The camera is friendly to Atlanta-based cake decorator Ashley Vicos. Her on-screen charisma is catching some television producers’ attention.
The camera is friendly to Atlanta-based cake decorator Ashley Vicos. Her on-screen charisma is catching some television producers' attention.
Describe your cake business, Sweet Ashley's. Who is your clientele, how do you reach them, and what do you specialize in?
Sweet Ashley's is my commercially-licensed studio. I do not have employees and prefer working alone. I bake, decorate and deliver all of my orders personally. I don't necessarily think of myself as controlling, but when one of my cakes goes out from my studio, it represents a piece of me. Because it reflects me, I want to be the one who actually created it.
I genuinely love people — meeting people, talking to people and being hands on from start to finish with each order I take. My clients get my personal attention and I think that is reflected in their final cake design. I am a big proponent of small businesses, and I would miss the personal relationship and one-on-one contact in a big company. I am a small town girl and customers don't just get a cake from me. They get to know me, and I get to know them.
The reason I make cakes is because they symbolize happiness. They allow me to be a part of the happy events in people's lives, and that means a lot to me. I have gotten to participate in the lives of others, even in a small way, and watch them grow over the years. I have clients I have done a Sweet 16 cake for, then their wedding cake, baby shower cake, and now I'm getting orders for their children's birthday cakes. That is special to me and why I love doing what I do.
How has the economy affected your business?
I have been very fortunate and blessed not to have been affected so far because I specialize in such custom cakes; the majority of my orders are for once-in-a-lifetime events. Even though the economy is hurting, people are still celebrating that 50th anniversary, retirement party, Grandma's 80th birthday and, of course, weddings. These are milestones that only happen once and people — especially in hard times — want to have a reason to celebrate, laugh and be happy.
What trends do you see in cake decorating?
I think we are going to continue to see more and more interest in 3D sculpted cakes in the next couple of years. More everyday people want cakes as centerpieces to their events, not just a plated dessert.
Americans are beginning to appreciate fondant and are open to rolled icing because they want the smooth, perfect appearance that can be achieved with it. I think fondant is going to continue to gain popularity, and in the next couple of years, it will be a staple even with home bakers.
At your instructional sessions, what questions do bakers ask about what you do?
Most people want to know two things. First, they want to know how to get to the next skill level of decorating and expand their knowledge. Then, they always ask me how to go about getting on television to make cakes.
I think most people want to continue to learn new things whatever their profession, and it is just natural to ask advice from people that they think have made it a little further. I have asked a lot of advice from people over the years, and I am not shy about sharing my opinions with anyone who asks me. I do always warn people that these are only my opinions. Some may work for people and some may not. The best advice is to listen to everything, and then decide what works for you and your situation because there are no cookie cutter answers in life.
How did you get on television?
Getting a foot in the door with The Food Network is no easy task, and my big break was really more of a fluke than anything else. One afternoon I happened to speak to a lady who does some office work for them. I did not have a website at the time, and all I ever wanted was an opportunity for someone to see what I could do. After a lot of persuading on my part, she agreed to let me email her some photos of my work and promised me that she would show them to someone who looked for new talent if they were good enough. I hung up the phone not knowing if she would really follow through or not, but at least it was worth a shot. I emailed her the photos and within about 15 minutes one of the producers of the show called me. I was shocked and elated to receive my first invitation to compete on the Food Network.
What are your secrets to success in the televised cake decorating challenges?
I am not sure I am qualified to answer this question since I technically have never won any of my challenges. Maybe someone should be sharing these secrets with me.
I have learned something with each challenge that I have done and each lesson has made me a better decorator. One of my toughest challenges has been (and will always be) having to compromise on perfection. The clock is my biggest enemy in these events and it is impossible to do the same caliber of work in eight hours on camera that I would do during two weeks in my studio. I still hold myself to high standards and even though I haven't won yet, I'm proud of each cake I have made — no regrets.
How is television, especially The Food Network and The Learning Channel (TLC), affecting the baking industry as a whole?
I think it has been phenomenal for the industry. It has promoted decorators, allowed prices to increase, helped appreciation go up and has really put the spotlight on our industry. People are excited about cakes, and the effect has been felt by the entire industry. Custom decorators like me are getting bigger and better orders; but even mass retail chains have been forced to up their own game and offer much more than standard sheet cakes to compete.
With the increased interest in more elaborate cakes comes the need for better tools, new equipment, the next big fad or idea in the industry, and it keeps everything climbing up. People ask me a lot if I think this bubble is going to burst anytime soon and I really see it continuing for at least two or three more years before starting to level out a little, but I hope the bubble never bursts.
Any future plans in television?
Lots of future plans in television. I love cake decorating and I love entertaining people; so I really feel like I have found my calling in life.
I was in the season premiere of the new TLC show, The Ultimate Cake Off, and also was one of the competitors in the show's season finale (airing Monday Oct. 19 at 10 p.m. EST). Trust me, if you like drama and nail-biters, you won't want to miss this episode. I have some other television related projects in the works as well. I can't really talk about those too much right now, but if everything goes well, you certainly haven't seen the last of me or my cakes.
As a baker and aspiring television personality, how do you and will you represent the industry?
I hope to inspire people to follow their own dreams. For many years those around me considered cake decorating my hobby and not my career. Adults spend most of their lives working, and I think everyone should find a way to make money and have a career doing what they love.
I like to encourage young people (especially high school students) to pursue their passion. Sometimes trade schools are looked down upon and are not viewed as equivalent to universities. I think if you love doing hair, baking cakes, cooking, repairing cars, or are interested in medicine or law; go for it, make no apologies, and do what you love.
On another note, I want to show women that you can be who you are, and you shouldn't have to compromise to be taken seriously.
Being a high end pastry chef means competing in an industry dominated by men. Many women wear clean faces, slicked down hair, and tightly buttoned pastry jackets in hopes of blending in and earning the respect of their male counterparts.
I have refused to be any different in my career than I am in real life. The makeup, hair and sparkly earings are not for show. There is no makeup artist that does me up for TV. I do it all myself, always have; and you will find me just the same in my regular life. That's who I am — love it or hate it. I hope more women are inspired to not compromise — to be whomever they are — and know that their work should speak for itself. They shouldn't worry that their own appearance determines their status.