Annika Ramrattan is in her kitchen baking a cake for a little girl's birthday party. It's nine p.m. and her hands are full of flour. "I got this order some days ago. It is going to be a princess cake," she says excitedly. Her face becomes more animated. "A princess is easy to make. I once did this really big pumpkin. Girl, it was the best, about three feet tall. It was for a Thanksgiving service at my church last year. My father who is an artist helped me carve out the pumpkin shape out of more than eleven layers of cakes stacked upon each other. This was an amazing experience. Girl you should've seen it!"
Ramrattan's enthusiasm in relating her baking escapades heightens even more when she gives the dog story. "I had to do a birthday cake for another child once. I shaped it in the likeness of her pet Rottweiler. I looked at the picture given to me of the dog and I just started to carve. Girl, the end result was a mirror three-dimensional image of the family pet with a red hose in his mouth (he loved to bite up his mistress's hose)!" She continues her tales with the cupcakes in shape of the popular cartoon characters- Angry Birds, the three dimensional dolphin with the ball in its mouth for her son's water polo team and some more audacious cake designs. I am lucky to actually see pictures of these creations which are mind blowing. This woman is a cake boss (according to the TV show Cake Boss), I wonder what she may have made if she was a competitor on the show.
"I can make anything. My motto is anything your mind can conceive I can create," the amiable 38-year-old informs as if she read my mind.
Her business savvy is as notable as her tasty products. "I always had a business head. Even when I was small, I think it runs in the family," she states. A housewife by day and baker by night, and by night we mean from eight p.m. to two in the morning, Ramrattan is what you call a strategic millennium mother. Most bakers and cake makers have a strategy behind their product but her recipe for success is somewhat different especially since her dream wasn't only and foremost to be a cake extraordinaire- "When I was a child and people asked me what I wanted to become when I grow up, I used to say 'a mother'. I believe that there is nothing else as rewarding as caring for your children. My husband works an eight to five job and I am the one who really carries the mantle of ensuring that my sons are in order each day. Some 'liberated' women frown on housework and caring for the home but somebody has to do it. I think that women have been blessed with the ability to multitask and once we organise ourselves we can balance work, family, home and self!" I am eager to hear how this equilibrium can be met and as I listen to the mother of three, I realise that this Diego Martin resident's forte isn't only cakes. She has a rare flair for business and an organised yet spontaneous way of getting things done efficiently. "My day starts from five a.m. in the morning. I cook and organise my three sons for school and my husband for work then I play taxi driver. I drop them off to school and then return home to clean the house. By one p.m. I am taxi driver again, picking them up from school after which its home work time and I cook dinner and prepare them for bed!"
"So when do you get time for the cake business?" I ask. She smiles, "Ah, my friend. From eight p.m. I hit the kitchen and that's when my cake talents come out. I bake in the night up until the wee hours of the morning. It's the time when my creative juices flow!" she declares. I am in disbelief and she is as cool as ever, "You wondering how I do it nah? Girl, I have my special concoction for work as I have my special recipes for cake. My energy recipe is a mixture of coffee, one-a-day women's (vitamins), prayer and the die-hard desire to prove to everyone that a woman can work and tend to the home at the same time".
The Providence old girl switches gears from her maternal instincts to her knack for baking, "I always loved to bake cakes. I used to bake cakes for friends and family as gifts and then one day my father and husband suggested that I do cake making as a profession. I decided to take their advice, I did a course with Michael's Arts and Craft, a reputable cake confectionary company in Florida. The course was supposed to be two months and I did it in two and half weeks. I learned everything about cake decorating and from the very best in the business. Tragedy struck though, on returning home to Trinidad someone stole all my recipes and notes from my suitcase!" Luckily, Ramrattan remembered all the necessary tactics she learned and soon, sans theory, she began her booming business in cakes. From weddings to birthdays to corporate and Christmas functions, her cakes grew in demand and became hot sellers. "Last week I did 150 cupcakes for a corporate function. Christmas time can get hectic and people can't wait to get their black cakes," she sighs. As she placed the finishing touches on the pretty princess cake she hands me her business card.
"A lot of people take cake decorating and other skills like floral arrangement and sewing lightly but these trades actually are in demand and pay very well. But girl, you know why it not well respected? The people who do it don't make it a business; they have it as a hobby which makes money. Not me, girl, my cake making is a business. My business philosophy is whatever the request don't ever say no, say yes and then look for a way to get it done. This philosophy worked for the Thanksgiving pumpkin and the dolphin cake and all the rest!" Since she is gracious with her business tips I ask her for some more. "The next thing is think outside the box even when you hiring helpers. Do you know that my assistant in my business is a young 15-year-old art student, who is the real 'cake boss' when it comes to sculpting cakes? She can do wonders and I am happy that she is with me!" the Diego Martin resident avows. Her tactics are encouraging for female entrepreneurs not only in the cake fraternity but in any product line. "I will advise all women entering business to never succumb to stress and negativity no matter what business you in. Always keep a positive head. You see me here, I have real orders to fill but I am not bothered, by God's grace I will finish them and when more come He will grant me the solutions to deliver." Last but not least on her list "Love what you do. I enjoy what I do girl. Is a joy for me to bake cakes. My mother used to be a Minshall fan and she used to have a section in the band and my dad is into the arts, so cake making is my art that I inherit from them. When I see my creations I feel a sense of satisfaction and that, my friend is what you should derive from a day's work: the sweet satisfaction of loving what you do. The thing is I get that sweet satisfaction also when I see my children prosper. Mothers nowadays lose out on their children's upbringing because they too busy doing hectic jobs that they don't love. Not everybody has the opportunity to do a job they love with flexi time for kids but I think that it should be every mother's goal and if you not a mother, then at least do something you love because that is what really matters and not the money!" And so with these final words Ramrattan puts the final icing on the cake or more so the final fondant on the Princess' skirt. She calls it a wrap on her umpteenth birthday cake, not a bad day's work for a millennium mom/cake connoisseur.