Saturday, April 4

UCLA alumna produces artistic cakes, pastries for LA-based brand

(Claire Sun/Daily Bruin)

Alumna Heather Wong used to dream of attending art school but ended up creating art with food instead.

Her artistic interests resulted in Scootabaker, Wong’s Los Angeles-based brand that offers customizable desserts, namely grand cakes and miniature pastries. In addition to running Scootabaker, Wong is currently competing as one of 10 contestants on the fourth season of Food Network’s show, “Spring Baking Championship,” which aired its first episode March 12.

Wong started Scootabaker approximately two years after graduating from UCLA and has pursued baking professionally ever since. Wong’s cultural background and interest in crafting visually appealing desserts merge to cultivate the company’s finished products.

Wong’s first baking gig was a part-time job at Studio City’s Big Sugar Bake Shop, which served as a turning point in her career. Wong realized she too could start her own successful bakery after learning the two female owners of the company also had no prior professional culinary background, she said.

But Wong had only just gained exposure to the fundamentals of baking when she had to move across the world for a study abroad program in Paris. Though she went to Paris to learn global studies, she returned with a renewed curiosity and fascination for baking.

“Being in Paris and trying the French pastries for the first time was so inspiring; it was so beautiful,” Wong said. “I was really inspired to continue to pursue learning pastry and that’s kind of what sparked it all.”

Although French pastries inspired Wong’s passion for baking, her mixed Chinese and Mexican heritage laid the foundation for some of her more innovative creations. Los Angeles’ recent culinary boom features individualistic food combinations, and Wong has enjoyed being a part of it by blending her own cultural experiences with food, she said.

“It all melts together and just kind of creates the product that is Scootabaker now in LA: American but a twist on that with a little bit of those ethnic flavors in there,” Wong said.

Asia Forbes, one of Wong’s clients, said some of Wong’s most interesting creations have included Mexican hot chocolate, spice brownies and Mexican-inspired pastries for a baby shower. Wong tries to experiment with various cultural flavors and is always eager to absorb new flavors into her baking, Forbes said.

Nicole Yamaguchi, Wong’s co-worker at Scootabaker, said Wong often experiments with flavors prominent in the food of different cultures. Wong has mixed black sesame, matcha and various spices into her recipes, and has even crafted a churro cake, Yamaguchi said.

After developing bases inspired by international flavors, Wong shifts her focus to the presentation of her desserts. Wong said she emphasizes the visual appeal of her desserts because she believes delicious food deserves extra effort to look beautiful as well.

“There’s a little bit of science, a little bit of art to it, and I really liked that kind of creative combination,” she said.

Forbes said Wong’s style maintains a balance between subdued artistry and eye-catching elements. Wong is inspired by pop artwork and abstract ideas, which she displays through a degree of minimalism. She once designed a lavender cake and gave it an extra flair by gilding the surface of the cake with bits of gold, giving the finished product a personality without overdoing it, Forbes said.

Wong puts just as much emphasis on the beauty of her miniature desserts as she does on her larger cakes, Yamaguchi said. Wong sometimes sketches her ideas before bringing them to life, dedicating up to five hours to the initial design process.

She tries to make each of her desserts different by testing multiple garnishes, colors and meringues, Yamaguchi said. Wong also uses buttercream rather than a stiffer fondant, and uses the buttercream to craft patterns such as a marble effect.

It looks like she painted on a canvas on her cake,” Yamaguchi said.

Scootabaker started as a one-woman show, Wong said. She initially learned to carry out all parts of the process by herself, such as baking, plating and presentation. Since she is self-taught rather than classically trained, Wong said she takes pride in developing her own baking regimen and the finished products.

“There’s always a need for sweets or cakes or desserts. Whether it’s birthdays or weddings, it’s always going to happen,” Wong said. “And it’s always an opportunity for me to create and to make things for people.”

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