Sometimes the cherry on top really is just that, and it certainly appears to be the case for Faaiza Omar. At home in her Valencia Park residence in Mbombela, Faaiza explains what it means to live – and love – the sweet life.
Born and raised in Johannesburg, Faaiza comes from a family that has flair and sophistication in their DNA. Her mum, a keen entertainer and dress designer, passed her aptitude for style on, and Faaiza and her four sisters would often design their own looks and outfits for events and weddings. She wasn’t always a baker by trade – Faaiza is a trained skincare therapist, although being a pastry chef is definitely her passion.
“Baking is great way for me to express my creativity,” she smiles. “Initially I baked cakes for my younger sisters who were experimenting with fondant, and the infatuation with perfecting the art of macaron making got me hooked on French pastries. The flavour combinations are endless! I love that.”
Being a pastry chef in a very much male-dominated industry isn’t always easy, Faaiza says. “There has been a marked increase in female chefs, but both in South Africa and globally we still have a way to go to catch up on this front. The important thing is to remember that patience is key; Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour. It takes time to master a skill or craft, time and dedication.” She absently rotates the whisk on one of her many pastel-coloured blenders. “I bake a lot,” Faaiza muses as she adjusts the setting. Blenders aside, her love of her chosen field is evident in her kitchen, which is every inch a baker’s dream.
She laughs when she says that her idea of a showstopper cake would be a six-layered, moist chocolate cake, layered with chocolate mint mousse and peppermint Aero. “My favourite cake would have to be tres leches or milk cake flavoured with saffron. It’s a type of sponge (sometimes butter) cake that is soaked in three types of milk; evaporated milk, condensed milk and heavy cream. When butter is not used, tres leches is a very light cake with many air bubbles.” It’s not always a (fondant) rose garden though, and as with all things, there will be times when your creations don’t turn out the way you want them to. Faaiza’s advice is to embrace each challenge and not to get despondent.
“Don’t take rejection to heart,” she says. “Keep evolving; as you grow, so will your career goals. Look at me; I started out as a trained skin care therapist and I’m now a pastry chef with a successful online pastry supply store and pastry school. Perseverance is key. Look for inspiration to keep your passion alive. I draw mine from my travels and also the chefs under whom I have studied. I resonate with these words of Maida Heater: Happiness is baking cookies. Happiness is giving them away. And serving them, eating them, talking about them, reading and writing about them, thinking about them and sharing them with you. “That is how I feel – happiness to me is baking and sharing my beautiful creations with my neighbours and friends. I am also passionate about helping and uplifting others wherever possible. To volunteer time, money or energy leaves me with a sense of immense gratification and peace.”
Faaiza has put her passion down onto paper with the release of her beautiful book, My Sweet Life, a lifelong dream. “I have always wanted to compile a recipe book, incorporating all my favourite flavours and recipes. It is inspired by my travels and the exotic flavours I’ve encountered along the way. My hope is that this book helps to bridge the gap between the pastry chef and home baker,” she says. “Ultimately, I’d like to compile another one with simple bakes derived from by my travels… Oh yes, and I have a list of masterclasses I want to attend with a few world-renowned chefs!”
Travelling is obviously high on the list of Faaiza’s loves. Though you may wonder if she ever slows down, it is her way of recharging and relaxing. “It’s my escape,” she smiles. “I immerse myself in the culture and food of each place I visit, drawing inspiration from their ingredients and cuisine. After a week or two away from home, I’m ready to get back to my kitchen experimenting with all the new flavours I’ve encountered.” We can’t wait to see what this intrepid creator of beautiful confectionaries comes up with next!
Photographer: Tanya Erasmus; Something Timeless Photography