Pastry Arts Interview with Charleen Huebner

chef huebner working on dragon topper
Chef Charleen Huebner works on sculpting a dragon for a cake.

Charleen Huebner is all about desserts. The majority of her time is spent either teaching about the pastry arts or practicing what she preaches by creating remarkable cakes and confections. Chef Huebner, 43, is the Baking and Pastry Coordinator for Stratford University in Northern Virginia (campuses in Falls Church and Woodbridge) where she has taught for seven years.

About Chef Huebner

With a specialty in wedding cake design, Chef Huebner started her career by graduating from the Culinary Institute of America with degrees in Culinary Arts and Baking and Pastry. Her work history includes Frenchman's Reef Hotel in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands., and later with Didier Schoner at Café/Patisserie Didier in Georgetown, outside Washington, D.C.

Several years later, Chef Huebner started working for the Ritz Carlton at Pentagon City in Washington, D.C., working various positions including garde manger. In 2004, she started working as an on-call pastry chef for the Blair House, the U.S. President's guest house. Her responsibilities included production of pastry items and set up for various events. She then joined forces with a Chef James Sinopoli, a classmate from the Culinary Institute in America, in a joint venture called Chef of the Hill, a boutique caterer/personal chef business that also offers wedding cakes. Professionally, Chef Huebner is a member of the International Cake Exploration Societé and the Bread Bakers Guild of America.

Huebner recently took some time out of her busy schedule to chat with LoveToKnow about her life as a pastry arts instructor and culinary chef.

A Pastry Arts Interview with Charleen Huebner

A cake Huebner designed to look like a purse and the picture of the purse.

LoveToKnow (LTK): What specific skills/techniques do you teach at Stratford University?

Charleen Huebner (CH): I teach courses in Artisan Bread Making, Sugar and Chocolate Arts, Confectionary Production and the always popular Wedding and Specialty Cakes, where students learn the carve cakes and build and decorate wedding cakes.

LTK: How does someone get involved in taking classes in cake decorating?

CH: Your local cake supply stores/shops either know of classes or give classes on cake decorating. Wilton offers very basic classes, great for the individual just beginning to learn. The International Cake Exploration Societé (ICES), an organization comprised of over 3,500 sugar artists, cake decorators and vendors from all over the world, is an excellent resource for the amateur as well as the professional.

Advice on Becoming a Cake Designer

LTK: Why would someone become a profession cake decorator?

CH: People usually dabble in cake decorating as a hobby at first but then become more and more involved. Cake decorating is very artistic as well as challenging. The popularity of television shows like Cake Boss and Ace of Cakes really has pushed this profession to the forefront and now it is more respected.

LTK: Are there any special skills they should possess?

CH: Have a love for this type of work. Having a natural artistic ability certainly helps.

LTK: What types of classes are needed to become a professional pastry chef or cake decorator/designer?

CH: Start at the basics and learn them well. Go to a culinary school and then work for someone well-established in the business. Also take some art classes like in ceramics, sculpting, painting or airbrushing. Learn about colors, mixing and shading. Take classes in Sugar and Chocolate Arts. Learn how to do flowers, borders, and how to use fondant, and gum paste.

Turning Professional

Chef Huebner teaches culinary students how to create beautiful wedding cakes.

LTK: Are there different specialties in cake design? If so, what are they?

CH: Yes, people can specialize in solely in wedding cakes or custom sculpted cakes or all occasions. You will find some people who are only involved in making décor like gum paste flowers. There are so many avenues in the profession of cake design.

LTK: What types of careers are available for professional cake decorators?

CH: You can teach, run your own business, work in a bakery/hotel or caterer or be a freelance cake decorator.

LTK: Do you think the industry is over-saturated with cake designers?

CH: No, there is always room for new talent. Nowadays, there is a demand with specialty diets such as vegan and gluten-free. And remember people will always need wedding (cakes).

LTK: How do cake decorators market themselves?

CH: Join an organization like the American Culinary Federation and The International Cake Exploration Societé. Enter professional cake competitions.

LTK: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?

CH: Keep a portfolio of all the work you've done. Pictures really speak for themselves especially in this profession. Practice, practice, practice and keep learning.

Pastry Arts Interview with Charleen Huebner