Diedra Rae, Pastry Arts May 2012
Dual business owner, personal chef, pastry instructor, and mother, Diedra Rae, likes a challenge. Taking the leap to attend the Pastry Arts program (May 2012) was a leap of faith that – in her words – helped to build character, strength, and compassion. Below Rae tells us how a school project led to her own business, about landing a dream job at Sur la Table, and how school enabled her to approach her profession without fear.
Escoffier: Tell us about your business Sweet D’licious.
Rae: I didn’t mean to start it, but we had our locavore project (in school) and I thought, “This is a lot of work: planning a real business.” So I did something that I would actually use. It just sort of ended up materializing and it kind of just happened. I got it registered. The school project was more of a café project, but looking at all the overhead of a café, I thought, “No, that’s not what I want to do,” and I manipulated things to create the cake studio. It’s pretty simple. I specialize in custom cakes, taking people’s visions, and creating a piece of art. I say it is art, not just cake. I do doughnuts and wholesale bread orders for a catering company – and a lot of community service…that’s where my heart is really.
Escoffier: You run your business from your home, correct?
Rae: I live upstairs and my entire main level of my home has been transformed into a studio with commercial equipment for pastry and bath products. It looks cool too, like a dollhouse. I’m so the non-traditional person. When people say, “Oh you can’t do that, I say, “Oh, yes, you can!” I like to do different things and keep life changing. That is why I am by appointment only – to keep things flexible.
Escoffier: You are a busy woman; I know that you have other jobs as well…
Rae: I’ve also had a bath company, Anasa Naturals, which has been making culinary inspired bath and body products since 2007. I turn natural ingredients into vibrant, delicious [bath products] that look like food. [The company] came about because I have severe skin allergies and always tried different natural products. I got tired of buying stuff and stocking up. I started making my own lip balms, body butters, and scrubs, and then friends asked me to make them for them. After that I started researching on starting a business, which is certified for food-based bath products.
Escoffier: After years in another field, what made you come to pastry school? And how did you decide on Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts?
Rae: I had been looking into pastry programs for over a year. I wanted to expand my education; you should always be learning. It’s like having that fear about how I would do it and then the consultant I was working for [was in the position to retire] so that’s when I decided to make that leap. [I chose Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts] for the smaller campus, it felt much more personal than other schools. The farm-to-table aspect was also a big thing for me. Overall, it seemed to be more of a humble school where you really have to work hard; some schools teach you that you are the best before you’ve earned it.
Escoffier: Did you think that by graduation you would have started your own pastry company?
Rae: I didn’t envision starting a pastry company at all! But I’m like, “Follow your heart and wherever you’ll be, you’ll be.” My focus [during school] was just to get As and focus. I choose my externship location at Daniel’s of Paris so I could see how a small place was run.
Escoffier: How did school prepare you for what you are doing now?
Rae: It broadened my knowledge – from international desserts, to pastry fundamentals and bread making – [it taught me] the how and why. [I gained] the feeling of accomplishment and overcame the fear of moving into change. Now I’m not scared to do anything because I’ve already taken that leap! It’s not just the program; it’s the process and the strength that you get from doing it. I had all these great experiences that build character, strength, and compassion. I have no limits now.
Escoffier: You also landed another new position, teaching at Sur la Table – congratulations! I hear that you reached out to Career Services – here at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts – for assistance during the application process; can you tell us about that?
Rae: When they told me they (Career Services) were around for life, I make sure I’m connected! I don’t ever want to leave. You have these great resources; just because you are done [with school], you’re not done. Especially if you are an entrepreneur, you have to continue to learn from people who know more than you. Use your resources. I called Dorian (within Career Services) on a regular basis; she has been a super supportive person. She suggested I meet with Susan (a Career Development professor) for help with my résumé. She sat with me, brainstormed, and put together wording that was just enough, but not over done. It worked! I applied a year ago and I wasn’t qualified, but now a year later, I am qualified, and I will be teaching there at the end of the month!
Escoffier: Do have any advice to share with someone looking to start their own company?
Rae: Be up to date on current laws, for example, cakes and breads and jams and spices can be made at home, if you have ServSafe. Know your cottage food laws; know your options. Stay educated and stay in the loop, call your government officials. Go straight to the source! Get up to date on what’s going on now! Laws are always changing.