Carmelle of Sweet Alchemy
"I love creating new recipes, and I love feeding people quality food. I just want to do what I love to the best of my abilities. "
Sweet Alchemy founder and baker Carmelle believes her customers deserve more than just bottled flavours and synthetic food colouring, and her dedication to giving the best shows in her cakes and desserts.
Why the name Sweet Alchemy?
Sweet Alchemy was actually the name of one of my photo albums on Facebook which featured photos of my baking endeavours, and when it was time to pick a name for the business, it just seemed fitting.
Why Alchemy? Get ready for a whole lot of geek: Alchemy is commonly understood, according to the oxford dictionary, anyway, as ‘the medieval forerunner of chemistry, concerned with the transmutation of matter, in particular with attempts to convert base metals into gold or find a universal elixir' (laughs). The capability to turn base metals like lead into noble metals like gold was an art many ancient practitioners devoted their lives to master for spiritual enlightenment. According to Nevill Drury (2011) in his book Stealing Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Modern Western Magic, the practitioners deemed gold as ‘the highest development in Nature’ – perfection.
Gold and sophisticated desserts are easier to obtain today with the help of modern technology, to the extent that people take it for granted and disregard true craftsmanship. This business is simply another stepping-stone I’m taking, away from commercialization, to attain “perfection”.
Like the ancient alchemists, I want to master the art of desserts and pastries through genuine practices. Yes, I am quite the idealist.
What made you decide to start your own baking business?
Working for others hinders the allowance to be creative because you’re constantly following a fixed set of recipes and methods, and experimentations are limited because you’re always so busy and flustered in the kitchen. Most of the time, your goal wouldn’t be to bake the best batch of chocolate cakes, but to finish asap so that you’ll have more time to rest.
I don’t believe in rushing, because it’ll often result in substandard food. I don’t want to run a dessert empire - I’m not that ambitious. I love creating new recipes, and I love feeding people quality food. I just want to do what I love to the best of my abilities. So I made it my job to ensure it happens.
You studied visual communications in design school – was there anything you learnt during your time there that you find useful now?
“What is the difference between art and design?” and “Design is art with a purpose.”
The phrases have stuck with me ever since my first week in design school and still continues to influence me daily. I get inspirations from new experiences, observations and conversations I have with people – what they like about a certain dessert or flavour and what they think can be improved; flavours they think are overrated and so on, and take them into consideration whenever I’m creating a new recipe.
I also maintain the need to be kept up-to-date with new trends and creations in various fields of interest such as design, food and music to motivate myself to create recipes that are unique. It’s quite odd, but I hardly ever try my own recipes. I often get other people to try them and alter the recipes according to the feedback I get. I don’t believe in selling desserts that only suit my taste buds, because the desserts are for the people not me. Ultimately, you are as good as the reviews you get.
What are the struggles that you face as a business owner/baker?
In terms of logistics, time, manpower, customers, etc I don’t think I can list every single stumbling block I face as a business owner because there is seriously no end to the battles that come my way, but I’m still fighting to deter people from labeling Sweet Alchemy as ‘your typical cake shop’. Let me get this straight - it is not.
Unlike many patissiers who encourage the use of artificial flavourings and colourings in their desserts, I am averse to using them. I just think they’re unnecessary. I won’t deny that they make it a lot more convenient to incorporate funky flavours and colours into recipes without having to alter the ingredients, but I would go through that trouble any day because it’s just the right thing to do – the consumers deserve that much. Every recipe is carefully formulated to capture the notes of each ingredient and produce what I call, a symphony of natural elements.
Speaking of which, who are your customers?
Apart from the usual demands for festive cakes and tarts, I cater pastries and desserts for events and parties. I supply cakes to a café along Upper Thompson and am looking for more cafes to spread the love to.
What is the most rewarding thing about running Sweet Alchemy so far?
The most rewarding thing about running Sweet Alchemy would be the eureka moments whenever I’m creating a new recipe. It’s also really satisfying when people come up to me to tell me that they loved my cakes, and that they’re the best cakes they’ve ever tasted. Compliments like these, apart from the obvious ego boosting, assures me that whatever I’m doing is right and it really spurs me on to work even harder.
What do you have in store for the future? Is there anything you're working on right now?
I’m currently working to produce a new line of “innovative” desserts that will only be available at flea markets/pop-up stores. The objective of this project is to encourage consumers to make their own food choices – be it in terms of flavour combinations, method of eating, etc.
I’ve been gathering information about the likes and dislikes of certain desserts from random conversations I’ve had with random people, and have altered recipes/assembling methods/packaging according to the information I get.
I don't know if I should be sharing this. What if someone steals my idea? I better launch it soon then. (laughs)