By: Abbey Adams
Weddings, baby showers, bridal showers, birthdays… What do all these events have in common? CAKE. No one knows cake better than Kaleigh Ligoci. Starting out in the kitchen with her mom, this young girl soon turned into a cake queen. Not everyone has the courage to follow their dreams and be successful at it, but Kaleigh is doing just that. The 28-year-old said, “I ended up deciding that I wanted to go to school for baking (Alfred State). I really liked it, but I didn’t know I wanted to go into cakes until later in the program.” After working at Mario’s Bakery in North Syracuse for two and a half years, Kaleigh knew creating cakes and pastries is what she really wanted to do. She loved the intricacy of it all, the meticulous handwork, the artistic designs, and everything that encompassed the process. Mario’s was the place where she got her start, the place that really taught her the basics she needed to progress further with her baking career.
Her next professional move was to the Turning Stone Resort & Casino managing all of their wedding cakes, orders, tastings, as well as working in a team of decorators to make sure everything ran smoothly. The Syracuse-native describes the experience saying, “Pretty intense, but I loved it. It just kept you going.” Ligoci was in charge and often watched YouTube videos and other bakers to learn more about her craft and how she could continue to get better over time. It wasn’t easy, but her perseverance and drive to be the best at what she does overshadow all of her doubts.
Ligoci is now tackling a new job as the Pastry Chef at Sugar and Co. A hip wine and dessert bar located in Armory Square in downtown Syracuse where friends and family can enjoy the sweeter/finer things in life. The fairly new establishment opened just this year. Kaleigh explained to me how involved she was in the process from the beginning” I helped them design the menu. I love it,” she says, “It’s a little different, because I do plated desserts, which I am not used to, but it’s a good learning experience.” She also takes care of cake orders for weddings, bridal/baby showers, etc. When I ask Kaleigh about the stress of it all, she explains how much she loves the chaos. You can hear the passion in her voice; she loves her job, and loves her art. She seems proud to be where she is today. If anything, the craziness just pushes Kaleigh to be more creative and to fine tune her craft even more.
The Power of Social Media:
One thing Kaleigh did not expect to come with her job is a little slice of fame. Over the years, she’s gained quite a following on Instagram. With over 40,000 followers, she indulges her fans with dreamy cakes, expertly frosted cupcakes, colorful macaroons; the list goes on… “I never thought that I would get to the point where I am now, which is cool. Before, it was people from all over, and now it’s a lot of people in Syracuse,” she says. The spike in popularity has helped Kaleigh interact with other businesses as well as connect with customers on potential orders. People are coming up to her in the street, and saying, “You’re the little cake artist!” I can hear the smile on her face and she talks about how cool it is that people are recognizing her and acknowledging her work.
Social media has impacted our society in so many interesting ways. Food is definitely one of them. Instagram accounts like, Buzzfeed Food has three million followers, Food & Wine has 2.1 million, and the Food Network has 4.7 million followers. There’s no denying that food has become increasingly popular with the current generation. Tiny food, food & dogs, food & babies, pizza, Chipotle, and any fast-food chain has managed to step up their social media/marketing strategy over the past couple years. Ligoci has some inspirations as well; “I look to social media for a lot of inspiration…Ron Ben-Israel is a big cake decorator in NYC, and his work is insane and absolutely gorgeous to look at. Maggie Austin also does really life-like floral work.” Paying attention to nature helped her make her pastry flowers look as realistic and beautiful as possible.
Being as young as Kaleigh is, she definitely has a handle on the power of social media. “It’s cool, because everyone likes to eat so it’s enticing to a lot of different people. I definitely think social media has helped evolve pastries and has brought new ideas from different areas,” she says, “If you look at Australia, Asia, Russia… they are doing crazy things and then people from here see that, and they want to try it and it helps everyone push themselves a little more.” It’s easy to see the passion behind what Kaleigh does. This isn’t a hobby; it’s her occupation, her dream, her life. Now having such a large following on social media, I asked Kaleigh if there’s a lot of pressure that comes with that territory. She hesitates for a second and says, “I definitely try to focus on making sure all the details are perfect…You have to make sure you have a clean background and things like that.” She’s right. The pressure to put out quality content is growing more and more each day. Instagrammer’s are now becoming influencers that are paid to post pictures on the Internet. That could be Kaleigh one day, and she knows that. This is all just the beginning for her.
The Baking Process:
“For a wedding cake, we do a tasting with the bride, and she’ll pick what flavor she likes. Then I have to bake all of the cake and make the fillings. Then I try to figure out what the design is going to be so a lot of times I work with the client. Some people are relaxed, and some are particular and allow me to just go with it.”
“Start to finish a wedding cake takes about 4 or 5 hours depending on how many people. Just between the baking and making the fillings. You can definitely do other things during that time to utilize your time. I’m constantly baking a cake and having something else on the stove, etc. You have to multitask in this field. I like being driven by constantly having to get something done. I don’t think I could ever do a desk job, because I’m always on my feet. But always getting that end product is what you’re always driving for.”
Since Kaleigh is so young, I asked her where she sees herself five years down the road. Her own bakery? A cooking show? She said, “I don’t know. I always kind of toy with the idea of having my own shop, but I really like what I’m doing right now. If we could expand and make that have its own bakery front too, I think that would be really cool. I definitely want to do more weddings than what we’re doing now, so probably just specialize in weddings and get better that way.”
Chopped, Iron Chef, Cake Wars…we’ve all seen the Food Network shows that keep the foodie drama alive, but Kaleigh isn’t knocking it quite yet. “I think I would do a show that was competition based rather than drama based. I’d rather do a baking challenge than Chopped. I don’t think I would like something like that. It’s too intense.”
I couldn’t get enough of Kaleigh’s positivity and wisdom when talking with her. Her smile and happiness seem to radiate off her. She gave me some advice for other women out there who are trying to follow their dreams” I always tell girls who want to do cake decorating, you have to really put your heart into it and you have to commit to whatever it takes to get it done. You have to put the time and effort that’s needed, no matter what it is and eventually you’ll get to where you want to be. But, that takes a lot of practice, a lot of learning, and failing too.”
If you would like to try Kaleigh’s wonderful cakes, stop by Sugar & Co. they are located on Fayette Street in downtown Syracuse.