Heidi Cottrill, pastry chef and owner of Chef Sugar’s Cakes and Confections, loves a challenge.
She was in on the ground floor as executive pastry chef of a fine dining restaurant in the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. She’s been the executive pastry chef at Mackenzie’s Chop House in Colorado Springs and The Cliff House at Pikes Peak in Manitou Springs. She’s a silver-medal winner in the Grand National Cake Competition. She’s taught pastry courses at the Paragon Culinary School in Colorado Springs, and this summer, she will be a contestant on the “Awesome 80s Cake Challenge” on the Food Network’s Challenge show, scheduled to air June 5.
And, if all that isn’t enough, it’s wedding season in Colorado Springs.
Brides across the county will be calling on her for that special cake, from the traditional swirls and pearls to whimsical bright colors.
“People are discovering there is a lot more that can be done with the wedding cake, and they can put their individual personality into their wedding cake,” Cottrill said.
Chef Sugar’s custom cake orders, which start at $4 a slice, are expected to go from 11 a week to 40 a week as wedding bells ring now through October. Cottrill, who enlists the help of her husband chef Dave Cottrill and culinary interns during wedding season, declined to reveal annual revenue. But, business is up, she said.
Across the country, spending on weddings was up 23 percent in 2010 over 2009, according to The Wedding Report, Inc., an Arizona-based research company.
Bridal magazines and websites have declared 2011 wedding cake trends will include taller cakes and colors of champagne, turquoise and coral. With 90 flavors on Chef Sugar’s menu, “the sky is the limit – we’ll do anything,” Cottrill said.
Cottrill opened Chef Sugar’s six months ago – an offshoot of her company Amuse Gourmet, which she started seven years ago. She wanted Chef Sugar’s to focus on the cakes and pastries while Amuse remained focused on catering.
Chef Sugar’s, in the King Soopers shopping center at Woodman and Academy boulevards, is a bakery, a cake studio and a classroom, where Cottrill teaches cake decorating, baking and the art of the European pastry. Each day, the bakery features different flavors of cake balls or pastries – “whatever I feel like making, I make,” she said.
Still, about 85 percent of business is wedding cakes. Thanks to popular television shows like, “Ultimate Cake Off” and “Ace of Cakes,” the plain Jane white wedding cake is passé.'”
“People are not celebrating with an average 9 inch-round, butter cream cake with a bow on top,” she said. “It’s big and it’s bold and people are doing bizarre and weird and sculpted and completely over the top.”
Cottrill’s love of baking began when she was just a girl, working alongside her mother and grandmother. At the same time she was interested in art and thought about architecture as a career choice.
But, in 1999 she enrolled in the Scottsdale Culinary Institute-Le Cordon Bleu. It’s where she picked up the nickname “Chef Sugar” as she found her passion for the pastry. She was invited to stay on at the school for a year as an assistant instructor and found that in addition to baking, she loved teaching.
In search of making a name for herself, she went to Las Vegas where as executive pastry chef she helped open the Aquaknox Restaurant in the Venetian Hotel. Publicity, photo shoots and meeting with celebrities was part of the job and she found herself working 94 hours a week.
“It was fun at first, but I am an artist . . . I wanted to go bake,” Cottrill said.
She decided if she was going to work that hard, it should be for herself. She came back to Colorado Springs in 2004 and opened Amuse Gourmet, specializing in catering, pastries and wedding cakes.
Over the next seven years, she would become pastry chef at the acclaimed Cliff House of Pikes Peak, teach culinary classes and even help launch Solerra – a cosmetics company that would keep her busy traveling 26 days a month for such events as Fashion Week in New York and Oscars night in California.
“I didn’t sleep a lot,” she said.
All the while, she still made wedding cakes.
“I flew back from New York and have a day and a half for three wedding cakes for the weekend,” she said.
Now, she’s focused and reenergized on wedding cakes and pastries at Chef Sugar’s. She loves teaching decorating and baking classes and she invites customers to watch from the counter in the cake studio as she works. It’s a bakery model she eventually wants to take to other cities, she said.
“I feel like pastry and art go hand in hand,” she said. “Obviously the consumers feast with their eyes first. The best goal is to have everything look good and taste good as well.”
That’s a challenge she’ll take.