On a sunny afternoon in Vancouver, Jill Shumka welcomes me into her south Main Street kitchen. I feel like I am walking into a food TV set – a brightly lit and spacious kitchen showcases a double broiler overhanging an extended island stove top. Jill returns to her kitchen and begins to stir what appears to be lemon butter.
A professional ballet dancer turned foodie sweetie, Jill has been passionate about cakes and pastry art since her days in Europe. The mother of two is owner of The Uncommon Cake – a home-based boutique bakery, delivering customized artistic cakes and delicate cookies on request. I am experiencing a tour of her kitchen, and the chance to learn more about her business.
While living in Europe in the late ‘90s, Jill was looking for a career change out of ballet. Switzerland, where she was living, proved to be the sweet inspiration she needed. “Every other store has little marzipan du
cks all in a row and tons of other pastries”.
Slowly whisking butter into the lemon yellow mixture, Jill tells me about her return to Canada and how her business began. “I saw Martha Stewart Living everywhere and learned a lot from there,” but she signed up for culinary school too. “[The school] encouraged me to go to culinary school over pastry because it would give me more opportunity…I also took a night class in cake decorating, but it was very traditional cake designs.”
Jill was looking for more, “I essentially taught myself everything I know [about cakes]”, and she learned from one request to the next as orders came in through friends and referrals. Soon her website was born, bringing us The Uncommon Cake.
As Jill sieves the lemon into a receiving bowl, it dollops through into silky lemon curd – a filling for her next creation! She continues to wrap the curd and I asked her a few more questions:
What keeps you inspired to bake?
It’s the final product, feeling rewarded by the end result and seeing that you have done a great job – feeling satisfied at the end of the day.
What advice do you have for a new pastry student/entrepreneur?
Learn from a mentor, to dive in and learn a lot in a shorter time.
What is your favourite recipe?
My shortbread cookies. They bake well, cut well and last. It’s a go-to recipe.
What do you enjoy eating, when you’re not making cakes?
If we have time away from our kids, we love Habit Lounge on Main in Vancouver. They make really good Brie and carrot perogies.
Who do you follow now for inspiration?
Elisa Strauss in New York, of Confetti Cakes, she made a cake for Charlotte & Harry’s wedding on Sex and the City; and Studio Cake styles. For cookies, I like Elenis.com.
Hand crafted fondant art for Jill's next cake creation
Do you consider yourself to be a foodie?
I would have to consider myself a foodie because of my obsession with desserts. Maybe sweetiewould be more accurate.
It would seem she has always been an artist, from the dance studio to what now appears to be her baking studio, Vancouverites are fortunate that Jill Shumka brings an uncommon quality to her uncommon cakes and beyond…