To achieve a New Year’s Resolution, Karen Leong moved from Port Dickson to Petaling Jaya to turn her passion for baking into a full-fledged business.
While most of the 19-year-olds are still in college to graduate, Karen has been participating in wedding cake contests since she was 12, just after graduating in cake decorating with Squire’s. Kitchen UK.
Today, her baking setup produces the average stylized sweets one might find on birthdays or anniversaries, but her specialty lies in creating opulent and avant-garde wedding cakes, meticulously decorated and lavishly prepared with tons of man-hours.
The last one she did for a wedding in St Regis cost the client RM19k. It stood 5 feet tall, was covered with Belgian marzipan, and dotted with 410 hand-crafted sugar flowers, supported by 24-carat hand-painted pillars.
Karen also won 3 Gold Awards in the Cake category (her first was at a Wilton Cake Competition when she was 15) and those entries earned her articles in international cake magazines.
She just launched her business this year, doing everything from customizing cake orders for customers, extravagants and others, to conducting pastry and decorating classes at her Petaling Jaya space.
Despite the obvious skill, Karen wouldn’t consider herself a master of cake design because “like any other art form, there is never a finish line.”
“There is always more you could learn or incorporate into what you already have. As an artist I have come to believe that you should always grow alongside your art and claiming that I have mastered it just means that I have reached the point where there is no longer a need to evolve and evolve. grow by his side. “
And she probably would never have pursued this line of work if she had actually completed her formal education.
Karen is the result of an emerging educational movement called unschooling.
“I had no inclination for the arts,” Karen said of her formal school years.
“I highly doubt that I would have ended up getting into cake design and baking if I had gone through the right school system, as I was an incredibly study-oriented kid when I attended a few years at the kindergarten and primary school, up to primary 2. “
Unschooling is a version of home schooling that thrives on a key concept: student-led learning.
This means that a child or adolescent has the luxury of learning whatever pleases them, instead of following a rigid school schedule. The appeal here is that the learning process is entirely interest-driven. A common slogan in unschooling circles is “life is their classroom”.
As might be expected, a child’s complete out of schooling requires very dedicated parents, able to provide for the prosecution of their children for their various interests, both in education and, in Karen’s case. , equipment.
“I realized that I was actually in charge of my own life,” Karen said in a video detailing her unschooling experience. “How far I push myself is how far I will go in life.”
Throughout her school dropout, Karen became interested in everything from linguistic and cultural studies, to being an adventure guide, and even took the necessary steps to pursue medical or psychology studies before finally choosing the art of the cake.
“I have always shown a great interest and excelled in science related subjects and I most likely would have taken this route if my parents had not chosen to take me out of school,” said Karen.
“But no matter how far I have strayed from pastry cooking, my path has always brought me back to the art of cake!”
Karen Leong Cake Design has already been profitable for two months, mainly because she already owned most of the equipment.
After all, she was 8 years old for her parents to gradually accumulate what she needed.
She took advantage of that same experience and a reputation in the field as a “cake girl” to get started. At first, she relied mostly on word of mouth and a small amount of social media marketing to get things going.
“I just started posting my cake offerings and classes on my personal and work social media pages and paid for a handful of social media ads, which honestly didn’t seem like much. thing ! Karen moaned.
“Since my business operates primarily on the freelance side, one of my biggest challenges has certainly been consistency in terms of getting regular courses and orders. “
“There can be months when my schedule is filled 2-3 months in advance and there can be weeks to a month when it is extremely quiet.”
Another issue she had to tackle was how to stand out in a crowd.
During her relatively slow first months, Karen began to come up with business ideas to set herself apart from her competition, amid her “worry and panic”. That’s when she thought about starting teaching kids what she knows.
“Until then, I had only given adult lessons and didn’t particularly like working with children, but I tried anyway; it was more of an experience than a serious solution!
But she fell in love and kept going. Ultimately, leading the children’s classes provided her with the consistency she needed. With prices lower than adult classes, most children sign up for the 3 class package, but she is happy to report that most have stayed beyond their first 3.
Today, she takes the time to train in wedding salons and work with wedding planners, to live out her main passion for avant-garde cakes.
But since her main activity is teaching, she spends most of her time contacting baking studios in Malaysia to develop her network.
In the near future, Karen hopes to bring Karen Leong Cake Design’s classes to overseas pastry studios and pastry academies, as she slowly works on expanding into commercial studio space.
For Karen, unschooling is more than education.
“It’s an enduring way of life and mindset that shapes incredibly passionate and unique individuals. “
“It gave me the time and space to understand who I was as an individual, to shape who I wanted to be as an individual firsthand, to understand how I came to contribute to this world and experience it in real life, not just in theory.
In fact, she thinks it’s something the Malaysian education system needs more in our school system.
She doesn’t expect most to go to the extreme end of unschooling. After all, it can be intimidating for all parties, especially working parents who cannot devote the time necessary to fully care for their children’s education.
“I hope we will be able to infuse the essence of unschooling into our current education system and allow people to truly see the importance of developing healthy and passionate adults. “
Feature image credit: Karen Leong Cake Design