A sweet love story: how a cake shop was born

May 27, 2016 16:40
Jess Leung is a top pastry chef who specializes in creating fondant cakes. Photo: HKEJ

Stepping into Pandora Cake Shop in Tsuen Wan, you might think you're inside an art gallery with sculptures all around you.

The figurines of cartoon and literary characters like Creamy Mami and Alice in Wonderland, as well as martial arts legend Bruce Lee and Cantonese opera artists are creations of top pastry chef Jess Leung.

Leung, who has developed quite a following for her fondant cakes, baked her first cake when she was around 15 years old.

As to be expected of a teenage girl, Leung took to baking to impress her boyfriend Kalvin Wu, who eventually became her husband.

From doing beginner's cakes and cookies, she developed her skills to turn out more sophisticated bread products and desserts.

With encouragement from friends, Leung was fast turning into a pastry expert, and just three years ago, a friend approached her for a cake in the form of a cartoon car character.

“Back then I had yet to create one [fondant cake], but I was eager to try anything. Soon enough I was captivated by the process of making it. It's like creating models out of clay when I was just a child," Leung recalled.

It didn’t take long for Leung to decide to fully devote herself into the art. She quit her full-time job as a sales associate in a jewelry outlet and opened an online shop accepting orders from anywhere in Hong Kong.

In late 2014, the Wus opened their first store in Tsuen Wan, which, aside from selling made-to-order cakes, offers bakery courses and retails baking ingredients and supplies.

It was not as easy as they had thought.

First, Leung, who was then 24 years old, looked so young that students in her bakery class sometimes talked behind her back, asking themselves if the instructor was really qualified for the job.

She thought that the best way to quash doubts about her abilities was to take part in an international competition and see how far she could go.

And so she joined Cake International Birmingham 2015 in November.

Her entries – a cake in the form of Bruce Lee and two others featuring Cantonese opera artists –bagged three prizes: two Cake International Gold Awards and the Cake International Best in the Show Award.

Leung said her secret ingredient is not really so secret: it's simply giving full play to her creativity.

“My principle is that I would never copy other people’s works," she said. "All my works are my own creations.

"Students can see how much effort an instructor has put in designing a cake. I often encourage my students, telling them that it's all right if it is not perfect, but it has to be original.”

Asked about the name of the shop, Leung said it has nothing to do with a jewelry shop of the same name, but its origin has something to do with cakes, and a quarrel she had with Wu. 

Every year since she was in Secondary 3, Leung would send a cake to her beau to mark his birthday.

After doing so for three years, she discovered one day that her painstakingly prepared gift was kept untouched in his fridge for an entire week. 

It turned out that Wu was not fond of desserts, but he didn't dare tell her.

For Leung, it was devastating; she had taken to baking precisely to impress him.

For Wu, it was panic time: how could she ever trust him again? 

Wu tried a lot of ways to rectify the situation, but finally he was able to console her by giving her a gift about, what else, baking – a DIY miniature model of a cake shop named Pandora.

Years later, the happy couple established their own bake shop and called it Pandora.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 20.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Leung demonstrates how to color a cake to make it look like a statue of an angel. Her cakes portraying Chinese opera artists and Bruce Lee won gold awards at an international show. Photo: HKEJ
Leung bagged three top awards at Cake International Birmingham 2015 and met many other talented chefs in the English city. Photo: HKEJ
Many celebrities enroll in Leung's fondant cake making classes. Cantopop singer Yumiko Cheng (right) wanted to make a cake for her daughter. Photo: HKEJ
Leung first took to baking to impress her boyfriend Kalvin Wu, who eventually became her husband. Photo: HKEJ

Reporter at Hong Kong Economic Journal