Name: Ileana Saldivia
Age: One never asks a lady her age
Title: Owner at Sugar Realm Fine Bakery & Cake Design
Hometown: Caracas, Venezuela
Why we love her:For her ability to create the most beguiling and delicious cakes known to man.
Ileana Saldivia’s journey to become a pastry chef is a unique one, to say the least. As a trained architect, the Venezuelan native spent most of her adult life following her husband’s thriving Procter & Gamble career around the world, including to such beautiful locales as Puerto Rico, Mexico and California, finding her own jobs wherever the family landed. They finally settled in Cincinnati with their two children, and Saldivia went to work for a local architecture firm.
Not long after, the economy went south and Saldivia was laid off. Not one to let herself get down in the dumps, she took advantage of the opportunity to do the kinds of things for herself and her family that she would never have had the time to do as a full-time working mother. She had always been a lover of baking, so she began making cakes for her husband and children.
Creating a cake for her daughter’s first communion gave Saldivia the chance to share this rediscovered love with family and friends. The cake she made for the party was not only lovely, it was also delicious, and she was soon besieged with requests from everyone to make cakes for their special occasions. After making 20 cakes for free, Saldivia knew she had a moneymaker on her hands. Sugar Realm Fine Bakery & Cake Design was born.
At Sugar Realm, Saldivia combines her architectural training with baking prowess to create from-scratch whimsical and technically complicated multi-layered confections for weddings, bat/bar mitzvahs, parties and every event in between. She and her staff can replicate almost anything in sugar, from heirloom jewels and embroidery to bouquets of flowers and beloved pets. She’s also been featured in a variety of bridal and lifestyle magazines, highlighting her sugar-frilled romantic cakes as well as her Art Deco sculptures, like a cake she made for a wedding at the Hall of Mirrors, decked out in edible gold paint.
Her dreams are as big as her towering confections, but her journey is steady and controlled: She still operates Sugar Realm out of her house so she can continue to be home for her children and keep business costs in check.
How do you define passion? How is passion different from love? What are you most passionate about?
To me, passion is thinking about something or someone non-stop and never having enough of it. Love, on the other hand, is more “reasonable” than passion; it is intense but controlled — maybe a little less crazy. I’m most passionate about doing things right — I don’t like middle-grounds. [I’m passionate] about being the best that I can be and making the most of my time. I’m truly passionate about my craft and I never get bored of it, and I’m continually thinking on what to do next.
What do you love about Cincinnati?
This is the best city in the world to raise children. I feel that this city offers a fertile ground for children to grow to achieve their full potential and prepare for life.
What’s the best lesson life has taught you about love?
That true love is unconditional; that you would do anything if someone you love is in danger or hurting. Last year my husband fell from his bike and ended up in the ER with a severe shoulder fracture. After the diagnosis was made, I moved heaven and earth in search of the best specialist in town that could operate on him and I didn’t settle until I knew that he was in the best hands. ... Throughout his recovery there was not one moment were I felt obligated or regretted the tasks at hand. On the contrary, I felt so connected and even honored having been of assistance to him, who I truly love.
What is a phrase or motto you live your life by?
My favorite phrase these days is by Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.” If there is one thing I try to do in life it is to be happy. That is what I think life is for. ©