Safrina Latheef, the sugar artist and home baker behind "Zafrin-Bespoke Sugartales" is one of the recent winners of Cakeology 2020 in India. Her winning piece? A cake dedicated to all the COVID-19 frontliners. It was so good that it earned her not just first prize in a category but also a special award.
A longtime resident of Qatar for 19 years now, Safrina's specialty is in structural cakes and decorative exhibits. She crafts figurines and characters from other media, as you can see in the photos below and in her business' Instagram page. Amazingly, she started out as a self-taught home baker as her earlier career had nothing to do with baking. Her educational background was in the financial sector and research but she decided to quit her job to focus on family and creative contentment.
ILQ got in touch with Safrina to learn more about her cake journey, her inspirations, and of course, about her latest win in Cakeology 2020. This is what she had to say:
Safrina: I moved to Qatar with my parents in 2001. I did my Bachelor in Finance at Qatar University and completed my Master's in the same field in HBKU. I worked for a while in the oil and gas industry and also in research.
It definitely has been an awe-inspiring journey to witness the transformation of this country and the Doha skyline rise right in front of our eyes. Having lived in Qatar for two decades, I can positively say this is home. This is the place where I yearn to come back to every time I get homesick.
Safrina: I’ve always been artistically inclined. So after a long while of juggling work, studies, and raising a toddler all at the same time, there was always this void inside me of not being able to find any creative contentment. When my daughter started demanding themed cakes for her birthday, I started trying out cakes from YouTube and received lots of praise from friends and family. This is when I realized that a cake is no different from canvas with its infinite possibilities. And even better, it's delicious!
My husband has been my number one supporter and has kept me motivated to better myself through practice and also made sure that I get to attend hands-on classes with some of the absolute legends in this industry.
Safrina: In the beginning, I studied all types of cakes including Buttercream cakes, royal icing decorations, sugar flowers, etc. But I find myself most in my element doing large structural cakes and decorative sugar pieces as opposed to tiered cakes.
In 2018, I attended a one month Cake Engineering course at Whitecaps Bangalore, and last year, another 3 weeks sugar sculpting course in China. Both of these courses helped me find my confidence and niche in creating sculpted cakes and sugar figurines. I enjoy the creative freedom it provides and unlimited prospects.
Safrina: This is a very dynamic industry and trends keep changing very quickly. There are many amazing cake artists and artists, in general, displaying their creations on social media. I get my inspiration mostly from Instagram and Pinterest. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a cake. It could be a painting, a texture, architecture, or nature or just about anything. I’m always wondering how it could be replicated in sugar or another edible medium.
Safrina: I’m in a whole other world when I’m creating, no matter what the art is. Being able to create and design what I imagined in my mind to reality is an amazing feeling in itself. The finished product is always the icing on the cake for me. Literally! Also, cake makes people happy, and I love to see a happy client and their expression when they ask, “Is that all edible!!?”
Safrina: Finding a consistent supply of suitable raw materials like appropriate colours, sugar paste and moulds is one the biggest challenges here in Qatar. And whenever available they do tend to run out quickly or be unreasonably expensive which eats away at the economic viability for home bakers.
For me personally, as the cake gets bigger, it is a challenge to get it to the venue in one piece safely. Also since the sugar pieces can be extremely fragile and affected by temperature, shipping competition exhibits overseas has also been a huge challenge.
Safrina: It definitely has to be the ‘Cape-less hero’ I made recently for Cakeology 2020, a national level cake competition in India. This year it was open to more international entries as it was conducted online due to the pandemic situation. It depicts a healthcare worker donning her PPE and getting ready for her duty with a heavy heart in the face of imminent danger (Covid-19) even while having to stay away from her family. It is a tribute to all the unsung warriors fighting this battle on the frontline for us. It literally embodies the current MOPH and HMC message - ‘I stayed at work for you - Please stay at home for us’. My husband is a surgeon and a frontline health care worker at HMC so it couldn’t get any more real than this for me.
This entry won me the First place for the Decorative Exhibits/ Structured Cakes Category and also a special award from the Head judge Chef Nicholas Lodge for being an ‘Emotionally Reflective Entry’. His comments are forever going to be one of the highlights of my career. The reactions I have got from everyone for this piece was just overwhelmingly beautiful and heart-warming.
Safrina: Most of us home bakers start out being self-taught. From my personal experience, I’ve found that attending hands-on classes with experienced mentors in the field greatly accelerates the learning pace as you get the tips and tricks of the trade instantly which the teachers themselves took lots of years to develop.
Following that, a lot of practice is essential to keep up the standard and efficiency of your work. Do take part in competitions whenever possible as you get to know your level and the feedbacks could be critical in improving your cake journey. I have a dedicated studio space for my cake craft and that helps a lot to focus and actualize the design at hand without interruptions. This is one creative occupation, where you get immediate satisfaction through your finished product and the appreciation shown by clients.
Safrina: My creations live on Instagram and under the Instagram handle @Zafrin_SugarTales. However, I’m new to social media and I tend to post only those cakes that are entirely my designs and avoid posting client orders that are imitations of other's designs.
Safrina: I intend to compete at more international level competitions like Cake International 2020 and hopefully someday teach as well as represent Qatar at the World Cake Championship as a cake designer. I’m eager to collaborate with artists who will prepare me for this.
Currently, I want to focus on practicing and perfecting my skills. Meanwhile, I’m open to undertaking cake orders which would challenge my sugar skills and allow me to explore more creative possibilities in an edible medium.
Safrina: This is a country that has a huge heart and a place for acceptance and to flourish for everyone no matter what your level is. Our sheer resilience through the blockade and the pandemic response encompassing all with no distinctions are unequivocal examples of its great leadership which makes sure that no one gets left behind.
We also are blessed with a community spirit that is eager to give back to this country. Art is being given an important place in Qatar with a lot of opportunities being bought in by relevant authorities. We must all make an effort to contribute and take part in them and make them a success.
What do you think of Safrina's creations? Isn't she such a talented artist and baker? Don't you just love her attention to detail and the emotions her cakes invoke? Do let us know your thoughts in our Comments section. Like and share the article - it keeps us going!
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