Interview with Yasmin Darsot Cassim
Dear Irtiqa readers, my latest article showcases the young and dynamic baking talent Mehnaz Nanuck from the brand “ilovecake”. She shares with us her journey in the rapidly growing Cake Decorating industry.
Mehnaz, a young mother of three trying to juggle her busy career and family life, invited to me to her home for the interview. I was really excited to find just how she manages to do it all!
Born in Botswana and raised by Mauritian parents, Mehnaz’s love for engaging in all that is creative such as, candle making, decoupage and soap making, started from a young age. She won Art awards from primary school right through to secondary school. She owes her talent to her dad who is a craftsman; she knows it’s in the genes.
Mehnaz always loved baking and grabbed the opportunity to do a cake decorating course when it came her way. Since then, she has never looked back. She finally had the chance to incorporate her love for Art with her love for baking, both of which she was always passionate about. She officially started her business in Johannesburg when she got married. Then came her three kids who are close in age, but Mehnaz still managed to keep the cake decorating going… “I love working with my hands and find baking and decorating very therapeutic”, she says. Mehnaz is passionate about what she does and feels that it’s actually time away from the busy life of a Mom and keeps her focused and happy.
My interview with her continues below:
What does a ‘typical’ day in your life look like?
Mehnaz: I have a very unscheduled day no matter how hard I try and it has nothing to do with juggling the school rounds or the kids, but more because I never know how long a project is going to take. It is so hard to estimate time. Sometimes I am actually done in 15 minutes when I have dedicated 2 hours and sometimes vice versa. Thankfully, I haven’t had many major mishaps, but every day is learning for me.
Is baking a full-time career for you and do you see yourself doing this in 5 years from now?
Mehnaz: Definitely. In my line of work I get to meet so many different people of many cultures and religions and it’s very interesting. Also, most of my clients have become so close to me that I don’t know how I could ever say no or stop what I am doing.
What has been the most complex design that a client has requested from you, or what has been the most outstanding piece of work that you created?
Mehnaz: It’s so hard to say because everybody’s style differs, but personally I love simple designs. They show the most elegance and also I’ve noticed that I do get a lot more “likes” (on social media) when I post pictures on the simpler and elegant cakes.
In your line of work, ‘Client is Key’. How do you deal with unusual clients or somewhat rude clients?
Mehnaz: I think the only way to deal with it is by sticking to the principle that “the customer is always right”. I am very careful with how I come across during consultations because it’s hard to tell a client that their idea may not work or what I really think of the design they chose, but in the end I will do what the client requests as that is what will make them happy.
Do you work from home or do you have separate premises for your business?
Mehnaz: There was always a dream to get bigger and I invested in a workshop, but I am facing a few challenges currently to employ someone to manage the workshop and that can assist me with the orders. So I am working on sorting that out.
You also teach classes. Do you teach amateurs or is your class for experienced bakers only? Also, what type of techniques do you teach?
Mehnaz: I teach anyone who is keen on learning; I don’t teach baking, but more the decorating techniques. I must be honest. I stopped the classes due to the orders, but I have an influx of requests coming in for lessons. Inshallah (God Willing) I will pay more attention to it and see how I can cater for more classes.
How do you stay up to date on the latest baking trends and how do you touch up on new skills?
Mehnaz: Living in Johannesburg exposes you to many opportunities and baking tools which are easily available, from the affordable items, to the more exclusive imported tools. So this makes it easy to keep up with international trends. I don’t specifically look for trends. I leave it to my clients to let me know what they need and show me what’s ‘in’ and I am ever happy to deliver for them.
Is there an event or specific special person that you would love to bake for and why?
Mehnaz: Everyone I bake for is special to me. Every cake has a story! However, I create masterpieces for so many people that I find myself wishing I could bake the same for my family. Being in another country from them, it’s hard when there are birthday celebrations that side which I could not have a special hand in.
Which type of baking skill do you consider yourself an expert in/ what do you specialize in?
Mehnaz: I really specialize in Birthday Cakes, Wedding cakes and Novelty cakes. That fills my plate up.
What do you find the most challenging in your line of work?
Mehnaz: It would be keeping to a schedule, no matter how much planning you do life happens in between and you got to just plan around it.
How does your passion for baking come out in your creations?
Mehnaz: I have client tells me that they can see the love I’ve put into a cake. I guess you can see the time and effort that goes into each piece. I also use my discretion to add other little details that are not necessarily required of me but I believe it’s the little things count.
Lastly, do you have a professional mentor in the industry?
Mehnaz: Although I don’t have a specific mentor, I do look up to the lady who taught me everything I know when I did the course with her in Botswana. It’s a pity that I lost all contact with her, but she was really such an amazing women who had great skill. I really owe her a lot and I think she would be proud of my accomplishments. Having said that, I also look up to people who are creative as a whole. Art is a gift, each person has their own unique strengths and I admire all works of art, not necessarily cake artists.