No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.
- Ingmar Bergman

December 11, 2015

The Talent Pool Corner -- Michelle Apiar, Owner of Haute So Sweet

Who doesn't like sweets?   If they didn't exist, the world would be an empty, tasteless place not to mention a boring one.

When filming a wedding, my nose always gravitates towards the buttery icing aroma calling from the far end of the room by a wedding cake holding court just waiting to be sliced and eaten.  If that wasn't tempting enough, then it is the venetian table with its wonderful display of goodies from chocolate covered strawberries to cookies to cake pops.   Ah olfactory high....SWEETS!

Michelle Apiar
Given that it's the holiday season when sweets appear in every household, office and gift-wrapped package, the TPC thought it the perfect time to talk to someone whose passion is sweets!

Michelle Apiar, owner, pastry chef and sweet tooth connoisseur of Haute So Sweet shares her sweet story.  I hope you find what she has to say to be a very indulging and tasty experience.

Talk about the path that brought you into the culinary world.

I’ve always  enjoyed cooking and baking, and have fond memories working in the kitchen with my Polish mother and grandmother, making traditional meals for holidays like Pierogies for Christmas.

My family were small business owners, so I was always encouraged to open my own business.  I went to NYU to study communications and media, with a plan to go into public relations.  I worked for a firm that did PR for restaurants and then for Gourmet Magazine.  I found myself working with amazing chefs who started businesses engaging in their passion. So, I decided to go to culinary school and try it myself.  I attended the French Culinary institute in 2004 and studied Pastry.

I didn’t think I would go into cake design, nor was I particularly informed about it when I started school.  I thought I would be a chocolatier.  But once I started working with sugar and fondant, something clicked.  I say that sugarwork chose me.

Who has inspired you?

In terms of inspiration, I have 3 main role models.  The first is Julia Child.  She held on to her true passion and with much persistence, got her book published.  She broke through in an industry that was dominated by men, and used a great branding hook to do it.  And she uses LOTS of butter, which is our religion here at Haute So Sweet.  

The second is Jacques Pepin.  His focus on simplicity in the production of food, requiring only 2 tools, your hand and a sharp knife to create dishes is my mantra.  I use very limited tools when creating cakes, and prefer to make decorations totally by hand.  I even measure by eye and only use a ruler to level cakes.  

The third is my former employer, Colette Peters, who is the innovator in the realm of cakes.  Her mind thinks on a different level completely and I learned how to think like an artist working with her.  If I could harness a fraction of her creativity, I would be ecstatic.
Black Silver Sequined Wedding Cakes

When and why did you decide to branch out on your own?

After I worked for Colette, an opportunity to purchase a bakery came up, which I took.  Due to a lack of business acumen, the bakery failed.  I left the industry for a few years and worked in fashion, but the cakes kept calling me back.  I started Haute So Sweet in my East Village apartment in 2011.  We now have been in our own space in West Chelsea for the past 2 years.  

New York City houses a slew of talented pastry chefs.  How do you find your niche in this competitive world?  When people hear the name Haute So Sweet, what words do you hope come to mind?

Many of my colleagues are talented cake artists, but what I hear time and time again from my clients is that they chose our cake for their event not only based on the design, but because our cake tasted the best.  The statement I hear the most from client feedback is that our cake looked beautiful, but tasted even better.  We achieve this by using high quality fresh ingredients, and lots of butter.  

What are some of the challenges faced in owning your own pastry business?

I used to produce all the cakes myself, which became impossible as the business grew.  My team does most of the baking and decorating and I step in for difficult decorations and final touches, like placement of flowers and “sprinkling the magic dust” to make the cake perfect.  I design all of the cakes for clients and try new techniques all of the time.  But when I do get an opportunity to bake, I love it, mostly because I miss it.  This leads me to one of the biggest challenges I have in owning a business, which is stepping into the role of CEO, rather than creator and baker.  I do sales and marketing for the business, and much of the daily operations.  It’s the working on my business, not working in the business which becomes a challenge.

Most people don't truly understand the blood, sweat and tears that go into being a pastry chef and creating a beautifully designed, tasty cake or pastry.  Share an element or two of the process that helps us better understand the difficulty in cake creation.

The only people that truly understand what it takes to make a custom designed cake, are the people that do it.  We do not sit and play with icing all day.  The job is physically and mentally demanding.  High volume baking requires lots of heavy lifting and working with large equipment.   A cake requires large amounts of decorations, so it’s not unheard of to make one hundred flowers at a time.  The final product usually weighs over 50 pounds and we have done cakes that required 6 people to carry.  All that and making sure that the foundation and construction is strong so that it can be driven over the potholes in NYC.  And let’s not forget temperature control in the hot summer months.   There is a great deal of planning, coordination and logistics that happens before one ounce of flour is measured.

Describe a Haute So Sweet client.

Our clients want the best of everything for their special event.  They care about taste and quality, and want to trust the vendors that they choose to work with.  They are creative and want to wow their guests with a spectacular centerpiece for their party.  That is the type of client that chooses Haute So Sweet for their cake.

Talk about some of the challenges faced when working with clients.

The main challenge I have with a client is when they want something last minute.  Sometimes we have to amend designs to accommodate short notice, which I highly discourage.  We need at least 6 weeks notice for a smaller cake, and 3-6 months for a large cake, like a wedding cake.

How involved are your clients in the design process?

We put a lot of love and passion into what we do.  We care about each and every client.  Since I have a lot of interaction with the client during the design and tasting process, I communicate the importance of our client's special day to the production team.  In the kitchen, our clients are not referred to as order numbers, but by name and type of event.  This adds to the personalization of each cake.  Our clients become part of the Haute So Sweet family.  We often do cakes for several occasions that our clients celebrate and because of this relationship, they refer us to family and friends.

The "Barbie" cake dress holding Barbie!

What are some of the factors that help in forming a healthy client relationship?

It’s mostly built on trust.  My clients know that Haute So Sweet will create a showstopper of a cake for their party.  They also know that we are the cake decorators to come to for unusual requests.  For example, I had a wedding planner come to me  because she knew I was the one who could make a cake suspended from a chandelier.  A performance artist called me to make her 50th birthday cake.  She wanted to be the Barbie in her own Barbie cake dress.  We built the cake around her at the venue.  When I asked her, “why did you choose us?”, she responded “because I knew you were the only one who could do it!”

Where is Haute So Sweet five years from now?

The Chandelier Cake
So where do we go from here?  Haute So Sweet has amazing things planned for 2016, one of which includes launching a new line of wedding cakes that allow our clients to have a custom cake for a non-custom price.  We will continue to make the impossible possible for our clients with our couture cake designs services.  And 5 years from now?  Maybe some TV exposure and big profits!!!!

If you would like to learn more about Michelle or, want to
speak to her about your upcoming event: