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Meet Central Los Angeles Edible Artist: Tiana Sakona

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tiana Sakona.

Tiana, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Like most people, my career path has been determined by a string of events.

I grew up in a large family in rural Pennsylvania. Artistic opportunities weren’t always abundant but my mother kept us busy with crafts, community theatre, and dance classes. Toward the end of high school, I wasn’t fully sure of what I wanted to do next. I knew I wanted my career to be unique, preferably in the arts, and dancing was what I loved. With my sights set on Chicago, I found myself at Columbia College to pursue a BA in Dance Pedagogy.

During my 3rd year of school, a friend took me to a gastro-pub– a far cry from the fine dining that was The Olive Garden in central PA. Upon my first bite of roasted bone marrow, I knew I had discovered a new love. Over the next 3 years, I found myself eating all over the city and working a number of positions in the restaurant industry. After graduating and working in the dance community for a couple of years, I realized I wasn’t happy. When I went back to the drawing board it was obvious that I wanted to do something with food.

I knew there was no way to turn around and go back to school to get a culinary degree, so I started looking for internships. Although cake decorating wasn’t on my radar initially, so many things clicked when I interviewed/staged for the internship. Cake decorating was a niche in the industry with a number of qualities I appreciated in dance: attention to detail, creative, temporary, somewhat unnecessary but an experience meant to be enjoyed and savored.

Following the internship– and ready for a new adventure– I moved myself to Los Angeles to establish my career.

Has it been a smooth road?
After a three month (unpaid) internship, I moved across the country to a massive city to pursue a brand new career– no obstacles whatsoever…. Kidding of course. There have been a number of obstacles but most have been balanced by opportunities and growth.

My transition into this new field may have been smoother if had I been able to gain more experience and move under better financial circumstances but, as timing had it, there I was. Alternatively, because I was so new to the cake world and to LA, I hit the ground running with a fearless, ambitious attitude. I have always been determined, but the fearlessness was a new and welcome trait.

I think the biggest challenge I have had is one all artists face- finding the balance between working to pay your bills and working to further your craft. It’s stressful for your wallet and your spirit. Imagine you get a great freelancing gig but it’s inconsistent so you get a supplemental job. Even if it’s great, if that job isn’t helping you reach your end goal you constantly stress about not having time to work on that goal. Then each work decision you make becomes extremely loaded. Do you wait for the potentially awesome opportunity that has been looming for 8 months or do you make a move? You finally decide to make a move, but then it doesn’t work out and you’re financially behind (not that you were ever very comfortable).

Sometimes the balancing act isn’t all bad. Having multiple jobs can help fulfill different desires. Or, what we all hope happens, the opportunity you have been manipulating your schedule for finally pays off and lands you on a television series or with a full-time job.

Every once in a while, your crazy, irregular schedule of odd jobs and acquaintances comes through with an opportunity you didn’t expect. For example, Food Styling. I didn’t know that was a job until moving to LA and now it is something I am working towards.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
The cake industry has recently seen tremendous growth and change. There are a number of amazing artists on the scene and more that are learning. With the influx of new cake artists and social media, I think Millennials and Generation Z are becoming more aware of edible possibilities. I expect that these groups will create a larger demand for cakes to compliment the creativity that has been booming.

If I can explain myself…

In recent years the specialty cake industry has really come to life. The industry started gaining popularity when Ace of Cakes aired in 2006. It was the first show of it’s kind and it was based on Chef Duff Goldman who was doing innovative things with cakes and power tools. That type of originality was seen across the world and cake decorators started getting really creative. Ten years later there are people making hyper-realistic flowers, animals, and even people. Anything you can think of can be adapted into a cake and/or dessert table. In addition to the popularity that reality shows brought, social media has had a huge impact on the industry in popularity and community for those trying to learn- inspiration on Instagram and Pinterest, homemade youtube tutorials, Craftsy classes (which are essentially online master classes available for purchase), etc, there are many ways newcomers can learn and workshop their ideas.

Lastly, the demand. Millennial and Generation Z love their picture perfect, trendy life. The decor of their house is straight from their Pinterest wall and you better believe their party is too- from their wedding to a gender reveal, to the ornately themed birthday parties for years to come. What do all of these events need? A cake. The demand is fun and exciting for cake decorators because it can go in any direction. Hopefully, that demand will continue rise.

What would you say has been the biggest challenge for you over the course of your career?
My biggest challenge has been finding a full-time job. There are a number of bakeries in Los Angeles that offer custom cakes, but few that focus on them. I wanted to find a place that was capable of giving decorators the time, materials, and opportunities needed to produce special cakes. Additionally, as I touched on before, I have had some opportunities looming over the past couple years but it wasn’t until recently that one finally panned out. Now my money making/bill paying job is also my career building job. Now that I’m not balancing 3-4 jobs I want to use my spare time to pursue more Food Styling gigs (which seems like it may be the new challenge).

What would you tell someone who is just starting out?
Find ways to practice. As simple as it may sound, practicing specialty cakes can be a little difficult.

Sometimes if you stage at a bakery a few times you’ll happen to be there a day that they’re short-handed. If you make a really good impression they may allow you to make a dummy and/or personal cakes.

If you don’t find a shop that has that option, find a way to do it at home. There are so many learning resources online that you have to take advantage of them! Plus, a lot of tools are useful, but few individual tools are extremely expensive. You can build your collection a little at a time.

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