Name: Ana Parzych
Location: Greenwich & Cheshire Connecticut
Title: Owner & Creative Director of Ana Parzych Cakes
You have expressed that you had a strong interest in fine arts and baking from a young age. Was this the reason you chose to study graphic design and painting before you decided to focus on confectionary arts full time?
My interest in the arts was separate from my interest in baking. When I was growing up the sugar arts were not developed anywhere near to where they are now. When I was a senior in high school my arts teacher strongly recommended to my parents that I attend the National School of Fine Arts in my native Lima, Peru; I was honored because it’s a top program and difficult to get into. I attended Toulouse-Lautrec Graphic Design Technological Institute before realizing that my teacher was right: my true calling was the fine arts. It was only years later that my eyes were opened to the potential of sugar art.
You moved to Japan and worked in a French bakery after studying at The National School of Fine Arts in your native Peru. Can you tell us more about that decision?
At the time, the Peruvian economy was in bad shape and terrorism was an everyday occurrence in Lima. The job prospects for college graduates were very dim. As a Japanese descendant, I was able to immigrate to Japan. I moved there even though I knew only about 100 words of Japanese. I wanted a better future for myself and, at the time, Japan was more promising. I was drawn by the adventure as well. I’m very happy that Peru is a lot more stable these days but, by the time it improved, I had already started my family and had moved to the United States.
Was this your first culinary position? Can you tell us more about how you landed the job and what you learned? Was this when you decided that baking was your calling?
When I got a job in the French bakery in Japan, I wasn’t looking at it as a career; it was just a fun way to make a living while saving money to enroll in college, as baking was something I had enjoyed doing since I was 8 years old. Ironically, in that job I never worked on cakes; I was assigned to pastries. Although, I didn’t realize that baking was my calling at this time, the main thing I took from the job was reinforcement of the high standards followed by the Japanese. If a pastry had any imperfection at all, we had to throw it away. My parents had instilled that in me as a child and seeing these same high standards in a work environment really solidified them in me.
You seem to have a real passion for education as you enrolled into The Culinary Institute of America and began to learn from some the of the best sugar artists in the world. Who were these artists and how did you come into contact with them?
I first saw the potential of sugar arts from Betty Van Norstrand, the very elegant lady who pioneered many of the modern sugar art techniques, especially sugar flowers. I met her at a local ICES (International Cake Exploration Society) meeting. Her work was a huge inspiration and revelation to me, to the point where I was intimidated by the idea of contacting her. Nevertheless, I called her and arranged to take lessons from her, which was a real turning point for me. After mastering the techniques she taught me, my mind was flooded with ideas. What I had learned became the starting point for learning more techniques on my own. Most of the techniques I use on my cakes are self-taught. After that, I took professional level courses at the Culinary Institute of America to better learn how to bake on a commercial scale; I had only baked at home before then.
You opened up your shop in 2006 and have since found amazing success being featured on the cover of People, on The Today Show, in Harper’s Bazaar and Brides amongst many other publications. What do you think make your cakes so unique?
My art training is a huge advantage; I draw inspiration from the client’s vision for their wedding and am able to sketch designs so that the client can see what I have in mind. My fine arts background gives me a sense of proportion and colors that are pleasing to the eye, which are aspects that are often overlooked. Also, many sugar artists specialize in a single technique, but I have several: sugar flowers, or course, but also brushed embroidery, where I get to use my painting skills, and I’m often inspired to try other techniques, such as sculpture, to create a special design.
Looking back on your journey, what are three things you would tell your younger self if you could go back?
1 | Don’t be afraid to be bold and go against the grain.
2 | Get a double major in Business and Arts.
3 | Don’t be shy in asking for favors that will help you move up in your career, the worst thing people can say is no.
What do you feel are the greatest challenges you face in your business and how have you overcome them?
One of the biggest challenges is learning to delegate, especially when you’re a perfectionist. When you’re a business owner you can’t do it all. Finding and training the right staff is key.
You are a wife and mother as well as a very successful business owner. How do you balance it all?
My husband and children have some involvement in my business and I’m careful to compartmentalize: when I’m at work, I pour my whole self into my work and when I’m with my family, away from work, I forget all about it and just be mom / wife.
One thing we believe is that mistakes are a part of the path to success. Can you tell us your biggest mistake and what you learned from it?
Luckily, I haven’t had any mistakes that made a major impact. However, early in my career on a few occasions I wasn’t assertive enough when my client had her heart set on a design that I knew wouldn’t make the impact she desired. No matter how well I execute a design that isn’t the best fit, in the end it won’t look right and will not the best reflection on me. I’ve learned to better articulate why some designs won’t work and on a few occasions have advised clients to find another cake artist if they are dead set on a design that I know won’t work. At that point they usually agree that something else will work better.
As a business owner, what are the qualities and traits you look for in an employee?
I look for an arts background (or at least aptitude for it), sincere effort, and a willingness and an ability to learn; if an employee has these, I can help them build the hard skills over time. I’ve been blessed by having some great employees over the years and would not be where I am without them. Within a few days I can tell whether an employee is going to work out over time. I’m careful to set an environment where my employees can continue to grow and take on more responsibility.
Finally, what makes you different as a sugar artist?
I look at a cake as a work of art and will do anything to realize my vision. Sometimes I design a cake that uses techniques I’ve never worked with before but I always know that I’ll be able to master them, sometimes experimenting well in advance. I relish a challenge: be it a cake to fit in with a unique culture, a bold design, or even bringing a cake halfway around the world. Once I create the design, I’ll stop at nothing to deliver it to the client. We’ve driven through hurricanes and blizzards to make our deliveries, we’ve brought huge cakes up back stairways when elevators were broken, and we always find a way to bring my work of art to the most important celebration in my client’s life.
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