes with winning. He has a five-year, one hundred million dollar contract with the Mirage. He’s the entertainment centerpiece at the hotel.
GS Fator works a large room.
TJ Yes, “The Terry Fator Theater,” it’s the biggest room in the hotel. He fills it for most every show. The Mirage has a huge investment in him.
We had two days to make the cake for Fator. I was the assistant to the pastry chef, Everett Williams. He, Williams, hurt himself in the gym and was in hospital. I wondered if I’d get a chance to make the cake.
Management called me. “We need a birthday cake for the Fator show. Someone will wheel it on stage. It must be outstanding. It must be big enough the back seats can see it.”
GS What a great opportunity the Mirage handed you.
TJ Yes, the hotel was relying on me. This was a huge deal. Management didn’t know if I could do it.
I didn’t make many cakes at the Mirage. Mostly, the Mirage hosts corporative events, banquets or sales meetings. It does fewer weddings, than does the Four Seasons; this meant fewer cakes.
Everett Williams was good at cakes. We had collaborated. Taking over it was a thrill and a challenge. I was ready.
For the Fator cake, I made a giant replica of “Winston the Turtle,” one of the main characters in his act. Management said, “Make it out of Rice Crispy Treats™, no one is going to eat it.”
For two days, I was the go-to person. I made a three-foot tall turtle out of Rice Crispy Treats™. That was the first time I made anything using Rice Crispy Treats™.
It seemed easy. I molded the Treats together. I didn’t realize Treats don’t cool as fast as you would think. I sat a freezer, in the Mirage Hotel kitchen, working the cake and panicking. The deadline was nearing. The cake had to be perfect.
I worked nineteen hours a day, on that cake. The cake was fine, my anxiety was unnecessary. In the end, it was beautiful; we wheeled the cake on stage and it looked great, even from the back of the room.
GS I saw a photograph of you, with a humongous football player and a cake.
TJ That was Shaun Phillips, of the San Diego “Chargers.” At the time, I worked at “Heaven Sent Desserts,” a retail bakery in San Diego. Phillips ordered his birthday cakes from “Heaven Sent.” One year I made his cake.
Phillips wanted a poker table cake, with stacks of money bearing his face, not, say, Benjamin Franklin. What I did, for his vanity decorations, was to scan the image onto eatable cornstarch paper. Then I cut out the image, using the fondant to hold the cut out to the cake.
His birthday is 13 May. That year, it was especially warm in San Diego. We delivered this huge cake to his party was at the Hard Rock Hotel. We had to navigate the cake, into the hotel, through throngs of young women in bikinis, lined up around the block.
The “Chargers” hired a media company to record the birthday party, for promotional use. I interviewed standing beside Phillips and the cake. He’s a down-to-earth fellow. He asked me to stay for the party.
GS Did you stay.
TJ Yes, for a while, but it’s not my scene, at all.
GS How do you stay fit, working with pastries and cakes all day?
TJ Sometimes, when pastries replace meals, the calories are the same. I think that’s how I can get away with eating so many sweets. I eat meals, too, of course.
There are days when I’m too busy, too stressed. I forget to eat. The closest to a meal is a giant chocolate chip cookie. I probably eat more calorie-equivalent pastries than I should.
I think genes help. Owning a business and just being busy on my feet constantly helps a lot, too.
GS You starve, due to stress and then binge on desserts?
TJ Sometimes I do, but not every day. That would be unhealthy.
GS You just had a baby.
TJ Yes, her name is Jovi.
GS Is she named for “Bon Jovi.”
TJ No, but we do spell her name the same way. I’m not a much of a fan of that band. I can only name one or two “Bon Jovi” songs. I have no idea.
The idea behind “Jovi” is how much I love Christmas, especially the movies. My favourite Christmas movie is “Elf,” starring Will Ferrell; he portrays a character named Buddy. Jovi, portrayed by Zooey Deschanel, is the love interest of Buddy.
I got pregnant in October. My husband and I kept going back and forth over a name. We weren’t sure if we were having a girl or a boy, yet.
In December, we watched “Elf.” As we watched the movie, I said, “What about Jovi?” He said, “That’s cute.”
The Deschanel character spells its name with an “e,” at the end, Jovie. This is how I wanted to spell it. My husband, Jason Jones, thinks the name of every girl ends in “ie.” He said, “No, let’s just drop the ‘e’.” That’s where it comes from although it does look like Bon Jovi.
GS How did having Jovi affect Peridot Sweets?
TJ My original due date was 11 July, but it was changed to 4 July. They said I was too small. Then I had a high-risk ultrasound. The baby, in fact, was bigger than thought. My delivery date moved up a week to 4 July.
Believing my date by 11 July, I booked a wedding for 2 July as well as a show on 30 June. Two weeks, I thought, was no big deal. I didn’t realize that when you’re on your feet for twelve hours a day, labour might induce.
I had been busy until that point. I forget the day of the week. I knew the party was on 30 June, a Saturday.
On Wednesday night, I started thinking I was having contractions. I remembered the birthing class exercise, where it felt like menstrual cramps. Those were timid by comparison.
I kept watching the clock, thinking it’s not time for the baby. I have a couple more days. I need to get through 2 July. On Wednesday night, I knew the baby was coming.
GS Did I hear you correctly, you were having contractions and decorating a cake?
TJ Yes. I was filling the cake. I was trying to get through as much as possible. It was woman against nature.
I tried to finish the cake, as fast as I could. I had to pause as I frosted; the contractions were too much. I did as much of the cake as I could, stuck it in the freezer and called my husband to come home.
I had my baby the next day, Thursday 28 June 2012. I kept asking when I could go home. I had to be home by Friday night because the party was Saturday. All I could think about was I had to deliver a cake. I can’t let this client down.
The client had pre-paid. It was a difficult custom cake, due in a few hours. I thought my release would be Friday morning; I would almost have time. My release came at 3 pm Friday.
Release from a hospital doesn’t mean you leave; it’s when you stop paying. There was so much paper work, shots and so forth. I finally got home about 8 pm. I finished the cake, at home; there was no way I was going to the bakery. I was still on my feet at 3 am.
GS How do you balance Jovi and work?
TJ Chang, the owner of of the bakery I worked from, understands. Often, when I work, his wife is around; she likes to watch Jovi. I think it’s great that Jovi gets to learn a Chinese dialect. A standard delivery takes about half an hour; Mrs. Chang often watches Jovi.
When I deliver for a house party, no one minds if I bring Jovi; many clients and customers know of her and want to meet her. For weddings, I need to appear as business-like as possible. I take Jovi to the home of a friend; she watches her.
GS Of the cakes you make, what flavour do you like best.
TJ I would say I enjoy Spicy Aztec, a chocolate cake, filled with a dark chocolate chili cinnamon mousse. Not many people order it, but I like it most. Spicy Aztec doesn’t taste as chili, rather more as cinnamon chocolate mousse. Once you swallow it, you get the heat. I like that.
GS Spicy Aztec, the name compels, what are the ingredients?
TJ I use cayenne; it doesn’t add a savory flavor. Cayenne adds the heat, which is why I prefer it. I don’t use chipotle peppers or anything like that.
GS I notice people online saying, “I want to make my own wedding cake” or “I want to make my own fancy cake.” What baking tips do you offer home bakers? Maybe some tricks of the trade.
TJ If you don’t bake a great deal, don’t try to make your own wedding cake, unless you make a fake one. A wedding cake calls for many tiers or in-lays. It’s a huge project to take on, close to your wedding day.
If you’re a home baker, I assume you’re not buying your own icing. There are so many super-easy ways to make icings. Even butter, powdered sugar and vanilla taste good together. For me, it tastes better than the store-bought icing.
At home, I always leave two sticks of butter on the counter, at room temperature. Make sure you leave the butter somewhere safe and clean. Then you can make cookies, whenever you wish. You don’t have to wait for the butter to defrost. If you don’t happen to be using the butter sticks for baking, you can use it for toast and it spreads, easily.
Speaking of butter, the price of dairy is always rising and falling. I suggest buying butter when it’s on sale and freezing it. Butter lasts a long time in the freezer; defrosted, it works well and tastes good.
Always have cookie dough ready, portioned in scoops or a log, if you do slice and bake cookies. Whatever your favourite cookie, keep the dough in the freezer. You never know when someone will drop by or your sweet tooth craves cookies. You just pop it in the oven and have cookies ten minutes later.
Another item you can keep in the freezer is a dozen cupcakes, baked, but not frosted. Ditto for a loaf of banana bread or whatever little cakes you enjoy. Baked cake, of any sort, keeps well in a freezer. When you get a hankering, pull out the dough, let it thaw, cook and frost.
GS The dough thaws at room temperature.
TJ Yes, it thaws at room temperature. Often my husband doesn’t want to wait. He microwaves the dough. The frosting then melts as soon as you put it on.
I always keep prepared Ganache, which is heavy cream and chocolate that makes a filling or fudge covering for cakes. Ice cream and Ganache makes a good, rich, thick, fudgy sauce you can melt down to make extra special. If you have, say, chocolate-flavoured cupcakes, in the freezer, chop them up. Add them to any dessert, as a special treat.
You can whip Ganache, a bit. When you whip it, a little, it gets a firmer. You can pipe it onto your cupcakes.
Know what ingredients you use constantly. Keep these ingredients around, always. If something is on sale and you bake a lot, you know you’re going to use it, buy more.
Streamline your kitchen. Have a cabinet space only for baking ingredients. This way, you can find everything and know when your baking ingredients are low
GS Do your creations call for much flour.
TJ No, I don’t use much flour. I grind all-purpose flour a little more to get cake flour, that’s all. I use cake flour, interchangeably, with all-purpose flour. Make sure to sift the all-purpose flour, thoroughly.
GS Do you have a brand preference for flour?
TJ I don’t. I get the kind that my provider brings and sometimes the brand changes, based on what they can get. To be honest, I haven’t found much difference, among brands, for the same type of flour. I even use Wal-Mart flour, sometimes.
GS Do you sometimes fill your cart at Wal-Mart, for a cake?
TJ Yes, if it’s an emergency. Since I work out of a professional bakery, I’m usually using his flour or I have my own accounts, with certain providers, because I use special ingredients. The bakery I work out of doesn’t use fondant. I do. There are times when I’m out of flour or another ingredient I go to Costco.
There is only two or three, maybe four, Costcos, in Las Vegas. Not one is easily accessible. I go to Wal-Mart, Smiths, whichever is nearby, and load up.
The other day, I was in a pinch. I needed cream cheese. I had twenty pounds of cream cheese in my cart.
At the checkout, the clerk asked, “Do you bake a lot?” I said yes, because I don’t want to say, “I have a business.” If I said I owned a bakery, they’d ask, “Why are you buying your ingredients here?” There are times, yes.
GS Do people you know try to get you to make them specials cakes, at no charge.
TJ I do. It’s tricky. It’s a weird feeling. It used to bother me much more.
I can make unusual products, say, a three-tier, bubble guppies birthday cake. The fair price for that cake is $450.00. I feel bad, asking a friend for that much money. I tell them it’s a gift.
Then, I mull over it. I spent ten hours making a cake, when I could have bought one for $30.00 at Wal-Mart. Why am I giving them a cake, which costs fifteen times as much, as a gift? Am I that much of a friend?
If it makes my friend happy, it’s worth it, I guess. Still, as I make the cake, I think nobody would spend ten hours to make me something. I always feel that way.
True friends don’t ask me to make cakes or anything for them. They know what a specialty cake costs and the time that goes into it. They would never ask me to take on a task, such as that, at no charge.
I am growing confident and comfortable enough to ask friends about their budget, up front. I would never charge a good friend full price; it’s always at least half off, if not more than that. Most of the time, it’s good because they send me a thank you gift.
GS You have a time-consuming talent.
TJ Yes, as I said, I would rather just go to the store and buy something expensive to save time. In a way, I am between a rock and hard place, on this issue. I want to help my friends, but it can cause me some grief.
My talent is my livelihood. Pastry is not my hobby. I think many friends will bake for people because it’s their hobby and they love to it. Pastry is my business.
That’s not where my friends get their pay cheque. Pastry is where I get my only pay cheque. I’m paying for your cake that takes ten hours to creative. I hope you recognize that.
If I wasn’t baking your cake, free, I could be baking for a paying customer. I must turn away business to bake your cake.
GS Perhaps, you could exchange a five hundred dollar cake for ten hours or babysitting, for Jovi, or cleaning your home.
TJ Good idea, but, for me, it’s the time, not the money.
GS Our time is up. We asked for an hour and you gave so much more. Thanks so much, Tiffany.
Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1825), The Physiology of Taste, published by Penguin.
Alan Davidson (1999), Oxford Companion to Food published by Oxford University Press.
Annick Liguerer (1992), Scent: the essential and mysterious powers of smell, published by Kodansha.
Jenifer Harvey Lang, editor (1988) Larousse Gastronomique published by Crown.
Jean-Francois Revel (1979), Culture and Cuisine: a journey through the history of food published by Doubleday.
Wolfgang Schivelbusch (1993), Tastes of Paradise: a social history of spices, stimulants and intoxicants, published by Vintage.
Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat (1992), History of Food published by Barnes and Noble.
Click here for a list of all Grub Street Interviews
Interviewed edited and condensed for publication.
Thanks to Corina Kellam for conducting the first interview for this article.
dr george pollard is a Sociometrician and Social Psychologist at Carleton University, in Ottawa, where he currently conducts research and seminars on "Media and Truth," Social Psychology of Pop Culture and Entertainment as well as umbrella repair.
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