Okonkwo (3rd left) with presenters and friends at the seminar

Recently, bakers were empowered in Lagos at the maiden edition of Uncut Learning Seminar organised by Dewdropes Cakes, write Peter Uzoho and Mabel Benson

Chimdiya Olivia Ogbusu runs a small scale cake outfit, ‘Delia’s Torte’ in Owerri, Imo State. She has been passionate about her business and, had wished that she could scale up her business and make it become a big brand in the cake industry.

The challenges of being an orphan; the task of fending for herself with little inflows from her business; and the absence of financial support, would have forced her out of the cake business, if not for her participation at a life changing ‘Uncut Learning Seminar’ where she won a one million naira worth of baking equipment. Ogbusu was among over 1,000 start-ups in the cake business that took part in the Seminar organised by Dewdropes Cakes, which was held at the Grandball Room of the Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos. The programme was co-funded by established cake bakers within and outside Nigeria, and was aimed at empowering and helping young bakers and sugar artists of barely two years, through training and supports. Participants at the programme cut across bakers, vendors of cake accessories, sugar artists, cake enthusiasts and shoppers from Nigeria, Africa and Canada. Bakers at home, from Abuja to Port Harcourt, Aba to Enugu, Owerri to Lagos turned up for the seminar to either impart or gain knowledge, even as 34 of the young bakers also jostled for the grand prize of one million naira worth of baking equipment which Ogbusu won.

The seminar was headlined by Canada-based Nigerian baker and Chief Executive Officer of Grated Nutmeg, Mr. Terry Adido, who was pulled all the way from Canada to come and share his cake baking experience to bakers at home and to bring them up to speed with innovations in the industry.

Joining Adido in the team of presenters at the seminar were Port Harcourt-based Tarela Okene of Dripples Cakes; and Ify Ben Okorie of Elisie’s Bake House. Others include Siku Adewuyi of Cake ‘N’ Candy Confectionery; Lizzy Okon of Lizzie’s Cakes N Crafts; Bidemi Anslem -Bidokwu of Cakes Et al; Chizor Malize of Brandzone Consulting LLC; and Omomene Odike, Chief Executive Officer of U-Connect and Gr8jobsng, all in Lagos. Before the training session, vendors were making good sales as participants moved round the stands patronising them while having one-on-one meeting with producers of the products they use. Friends who had missed each other much due to distance used the opportunity to reconnect and network while telling tales of their good old days. Buffet stands were positioned strategically and participants visited them at will to quench hunger and satisfy their taste for variety. Paparazzis and photo addicts were seen clicking camera shutters and pressing buttons while taking pictures both for commercial purpose and for update on social media profile photos.

One of the participants from Enugu, Mrs. Mayo Aniche. Aniche who owns a cake brand, Made in Heaven Events, told THISDAY that she was making purchases at a vendor stand while waiting for the training proper. “I came all the way from Enugu to be part of the event. It’s a good programme; you know it’s organised by Dewdropes Cakes and, Ezinne, the CEO, is very good at organising such reputable programmes,” Aniche would say, smiling.
“The programme is really worth my coming all the way from Enugu to Lagos. We have experts in the business that are here to teach us and reveal to us some of the innovations in the business. So I’m so excited and I can’t wait to receive the training,” she noted. According to Anichie, shopping directly from the manufacturers of the products and at a subsidised price was also one of the reasons she attended.
A vendor and Creative Director of Enchanting Cakes and Décor, Mrs. Ayodeji Ajibade, also commended the host, Mrs. Ezinne Okonkwo, for putting up such large and inspiring event, noting that, she has “actually paid her dues in the industry. “I’m actually here as one of her followership and I want to witness what would happen. And the way she organises her events compared to others is really unprecedented; it’s a better way of arranging seminars like this and, I’m really glad I’m here. For us vendors, it’s always a good thing to have this kind of platform to make sales, meet one-on-one with our customers, and interact with professional bakers from other countries. So it’s really a nice programme and I give kudos to the host,” Ajibade said.

With the training set for commencement, first presenter, Okene, whose task was to take her audience on making ‘Classy golden calabash with a twist’ appeared from the rear of the room in a sparkling white
catering shirt in company of an assistant.

A graduate of Library Science from Delta State University, Okene revealed that the art in cake making was what drew her into the business. According to her, there is something in the culture of the Igbos that interests her a lot and that prompted her to showcase that in her presentation. “You know sometimes we get ideas from things around us; the things you know,” Okene said. “Interestingly I know of something in Igbo land called palm wine carrying which is very important for the ladies during their marriages. So I decided to work on the keg they use for that – and I decided to make it gold this time. You know every time we go out we see ideas from decorators; they spread the keg in different forms and use them in decorating things. So I decided to turn that into a keg and that’s why I came up with a golden keg and the kilo,” she said.

Okene also revealed that the rejection of her cake by a client on account of not meeting the client’s taste spurred her to improve in the business. She said she was excited for attending the seminar, adding, “I’m so excited in imparting knowledge. Knowledge is power and it gives me joy when I see you acting upon what has been learnt and you are doing it the way it should be done.” She urged government to make things cheaper for those in the industry. “And then if we have steady power supply it will help us. I’m always on generator; bills are high on NEPA and, I’m using diesel too.”

As Okene rounded up her session, art mixed with technology when Adido manipulated baking tools and raw materials to give the audience a graphical representation of the oil and gas industry during his one hour presentation. His task was to demonstrate how to make a hole in a cake. He successfully constructed a tank with connecting pipes.
Adido who holds a PhD in Law said his coming for the programme was a mixture of feelings. “It was a mixture of excitement, anticipation; a bit of reservation and fear because I’ve never worked as a baker in Nigeria before. Also, it was a learning process for me. So it was a mixture of a lot of feelings.

Like Okene, Adido was also driven into cake business by its artistic nature and the ability for one to create something out of cake. “The excitement to create something new and to have people appreciate your work of art was mostly what drove me into it,” he narrated. He equally recognised the challenges of baking in Nigeria. “Lack of power supply is a great challenge bakers face in Nigeria because cakes are perishables and Lagos is a very hot and humid state. Most Nigerian states are hot so if bakers are able to have access to constant power supply then they can be able to store their cakes well. They would be able to work faster and smarter. So lack of access to adequate power supply is a challenge bakers face here that we don’t face back there in Canada,” he stated.

According to him, access to modern baking tools; unwillingness to disperse knowledge by cake experts in Nigeria, and laziness among upcoming bakers to go the extra miles to get information, were other challenges facing them. “Most upcoming bakers are lazy. They don’t want to put in the effort. They don’t want to go online. There’s almost no cake decorating technique that you want to learn that you would not find on google, on youtube, on blogs. So people need to learn how to shy away from just relying on someone to teach them,” Adido added. In her presentation, Malize took the audience on ‘Branding in the New Normal’. She reminded them that cake has moved beyond just being a business, saying it had become an art. She enjoined them to build a strong brand in their cake business, stressing that “strong brands live in the minds of consumers.”

Malize added: “You must take your brand to where it is visible. Connect with your market and find out what works.” She also advised them to use multiple platforms when branding; to embrace social media platforms; collaborate with good partners; and invest in personal development. “You must find time to groom yourself,” she noted. Speaking to THISDAY on the side line of the programme, the host, Okonkwo, stated that the need to empower budding bakers and improve on the cake industry in Nigeria inspired the seminar. “Pure passion and love inspired it,” she said.

“And of course, it’s an empowerment programme. Today we’re going to be setting up a business – a lucky person is going to be set up today with equipment worth one million naira, gotten from different bakers with same passion as me to support people that are two years in business and less – those that are finding it difficult to set up their own businesses. So today, somebody’s life is going to be changed and somebody’s business is going to be uplifted.”

She urged bakers to come out of their comfort zones and embrace the innovation brought into the industry by art, saying cake has gone beyond butter and sugar. “I’m a sugar artist, I create piece. I’m creative. Cake has gone beyond just sugar, butter and floor. A bride wants to know if someone can do an artistic thing for her- something more creative that conveys a certain message other than just seeing it as cake. So you have to step out of your comfort zone,” she advised. Okonkwo foresees a bright future for the industry, saying “five years from now Nigerian cake industry is going to be on the map. Already we’re making waves and people are very particular about it. Most of the foreign bakers call names of Nigerian sugar artists; that means they are beginning to notice us and that’s why we’re going to place ourselves,” she explained. She highlighted lack of capital as the major challenge confronting new entrants in the industry, but noted that, it takes only a determined and disciplined mind to pull through. She also advised cake start-ups to try and save from the little they make to enable them have money to buy basic equipment they need for their work.