Alaya Manik has always liked baking. And since long ago, she has been entertaining the idea of opening her own bakery and café. Alaya launched Munch Me, her baking business, as a test run for the café she has been dreaming of. Her initial plan was to run it for a year and then open her café’. But ever since the launching, things went well for Munch Me, and with that Alaya tweaked her plans.
Lonumedhu sits down with Alaya to chat about her business of buttercreams, fondants, icing sugar and other good things.
Lonumedhu: So let’s start at the beginning, when did you launch Munch Me?
Alaya: Let me think. I came back (after studying abroad) in 2012… so it would be 2014…yes, November 2014.
Lonumedhu: So it’s going to be almost 3 years!
Alaya: Yes. When I first started I wasn’t going to go into decorating. I just wanted to make nice baked goods. But I guess, the demand kind of tweaked how it went.
Lonumedhu: How did you learn to bake?
Alaya: By experimenting on recipes I had come across along the years.
Alaya: Also, when I have free time I look at tutorials, mostly cake and cookie decorating tutorials.
Lonumedhu: That’s impressive.
Alaya: It’s very fun for me, learning on the go. But then again it’s always trial and error, but mostly it works out well (laughs). Also, a lot of the time, clients know exactly what they want and often I get an image of what the cake should look like. So, when I do things that are not of my preference I get new ideas and even learn new techniques since I’m working outside of my comfort zone.
Lonumedhu: Does your customer base in Male’ have a noticeably specific preference towards any flavour or design?
Alaya: As for flavour, in Male’, people are very much into butter and chocolate. Butter more than anything.
Lonumedhu: Okay, so what’s the most time consuming part or the most challenging part of what you do?
Alaya: I would say doing everything on my own. The purchasing, answering the phone while working, checking dates, basically doing everything at once, that’s probably the most challenging thing for me. It’s also challenging that most cake orders fall over weekends, as there are only a certain amount of things I can prepare beforehand. Otherwise, I would say wedding cakes, I spend sleepless nights over them; I don’t want to ruin the happiest day of someone’s life!
Lonumedhu: How about ingredients? Are there any challenges related to them?
Alaya: It’s all very difficult, the price might change suddenly, or the stores might run out of stock. And also it’s quite common for something to be out of stock from Male’ entirely. It just wouldn’t be available anywhere.
Lonumedhu: What do you do when that happens?
Alaya: Then I find a replacement and I always tell my customers about it because there’s always the risk that it tastes slightly different.
Lonumedhu: Do you follow a particular procedure for taking cake orders?
Alaya: There’s no procedure as such but normally, when I receive enquiries I check whether I can do it, whether the specific colours or materials are available, and whether there are any time constraints, and then I just get back to them. Recently I’ve also begun to offer cake tastings for wedding cake orders.
Lonumedhu: We see a lot of cake trends. For example these days buttercream flower wreaths seem to be in fashion. Are these trends mirrored in the Maldives, or are there any trends specific to here?
Alaya: Recently, the trend that I most noticed was the unicorn trend. I kept getting unicorn cake orders one after the other. But, yes buttercream flowers are in as well. Piping those kinds of things was actually one of my worst nightmares when I first started out. You see someone in a video doing those in two seconds. But it’s not that easy, it actually takes a lot of practice.
Lonumedhu: Buttercream is really soft, isn’t it?
Alaya: Yes it is really soft and in Male’ there’s the issue of temperature and humidity.
Lonumedhu: So how do you take care of the temperature issue?
Alaya: There’s nothing much I can do about it. Most of the time I just tell my clients to keep the cake in a cool place. Also, there are alternative ingredients that I can use that are temperature resistant and I do present them with that option. But the thing with them is that these sometimes don’t taste as good, so it’s sometimes a case of heat resistance versus taste.
Lonumedhu: So what would you describe as your most memorable cake?
Alaya: I have this one cake; it was a bubble guppy cake for a kid’s birthday party. It was the first cake I did with proper fondant sugar coating. It had three tiers that had to be stacked in a way that they would look lopsided. Looking back, now it seems simple, and it did turn out perfectly, but I will never forget that cake, it definitely shaved a few years off my life!
Lonumedhu: We’ve reached the end of this interview, so last question: if you were baking something just for yourself, what would you make?
Alaya: Anything with chocolate. It’s sort of ironic; I don’t really like sweet things. But chocolate, I am a real chocoholic. That is my deepest, darkest, you know (laughs)…
Lonumedhu: Okay, what kind? Milk or dark?
In the mood for a great cup of hot chocolate? Click here to find out from where you can get one of the best hot chocolates in Male'. Also check out our interview with Akmal and Afshan, the guys who run the goatfish cafe'.