Safrina Latheef, the sugar artist and home baker behind “Zafrin-Bespoke Sugartales” is one of the recent recipients of Cakeology 2020 in India. His winning piece? A cake dedicated to all COVID-19 frontliners. It was so good that it not only earned him the top prize in a category, but also a special prize.
A longtime resident of Qatar for 19 years now, Safrina’s specialty is structural cakes and decorative items. She makes action figures and characters from other media, as you can see in the photos below and on her company’s Instagram page. Surprisingly, she started out as a self-taught home baker, as her early career had nothing to do with baking. Her background was in finance and research, but she decided to quit her job to focus on family and creative contentment.
ILQ reached out to Safrina to find out more about her cake journey, her inspirations and of course, her latest Cakeology 2020 win. Here’s what she had to say:
ILQ: How long have you been in Qatar and how has your journey been so far?
Safrina: I moved to Qatar with my parents in 2001. I did my bachelor’s degree in finance at Qatar University and completed my masters in the same field at HBKU. I worked for a while in the oil and gas industry and also in research.
It has certainly been an impressive journey to witness the transformation of this country and the Doha skyline looming before our eyes. Having lived in Qatar for two decades, I can say with certainty that this is my home. This is the place I aspire to return to whenever I feel homesick.
ILQ: Give us a quick overview of your cake journey. How did it all start?
Safrina: I have always had an artistic bent. So after a long time juggling work, school, and raising a toddler all at the same time, there was still that void in me that I couldn’t find any creative contentment. When my daughter started demanding themed cakes for her birthday, I started trying cakes on YouTube and received a lot of praise from friends and family. It was then that I realized that a cake is no different from the canvas with its endless possibilities. And even better, it’s delicious!
My husband has been my number one supporter and kept me motivated to improve through practice and also made sure that I could attend hands-on classes with some of the absolute legends in this industry.
ILQ: How would you describe your cake style? And how long did it take before you actually felt like you had found your cake identity?
Safrina: At first, I studied all types of cakes including buttercream cakes, royal icing decorations, sugar flowers, etc.
In 2018 I took a month-long cake engineering course in Whitecaps Bangalore, and last year another 3-week sugar carving course in China. These two classes have helped me find my confidence and niche in creating carved cakes and sugar figurines. I appreciate the creative freedom it offers and the limitless perspectives.
ILQ: Who do you turn to for inspiration? Where do you get your ideas from?
Safrina: It’s a very dynamic industry and trends change very quickly. There are many amazing artists and pastry artists, in general, who post their creations on social media. I am mainly inspired by Instagram and Pinterest. It doesn’t have to be a cake. It can be a painting, a texture, an architecture or nature or just about anything. I always wonder how it could be reproduced in sugar or some other edible medium.
ILQ: Why do you like what you do?
Safrina: I am in a whole different world when I create, whatever the art. Being able to create and design what I actually imagined in my mind is an amazing feeling in and of itself. The finished product is always the icing on the cake for me. Literally! Plus, the cake makes people happy, and I like to see a happy customer and their expression when they ask: “Is everything edible !!?“
ILQ: What is the biggest difficulty you have encountered on your cake journey?
Safrina: Finding a constant supply of the right raw materials like the right colors, sugar paste and molds is one of the biggest challenges here in Qatar. And whenever they are available, they tend to run out quickly or be excessively expensive, compromising the economic viability of home bakers.
For me personally, as the cake gets bigger, it’s a challenge to get it to the site in one safe piece. In addition, since the sugar lumps can be extremely brittle and affected by temperature, overseas shipping competition exhibits have also been a huge challenge.
ILQ: What is your favorite creation so far? Tell us about your Cakeology experience and why you chose to create your winning cake.
Safrina: It must certainly be the ‘Heroes without a cape‘I recently did for Cakeology 2020, a nationwide cake competition in India. This year it was open to more international entries as it was held online due to the pandemic situation. It depicts a healthcare worker putting on his PPE and preparing for his duty with a heavy heart in the face of imminent danger (Covid-19) even while having to stay away from his family. It’s a tribute to all the unsung warriors who fight this frontline battle for us. It literally embodies the current MOPH and HMC message – ‘I stayed at work for you – Please stay home for us‘. My husband is a frontline surgeon and health worker at HMC, so it couldn’t be more real than that to me.
This entry earned me the First place for the Decorative exhibitions / Structured cakes category and also a special price by Chief Justice Nicholas Lodge for being an “emotionally reflective entry”. His comments will forever be one of the highlights of my career. The reactions I got from everyone to this piece were just incredibly beautiful and heartwarming.
ILQ: What do you recommend for beginners?
Safrina: Most of us home bakers are self-taught. From my personal experience, I have found that attending hands-on lessons with mentors who are experienced in the field dramatically speeds up the pace of learning because you instantly get the tips and tricks of the trade that the teachers themselves put on. many years to develop.
Then a lot of practice is essential to maintain the level and efficiency of your work. Take part in competitions whenever possible as you get to know your level and feedback could be essential in improving your cake course. I have a studio space dedicated to my cake work and it helps me a lot to focus and update the design at hand without interruptions. It is a creative profession, where you get immediate satisfaction from your finished product and customer appreciation.
ILQ: How can people see and stay up to date with your creative work?
Safrina: My creations live on Instagram and under the nickname Instagram @Zafrin_SugarTales. However, I’m new to social media and tend to only post cakes that are entirely my designs and avoid posting customer orders that are imitations of other people’s designs.
ILQ: What’s the next step for you?
Safrina: I plan to participate in more international level competitions like Cake International 2020 and hope to someday teach and represent Qatar at the World Cake Championship as a cake designer. I can’t wait to collaborate with artists who will prepare me for this.
Currently, I want to focus on practicing and honing my skills. During this time, I’m open to taking on cake orders that would challenge my sugar skills and allow me to explore more creative possibilities in an edible medium.
ILQ: Do you have a message for the Qatari people?
Safrina: It is a country with a huge heart and a place of acceptance and fulfillment for all, whatever your level. Our sheer resilience through the blockade and the all-encompassing pandemic response are unequivocal examples of his great leadership in ensuring that no one is left behind.
We are also fortunate to have a community spirit eager to give back to this country. Art occupies an important place in Qatar with many opportunities purchased by the relevant authorities. We must all strive to contribute, participate and make it a success.
What do you think of Safrina’s creations? Isn’t she such a talented artist and baker? Don’t you just love her attention to detail and the emotions her cakes evoke? Let us know your thoughts in our Comments section. Like and share the article – it keeps us going!