There are a thousand-and-one ways to reinvent oneself to survive the health pandemic. One way for me to still be fit on the game — meaning to still earn — is to shift the mood in my kitchen. From baking six-tier wedding cakes, I have now included making six-inch loaves. And it’s still a sweet, sweet commitment for me.
“ As COVID-19 cases increased month by month, clients called to move their weddings, birthdays, and all sorts of occasions and celebrations to be moved to a new date, most of them settling to 2021. ”
Before the country was put on a lockdown, I, with my sister Shen Chen-Ratilla, my partner in Pastry Bin, must have made 20 wedding cakes from January of this year to the first week of March. And if I may say, they were tall, beautiful cakes. A few cakes had five to six tiers, which I whipped with elegance, grace and simplicity. It was the same trait that I had given everything that came out of our kitchen for almost four decades.
From the second week of March to December 2020, Pastry Bin was poised to make about 45 more cakes for weddings and debut parties. Everything was planned. The designs were already in my head. I sometimes dreamed about them. Until the virus ran over these many beautiful plans.
As early as the first week of March 2020, when there was news of a possible lockdown, couples who were set to have their weddings on the second weekend of the month were already calling to advise us that they were moving their wedding to another date. As COVID-19 cases increased month by month, clients called to move their weddings, birthdays, and all sorts of occasions and celebrations to be moved to a new date, most of them settling to 2021. Of course, I completely understood this. It was their wish that their older relatives could be part of their celebrations. I treated this as another challenge; a wave that I could ride through. But every day, the roller coaster of emotions turned and turned. The experience was not for the fainthearted.
It was time to rethink what else we could do. We have been baking cake loaves since the ‘80s, so we have the baking pans and the boxes. Those cake loaves were essentially the same cakes we used for our wedding cakes, but these would normally be ordered as gifts during Christmas and other special dates and occasions (and not every day as we experience now). The boxes are elegantly designed but are kept plain, with no contact number or address — just the brand “Pastry Bin.”
Shen and I sat down and decided we move more of our efforts online, and start offering the three different cake loaf flavors online: carrot walnut, banana walnut, and apple walnut. This was around the middle of April. It was fun because I have a lot of brides and grooms who wanted to still eat their cakes, so the pace in the kitchen picked up again!
When Mother’s Day was around the corner, I came up with three different designs of six-inch cakes for people to choose from, something we could still offer our clients so they can keep the cake still special; and somehow it worked. I had to limit the designs and standardize them, something we don’t normally do, as at the time I only had one staff with me. Pastry Bin prides itself with personalized cakes made according to the clients’ wishes. But we had to make that slight shift with the pandemic looming over everyone and forcing us to adapt.
However, the process didn’t just stop in the kitchen. From baking to covering the cake with fondant, to decorating it, we also had to make the boxes for those six-inch cakes. It was the same story for Father’s Day. To be honest it was very exhausting, but I derived satisfaction from good feedback and happy clients.
“ All this time, the six-inch cake loaves are our constant — not the six-tier cakes. The small loaves are really the ones that comprise the bulk of the production right now. Every so often, the house will be filled with cake loaves that are just waiting to be picked up by a courier or a customer. ”
Beyond this, technology is a big challenge. I’m not much of a techie, so this is something of a handicap for me. I get help from my family to figure out online payments, posting or sending messages, and even booking couriers to deliver orders.
I am thankful that during the lockdown, I was able to make three simple wedding cakes in May, June and July for three simple weddings, each with 10 guests in the church. We had the cake delivered to the residences of the couples because the receptions were held there. The cake boxes were disinfected before they were brought to the gates or houses of the couples.
All this time, the six-inch cake loaves are our constant — not the six-tier cakes. The small loaves are really the ones that comprise the bulk of the production right now. Every so often, the house will be filled with cake loaves that are just waiting to be picked up by a courier or a customer. We just step out (with face masks of course), hand the cake loaves over, say goodbye, that’s it.
The pandemic is really forcing everyone to adapt. It forces us to reconsider many things. Early on, I decided to provide some form of assistance for my staff who are not working for me right now because of the pandemic. In April, we gave face masks and face shields to many individuals and extended assistance to some churches. Clearly there are so many things that still need to be done, so many things that need our attention. Every day is a whirlwind and the pandemic is keeping me on my toes; some days I can go through my tasks effortlessly, while on other days I just struggle to get through my to-do list because of all the uncertainties.
The health pandemic is a test of grit and compassion as well. Despite the challenges, life is still sweet.
(Portrait photo by Daniel Ratilla)
Edited by Büm Tenorio Jr.