Name: Ally Burnett
Job title: Pastry Chef, Chocolatier and owner of Sugar Pusher Bakery
Time in current role: 5ish years
Ally is a pastry chef, chocolatier and the owner of Sugar Pusher Bakery based in Huntsville, Alabama. Visit the website sugarpusherbakery.com
Why did you decide to start your business?
It’s sort of funny really. I was a professional musician for many years and there was a time I couldn’t imagine doing anything else, but at some point in my mid 20s I realised I probably needed a backup plan. I wanted to go to culinary school out of high school but went straight into music instead, however I’d been teaching myself pastry stuff for years and learning as much as I could on my own.
I started my own company making cakes on the side, then in 2015 I walked into a brunch meeting with the owner of my city’s most popular fine dining restaurant and I left with a start date to become their sole pastry chef. Keep in mind, I had no commercial kitchen experience or culinary qualifications and within a week I was creating my own menu. It ended up being a not-so-great environment though, so I eventually decided to pursue Sugar Pusher.
What are the key functions of your role?
At this current point in time because I’m starting my own business from scratch and by myself, I wear an awful lot of hats. Of course my primary focus is creating an amazing product for each and every customer. I think the most important function I have is in the kitchen creating, but aside from that, a lot of local networking and social networking, as well as focusing on branding.
Talk us through your typical day at work
My current setup is by custom order only, so my day-to-day can really vary. However, I’ve been fortunate enough to gain the opportunity to provide treats for a really hot new local coffee shop, so I’ll be spending more time in a rented, commercial kitchen space. That means planning my time right down to the minute to make the most out of what I’m spending on the rental, while also maintaining a keen focus on the quality of my products.
How would your clients and colleagues describe you in three words?
Really loves food! Ha!
Your favourite part of the job?
There are so many amazing parts of this job. First and foremost, I get to be creative. I get to play with my food. I get to airbrush cakes and use metallic cocoa butter to make my moulded chocolates really shine, and I get to do a lot of fun things! But I also get to FEED people, and that’s something I’m really passionate about. I get to share in so many amazing moments in people’s lives. Holidays, weddings, birthdays, baby showers, etc. I get to provide something and to be a part of people’s special moments which is so cool to me.
…and the part you could do without?
The really scary business side! I’m not a numbers and spreadsheets sort of person, so sometimes that part is a bit of a stretch.
Plans for the future?
I graduated from Ecole Chocolat in 2016 with a certificate in professional chocolatiering. I’d really like to continue my education with them and eventually complete the master chocolatier program at the Valrhona chocolate school in France. I’d also like to grow my business into a full brick and mortar establishment within the next few years so that I can feed the people of my beautiful city for years to come.
Do you have any advice for others aspiring to break into your field?
Don’t be afraid to fail and don’t give up just because you’ve failed at something once. You may not get macarons right on the first try or you may have a cake collapse mid photo shoot because you didn’t dowel it properly (oops!), but that doesn’t mean you’re not good at what you do. Most importantly, keep learning, keep pushing the envelope, keep growing and let your passion be your guide! LLY