The bakery may be called Auntie Loo’s treats, but it’s the fabulous Miss Kate behind the scenes, decorating beautiful wedding and special occasion cakes with gorgeous sugar flowers and whatever your imagination can dream up. Miss Kate and Miss Loo have been working together as a team since the bakery opened, and Miss Kate’s cakes have wowed and inspired many.
We got the opportunity to talk to Miss Kate to learn more about her unlikely foray into cake decorating (she has a B.Sc. in Animal Behaviour!), and to get the inside scoop behind Ottawa’s most beloved bakery.
VegOttawa: Have you always wanted to be a cake decorator? How did you end up becoming one?
Miss Kate: Cake decorating was never on my radar as a potential career or hobby. I went to university and earned a Bachelor of Science in Animal Behaviour, and moved to England in 2008 to pursue my passion for animal rehabilitation and conservation. Unfortunately, several factors meant this was next to impossible. I lived in a tiny village in the country with no driver’s license, one bus stop that was a 40 minute walk away, all during the worst part of the UK’s recession.
After realizing I was not going to be able to get a paid position in any of the nearby animal sanctuaries, I took a job in town at a family-owned gift shop. While it wasn’t what I had envisioned myself doing, it was a solid job and I met some fantastic people. Unfortunately, in 2009 the recession claimed another victim, and the shop had to be closed down.
As I was no longer able to afford my rent, I moved in with my mum’s cousins, Joan and Dave, who were kind enough to take me in as a lodger. Joan had been attending sugar flower classes for many years, and encouraged me to join her. I went along for one class, and I was hooked. It was an informal gathering of the sweetest older ladies who used the weekly meet-up to gossip and as a form of therapy. Everybody had their own projects on the go, and the teacher, Sue, would help when needed.
Sue took me under her wing, and soon I was attending two or three classes a week to learn as much as possible. I started making flowers as gifts on a regular basis. Even at this point, I didn’t have much interest in the actual cake aspect of these sugar flowers.
When I moved home to Ottawa in May 2009, I packed up all of the tools and supplies I had gathered over the three months I spent learning the craft, and I realized I should learn more about cake decorating in order to make full use of these sugar flowers. I began to teach myself the basics, and would practice on family birthdays and anniversaries. It took very little time for me to get fully attached to the craft.
Q: Tell us about the first time you met the legendary Auntie Loo.
A: In July, 2009, I began applying to several retail jobs to get back into the working world after my return from the UK. I was perusing Craigslist, and came across an ad for a “fondant chef.” I was intrigued, and after reading the position details, I decided to take a risk and send an e-mail.
A few hours later, I received a response requesting a meeting the next day, downtown at Bridgehead. I was informed to look for “the lady with the “leopard print scarf”… She had me before she even met me!
I stayed up all night printing out any pictures of the few cakes I had made, and all of the flowers that I’d made to date. I walked into Bridgehead, we sat down, and we hit it off right away. I showed her my tiny portfolio (I honestly still can’t believe I applied, given how very little experience I had), and we bonded over the fact that I had made a cake for my Grandad, and that we were both self/family-taught.
By the time I left the interview, I was genuinely more absorbed in her becoming successful in her business venture than I was in actually getting the job. I believe I even came home and wrote on my Facebook, “I just met the nicest person on the face of the planet.” That pretty much sums it up.
A few days later, she called to inform me that I got the job, and I was both ecstatic and completely panicked!
Q: What is an average day at the bakery like for you?
A: I spend the most time at the bakery when we have a wedding, and this is generally a two-day process. We bake everything to be as fresh as possible, so if the wedding is on Saturday, I’ll be baking everything early Friday morning.
Fridays are also spent making any decorations that need to be made in advance in order to make sure they are fully dry. Early Saturday morning, the cakes come out of the fridge to be brought to room temperature. When the cakes are ready, they are covered in fondant, and the fun part can begin!
Decorations are made and applied, and my two fantastic assistants (Kate 2.0 and Charlotte) are usually with me now to help out with some smaller details that can be incredibly time-consuming. Kate 2.0 started delivering cakes with me this summer, and her position mostly entails keeping me calm. She does a great job of it!
When the cake is ready, we pack it up separately, and head off to the venue. I always find the delivery to be stressful. That moment right before I open the trunk when we arrive at the venue always makes my stomach flip. Luckily, I haven’t opened the trunk to see a disaster yet! After we set-up the cake at the venue, we take our pictures, and head out. When the delivery is all over and done with, we head for a celebratory veggie burger and cold drink. A lovely end to a long day!
Q: What’s your favorite thing about working at Auntie Loo’s?
A: My first and foremost favourite thing about working at Auntie Loo’s is the people. We are a family, and we always look out for each other. The bakery has grown so much since it was just Mandi and I when we opened; we have been incredibly lucky to find the people who help us continue to grow. Every day at the bakery is a new experience, and is such a learning process. I am so fortunate to have a job that I love and am passionate about.
Q: What is the source of your creativity? Adorableness?
A: I try to bring something unique to any cake or confection that I create. I want to make cakes that are personalized to their recipient(s), and that have never been made before. This is why I don’t replicate cakes that other cake artists have made, or even that I have already made myself. Making cakes that are a bit quirky or cheeky is always my goal, even if it is in small details that will likely only be noticed by the myself and the couple.
For example, one of our grooms this summer is a big fan of the artist M.C. Escher; in order to incorporate this into the cake, I put Escher’s “interlocking birds” design on top, where it would only really be noticed upon closer inspection. These little details are what I think makes a cake truly unique!
Q: What is the most challenging cake request you’ve had? Do you have some personal favorites you’re willing to share?
A: Sometimes the most challenging parts of a cake are not what you’d imagine. Cake toppers can make or break a cake, and when a couple provides a topper that does not fit with the theme of the cake, the challenge is then to figure out how to make it work. I’ve come across this a few times now, and luckily they consistently work in the end.
When we arrived at the venue for one of our cakes this summer, we were surprised to see the couple left these tiny toothpick bride and groom figures that were to be placed on the cake. This was a big, four-tier cake with bright flowers that filled the top of the cake and cascaded down the side. I had a moment where I thought, “What on Earth am I going to do with these?!”
After staring at the cake for about 10 minutes, I finally decided on placing the bride and groom on a lower tier, surrounded by some of the cascading flowers. When I stepped back, I was in love with them! It was a subtle detail that you would only notice on further inspection, and it worked so well.
Q: Do you have a favorite Auntie Loo treat?
A: I have a few favourite treats. When it comes to cupcakes, Earl Grey Lemon will always prevail for me. I love the Gluten-Free brownie for something rich, and the mixed berry oat bars if I need a morning treat. Our amazing baker Mattycakes has created a new treat that is being launched this week… Our smore-flavoured whoopie pies! I was forced to taste test it (I know it’s a hard life), and let me tell you, it’s divine…
We recently teamed up with a friend of our baker Charlotte, who is supplying us with Charmallows – vegan marshmallows! Matt used these to create a marshmallow frosting … trust me, it will become an instant Auntie Loo classic!
Q: Who the heck are Mack and Molly?
A: Mack and Molly are the two silliest cats that I have ever met. I have had Mack since I was 13, and he is my baby. He lives to eat, and doesn’t mind reminding us at 5AM that it’s time to be fed. He spends a lot of time searching for warm places to sleep (which, unfortunately, often means sleeping on the stove under the overhead lamp). He was referred to as a “garbage cat” when we got him, and his love for food has gotten him into all kinds of mischief. I’m constantly finding garbage cans knocked over around the house – evidently in hopes of finding some extra treats!
Molly is almost two years old, and is a total bully. She does love Mack, but she also loves to remind him that she’s twice his size and can boss him around at her leisure! She consistently tackles him, and if he is asleep, she will wake him up by steamrolling him. They chase each other around, and play quite a bit, which has been a blessing for Mack; it has been a long time since he has been so active!
Every once in a while, when they think nobody is looking, we’ll catch them curled up together and cleaning each other. Well, actually, Molly just makes Mack clean her (see photo above-right)…. what a lazy kitten!
For more information about Auntie Loo’s Treats (507 Bronson Avenue), visit the website.