We’re so excited to welcome Liz Marek of Sugar Geek Show to the #CookItCrew! An artist based in Oregon, Liz specializes in pushing the boundaries of cake decorating by turning sugar into mind blowing works of art. What began as a hobby in 2007 has since spiraled into a successful business based around teaching both beginners and advanced bakers how to create their own edible masterpieces. We sat down with Liz to learn more about her passion for cake decorating, what inspires her to keep creating, and her goals for the future.
Hi Liz! First things first, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your platform?
Liz: I’m Liz Marek, the owner and creator of Sugar Geek Show! Basically I create content for other cake decorators and people who just enjoy learning about how cakes are made. We named it Sugar Geek Show because we’re those weird people that love geeking out about cakes.
Where did the name “Sugar Geek Show” come from?
Liz: So, I actually was in a Facebook group a long time ago called Unruly Bakers. We kind of defined ourselves as people who didn’t follow the rules, and we got some hate about it. So I decided to leave that group – not that it was a bad group or anything, but I wanted to start my own group. I was trying to think about what I would name us, like who are the type of people who don’t really care about the rules of cake decorating but are curious about everything to do with cakes? So that’s how I came up with the name “sugar geeks”. Then I started to make content for my sugar geeks, which is how I got to “Sugar Geek Show”.
How were you first drawn to baking and cake decorating? What was the lightbulb moment that inspired you to pursue a business in the food industry?
Liz: I’ve always really liked making art. I painted, I sculpted, I made jewelry. I’m definitely one of those, “ooh, shiny!” artists that loves to try a bunch of different things. I actually went to school to be a graphic designer so I could have a “real job”, but I was really anxious and stressed during my graphic design job, so I looked for another hobby.
I remember watching this show Ace of Cakes and was like, oh my gosh. People were like making these crazy looking cakes. I’ve never seen cakes like this! And I was really interested. I was really curious. So I started making cakes on the side as a hobby, but I swear to God, the first time I gave a cake to someone, they were so excited to get that cake, and I was immediately addicted. Nobody’s unhappy about getting a cake, you know? It is the best feeling in the world to make something with your hands and then give it to someone and see how excited they are to get a cake that’s customized for them. It took a lot of time, and it cost a lot of money, but I knew pretty quickly that that’s what I wanted to do. So that’s how I got addicted to cake decorating.
Where do you get your design inspiration from?
Liz: I get a lot of my design inspiration from art actually. Fashion, sculptures, artistic pieces. I literally just saw a video on TikTok of this guy making a special effects thing for his Halloween decorations. It was like a goblet and then a wine bottle, and he was showing how you could make it look like the wine was perpetually pouring into a goblet. I was literally like, “that needs to be a cake!”. I’m always inspired by things that are not cake. I love the challenge of turning something that doesn’t seem like it could be cake into cake because that’s got the major wow factor.
What are your favorite ingredients to work with?
Liz: Oh my gosh. I love working with chocolate. I’m obsessed with chocolate. It’s very structural. You can carve it like wood. It just has so many different things that it can do. And I love working with gelatin. It does a really good job of mimicking the look of things like plastic, glass, and water. So aside from cake, I love working with those two things. Oh and isomalt! Isomalt, chocolate, and gelatin. The big three.
What is the reality of being an entrepreneur in the food space today? What are some of the challenges?
Liz: I think one of the major challenges for me as an artist is adhering to a schedule. When you’re an artist, having a schedule is very hard to do because you tend to, at least I tend to wake up and just go, “what do I feel like doing today?”. I have worked most of my life by myself. And then as soon as I started bringing on employees, it was like, oh my gosh, I have to have meetings. I have to make content according to a plan. It sounded awful, but what I discovered is it actually helps me be more creative. When you learn to work with a schedule, you’re still able to be creative, but within constraints. I can still do what feels creative in the moment, but with a goal in mind, which actually helps me be more productive.
You’ve been teaching others how to bake and decorate cakes since 2015. If you could go back to the beginning of your career—knowing what you know now—what advice would you give to yourself?
Liz: Monetize sooner! I have recently started to really focus on monetizing with intent. I’ve always just kind of put stuff out there into the world and hoped that somebody thought it was useful.
Take YouTube, for example. YouTube has been around forever and I still haven’t got it completely figured out because I never really paid attention to my analytics. Analytics are no fun, right? I thought that it would inhibit my creativity, but it actually helps me feel more in control! I can tweak my content based on my analytics and then people consume it more successfully.
What has been the greatest memory from this journey so far?
Liz: There’ve been so many really wonderful and poignant moments. I think that one of my favorite moments of all time was just recently – I won the Cake Hero award from the American Cake Awards! The reason why this was such an amazing moment for me is because the person that presented the award to me is the first cake decorator I ever followed back on this website called Flickr, Karen Portaleo.
She had posted this sculpted octopus cake that was so amazing. I just couldn’t even understand how it was a cake. I remember telling myself, “I’m going to meet this person someday. I’m going to learn from her”. Now in my career, not only have I met her and learned from her, I’ve also traveled with her. She’s somebody I would consider to be a friend! And now she’s handing me this award! It was such a wonderful moment to be recognized by someone that I look up to. And not just her, but also my entire cake community. I just felt really respected, recognized, and appreciated. I think that moment filled me up for probably like the next 20 years.
What keeps you inspired and motivated to keep creating and teaching?
Liz: The things that keep me inspired are the things that challenge me. So if I get into a rut and I feel like I’m just doing the same thing over and over again, I get really bored. I actually get depressed if I feel like I’m not being creative enough. And I have no shortage of ideas. In fact, I have idea overload sometimes. I try to be different and to challenge myself. Then, you know, if I don’t like it, I’ll just try something else.
I think people tend to get scared about trying things because they just don’t know if people are gonna like it. And that is important to consider, but I think when you’re a creative person, you should first think about whether or not you like it and why you’re doing it.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever got from the blogging community was that you are your audience. So if you feel passionately about something, or if you want to dive into a new way of doing something, all of the people who are like you will like that. And if they don’t like it, that’s fine. That’s not your audience. Be authentic and the right people will show up to support you.
What advice do you have for someone who hasn’t found their passion yet?
Liz: My advice is find time to pursue your passions and whatever capacity you have available.
I think a lot about my best friend and this in this aspect. She and I have been best friends since we were 18 years old. She is also an artistic type, but she doesn’t have the freedom to just pursue her passions all the time. She has a job, she has a kid. So it’s unfair sometimes to say things like “follow your dreams” or “sacrifice everything”.
So if you can only read books right now in the evening about what it is that interests you, that’s fine. That’s good enough. Don’t compare yourself to somebody else’s hustle. I know that’s a really generic thing to say, but it’s true. The things that you’re willing to sacrifice might be different than some things somebody else is willing to sacrifice. If you have the means to give up your weekends and your evenings to pursue your passions, go for it! But if you have a family and a job and other responsibilities, it’s also okay to just pursue your passions when you have time.
If you had to recommend one recipe from your website, what would it be?
Liz: White velvet cake. It’s the base to a lot of our recipes. It uses the reverse creaming method, it’s very delicious, and very delicate. And you could flavor it a million different ways!
What are your goals for your platform in the future?
Liz: My goals for my platform are to grow it to the point where we are making sugar geek content for the different categories of geekiness and sugar. So chocolate, baking, pastries, candy making, etc. I want to hire a bunch of different experts and have an office where we are really diving into not only the science, but also the fun of it all.
I want to expand beyond just cake decorating into all things sugar. I pride myself on my recipes and the fact that they are all tried and true to my standards. So still continuing with tried and true recipes, but also creating entertaining content for people like me.
Rapid Fire Favorites
The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum
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