Pastry Chef’s Labor of Love
By Kimberly Kratz ‘11
What can you do with bowls of fondant, colorful decorations and fresh, baked cakes?
Sharon Spatucci ’02, owner of Sugar Plum Studio in Cherry Hill, NJ, offers fun and unique cake decorating experiences at her workshops, parties and open DIY sessions. Her journey there began as a child from a food-centric family who wanted to become a baker.
Her dream became real at Bucks County Community College.
Ten years had passed since her high school graduation. “At 25, I found myself suddenly divorced and having to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. After a few years of bumping around in office jobs that I hated, I thought, ‘something has to change.’”
So Spatucci began exploring culinary schools. Like any young, divorced woman, finances concerned her. As she checked tuition costs at schools, she thought, “I’m never going to be able to do this, but then I heard that Bucks had a culinary arts program.”
She researched the program and tuition at Bucks and believed that the education for the price tag would be a sound investment. She interviewed for and was accepted into the Chef Apprenticeship program.
At 28, Spatucci was older than many of her student peers, but from the outset, Chef Earl Arrowood encouraged her. “He always said, ‘This is going to be hard, but you can do it and don’t let anyone tell you can’t.’”
“I’ve maintained a pretty close relationship [with him] since leaving the program. He was definitely a mentor from day one. While he’s fair and impartial with all of the students, I think he takes a particular interest in older students because it’s intimidating to go back to school and a classroom when you’ve been away so long.”
Upon completing the apprenticeship program, Spatucci went right into working for wholesale bakeries and she freelanced cake baking as well. “I loved baking wedding cakes and desserts,” she said.
Along the way, her original plan to open a retail bakery changed. “Someone asked me to do a demonstration at a library to teach a cupcake decorating class and I found I loved it. It snowballed from there into in-home demonstrations and parties.”
By 2014, she’d opened a mobile business and in March 2017 she opened a studio location where enthusiasm for learning the art of cake decorating runs high.
“I’ve built a really good network of colleagues in not just the culinary, but the arts industry locally. I’m finding that it’s really important to build partnerships and friendships with people who have industry similar to yours. Art and music-centric businesses feed off each other; provide each other with referrals. I’m always finding inspiration in what other people do and what drives them to make their business successful.”
For people considering the Chef Apprenticeship program at Bucks, Spatucci offers these thoughts: “The food industry is incredibly physically demanding. TV really glamorizes it. There certainly is an element of enjoyment, but they don’t show you the blood, sweat and tears. I don’t think there is a way to prepare someone for how hard you are going to work. Only the strong survive, and only the people who show up every day and put in 100 percent are going to make it.”
She cautions that the industry has high turnover and burnout rates, but if it’s your passion, she said, “It’s a labor of love.”