by Iyath Adam
For this week’s article, we had a chat with Hanaan Mohamed – Hanbun – confectionery instructor, baker, and juice maker. We discuss her new endeavours, challenges she’s been facing in the culinary industry and her vision for the future.
Lonumedhu: I see you have a few things going on, working as a confectionary instructor at Efes Institute, baking cakes and of course, running The JuiceBon’s. What sparked your interest in the culinary field?
Hanaan: When people ask this question, I always say that I was practically born on a cake, haha. My mother – Fathimath Sheereen, who founded Efes – was the first person to start teaching cake decorating courses in the Maldives, about 30-35 years ago. So, I’ve been involved in it from the very beginning. I don’t remember a time when I haven’t been involved in cake making and decorating.
In 2002, we opened the Efes Cakes shop and in 2008, the Efes Institute was registered where we taught international confectionary classes from the US and UK. From then, until now, we are the only certified instructors in the Maldives teaching Wilton classes. I’ve been working at Efes for the past 10 years, as an instructor and a cake decorator. I think that’s how I professionally got into the field.
Lonumedhu: What kind of cakes are your favourite to bake and/or decorate?
Hanaan: I don’t have a favourite cake to bake but I’ve always loved experimenting with different things. I always pay very close attention to balancing flavours when I bake or make anything, sweet or savoury. For example, some people are very sceptical about adding salt to cakes or icings, but I think it brings out the actual flavour that you want and balances it.
And I like cakes to have different textures as well. Recently, I made a tres leches cake, which is usually very sweet and comes with a sour kind of topping to offset that sweetness. But for me, I missed the crunchy texture. So, I’ve been trying to find the right kind of crunch for it.
When it comes to decorating, I love fondant work. More abstract designs rather than the usual floral arrangements. Right now, I’m experimenting with piping older English designs and palette knife sculpturing, which I’m really liking.
Lonumedhu: From all the cakes you’ve made so far, what’s the design you are most proud of?
Hanaan: Once, I made a Swarovski-inspired wedding cake that was modelled after a cake in the ‘Sex and the City’ series. It had crystals dangling down the sides and it’s on a transparent stand, which makes it look like the cake is floating. It was a lot of work, and I remember packing the pieces separately for transport. It’s a cake that is very close to my heart.
I also remember making this huge dessert table at Dharubaaruge, which covered the middle of the biggest hall there. I made dessert boxes, brownies, and a lot of confectioneries for that table.
There have been a lot of cakes I’ve made that I’m really proud of but off the top of my head these are what I can remember at the moment.
Lonumedhu: Why did you decide to start The JuiceBon’s? How has the public’s response been to it?
Hanaan: In 2018, after I had my daughter and when she started solid foods, I began experimenting on making her food. During that process, I kind of fell in love with making smoothies and juices from different fruits and vegetables and started doing it. And two of my friends – Nappi and Shai – asked me to help them do a juice cleanse/fast. They bought me all the ingredients and a juicer, and I made their juices for them. It started off with doing it for friends and then for friends of friends. I did it on my own personal page first and made a separate page for it later. We were doing really well with JuiceBon’s, especially with the introduction of our smoothie packs which were ready-to-be-blended veggies and fruits, up until the pandemic hit and we had to move to Addu for a year.
Lonumedhu: How does The JuiceBon’s work? Do you have different packages?
Hanaan: Smoothie packs are for MVR 40 and MVR 50, depending on the ingredients. We usually make the packs with ready-to-go raw fruits and veggies which you can just freeze and blend for later. You can either have the pack as it is or add any kind of plant milk or nuts and seeds as per your preference. It’s efficient for a lot of people as we were selling smaller portions at more affordable prices. You can check out the exact prices and packages on our Instagram page.
Lonumedhu: What’s the most challenging part of what you do?
Hanaan: Because this cake baking and decorating work is not done on a mass level, shops don’t stock up products we require in bulk. So, what happens sometimes is, when a certain brand runs out, I have to go with another option, which of course, changes the taste of the food itself. Which I think is a very common issue in the culinary field here. For the juices and smoothies, certain vegetables and fruits might not be available. Another issue is the variation in prices that affect our profit, especially for smoothie or juice packs.
Pricing of other parties in the market is also an issue. It’s difficult to offer competitive prices that are worth the amount of work and time when prices are lowered so much. I also feel bad when people do that because you’re really underselling yourself. Even when I’m teaching, I always tell my students to price their products accordingly, because the final price should reflect the amount of work, time, and effort it took for them to learn and perfect the skill as well as the cost of raw ingredients.
Lonumedhu: Do you have a favourite baker/chef whose work you follow?
Hanaan: My favourite baker is probably Thootha or Fonithoshi.mv as she is more commonly known. We’ve been really good friends and she has been a very big supporter and confidante. We always push each other to our limits. And then there is Hawwan, from Hawwan Cakes. We have become good friends over the years. She is a person who has really helped me deal with the transition of moving back to Male’ after the pandemic and starting from the ground up.
I am forever in debt to them for having my back. And I believe that this shows that even if you work in the same field, you can always lift each other up, be supportive and help each other in achieving their individual dreams while working towards your own.
Lonumedhu: What is one piece of advice that you would like to give to aspiring culinary businesswomen?
Hanaan: This is something I learnt the hard way. You can reach the top. But staying at the top takes even more work than getting there. Consistency truly is key.
In order to achieve a goal, the first step is to dream it, and then you act on it to make it happen. But you should always remember that setbacks are very possible and real and would happen. What’s important is how you rise from it. Even though you hit bottom, there is always room to go forward. “If there is a will, there is a way” is not just a proverb, but very true. Once you set your mind to something, if you have the will, you can move forward with it.
Lonumedhu: What’s your vision for the future? How do you see your businesses expanding?
Hanaan: Since we have moved back to Male’, I still really want to teach people the art of confectionery. It’s not just baking and decorating a cake or making something from fondant; it is art. So, I want to teach people how to do that and give them opportunities to learn more. Especially as a field that is mainly dominated by women – who are doing it all with kids and jobs and doing this work as well – it might not be possible for them to go abroad and get the level of training they want. So, I want to bring this to them, and also in the process help or enable them to make a living. Because in my opinion, being financially independent is very important, especially for women.
I also want to introduce new flavours and products and build a community around this in the process. Everyone has their own strong suits. Bread baking or pastry making. For example, Cakes by Shafa – who was one of my students at Efes Institute – she is outstanding at fondant work, and I would love to collaborate and host some classes with her. Thootha and I are brainstorming classes too, one such class is Breakfast Pastries, which I had gotten inspired by her daily breakfast meals. And buttercream floral classes with Hawwan as she does beautiful and I'll say it again, beautiful flowers! Those are some things I really want to explore more in the future.
Lonumedhu: We certainly hope to see that in the future as well! And take some bread baking classes maybe, haha. Thank you for your time, Hanaan. And we wish you good luck on all your future endeavours.