In this new series, Lifestyle Asia speaks with individuals who were bit with the food business bug during the early days of Enhanced Community Quarantine and how their passions led them to cooking, baking and selling in the middle of a pandemic.
Cara Gonzalez had never experienced much success in the kitchen. “Back in college, my friends would always tease me because I could barely toast bread without burning it,” she says, “My parents would always document my every attempt at the kitchen because it was such a far fetched idea.”
The young dentist and part-time indoor-cycling instructor was due to embark on a travelling spree around Europe but due to the travel ban that was enforced along with Enhanced Community Lockdown, Cara was stuck at home. “I had a list of my “must eat” dishes and I decided that just because I can’t travel doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the food,” she says, “it was killing two birds with one stone, I was discovering the joy of cooking/baking, and I still got to satisfy my cravings without having to leave home.”
A big believer that food tastes better when shared, Cara was always in the habit of sending whatever she made to family and friends, for the joy of giving and also to avoid helping her family put on pounds. “It was my way of showing everyone that I’ve been growing throughout this lockdown and I can proudly say “I ACTUALLY MADE THIS!” she says, “my loved ones gave me really good feedback and encouraged me to start selling.” Cara noticed the proliferation of homegrown baking businesses and the market saturation of food trends. This pushed her to think outside the box and evolve cheesecakes, her product, to something different. “I thought of combining what I liked most from favorite cheesecakes: The Basque cheesecake and New York cheesecake. From there, the Chz cake was born.”
Like most people interviewed for this feature, Cara says the village community chat groups have been key in sourcing out ingredients and testing the market. “Name it, there’s at least one person in the group that has extra to spare or knows a direct supplier that can help us source. Sometimes, they even offer to grab you some when they are in the grocery. It’s so nice to see everyone support each other’s kitchen endeavors,” she says. One of the best tips Cara has received when it comes to sending out products is to organize her deliveries by area. This makes it easier for her to book riders rather than having to book multiple riders that cater to multiple riders all over the metro.
While all her family and friends were encouraging, Cara shares that she felt apprehensive at first, unsure if she was even qualified to sell her own baked goods. “I guess because they knew how I was pre-lockdown, everyone was very excited and proud to see how far I’ve come,” she says. Being unable to travel didn’t stop her from exploring her favorite dessert, so in turn, Cara wants her customers to feel like they don’t have to leave their homes to experience special places that serve amazing treats. “I want them to feel the love and effort taken to make each cake. You can really taste the difference when something is homemade and not mass produced,” she says, “there’s that feeling of home and comfort you get when you eat something you know people worked extra hard to nail. In my case, my Chz cakes took 30 years of overcoming self doubt, practice, and x kilograms worth of sampling!”
When the lockdown started, Cara was in the midst of building Zentistry PH, a dental operation that works to elevate patients’ dental experiences, consulting with her patients, attending conference calls and teaching indoor cycling, all from home. “My work life balance did not exist!” she says. Baking Chz cakes gives her that sense of home because it means that she spends time in the kitchen. “More than a food business, this little passion project of mine is really just an outlet for me to distress and a means to continue to grow and evolve the domesticated version of myself,” says Cara, “when things loosen up, I think I’ll still make time to bake. I told myself that I didn’t want my newfound hobby to add to my stress. As long as it keeps bringing me joy, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be part of my “new normal”.
For orders, please visit @caragonzalez on Instagram