"Don't wait. The time will never be just right. "
- Napoleon Hill
An ounce of practice is worth more than a ton of preaching. A person whose thought process works like this can inspire many. After a lot of tough grinds, we finally had a conversation with one of the best our country has to offer, Michelle Salam, a celebrity baker whose baking skills have repeatedly mesmerized cake enthusiasts throughout the world. She is from Manipur and she lives in Manipur.
Situated in Northeast India, Manipur is another geographically isolated state in the hilly side of the country. Connectivity, climatic conditions and limited reachability makes it tough for a person to grow their business in this region. Especially baking on such a large scale like Michelle does, with the quality of the products she uses that are premium and good. It is tough to get these quality products due to the lack of appropriate connectivity. Making her way out of these hurdles, Michelle Salam has now become one of the most celebrated bakers in the entire country! She believes in quality and never compromises on her ingredients. On that note, let’s begin our interview with Michelle Salam and go through her interests and advice.
Q. How did you first get started with baking/cake decorating?
My mother is a Goan and when she first came to Manipur there were no bakeries and the town was more or less isolated. But boarding school holidays and Christmas time always did involve helping mom with home baking and traditional Grandma recipes.
Actual baking started later without much knowledge, by picking up a Telegraph Magazine supplement and trying out my very first cake. It was baked in a tandoor and whipped with a fork as I did not even have an OTG at that time. The cake turned out delicious and after that began a series of trials and errors to perfect baking and I can proudly say I am a self-learned artist.
Q. What are some things you do differently now than when you first started baking/cake decorating?
I baked my first cake in 1998 and sold it for 200 INR. Twenty years down the line I have recently inaugurated an “Atelier” where I can now design, teach, generate employment by imparting skill and inspire creatively. This is my way of giving back to the community by imparting knowledge, sharing skills and at the same time try my best to give products at par with bakeries and patisseries outside Manipur.
Q. What has been your greatest challenge?
It has indeed been a long, winding and challenging journey with constant hurdles and factors that I have no control over. Economic blockades, political issues, natural calamities like landslides and earthquakes, bandhs, water shortage, long hours of power supply especially in the beginning when I started was as much as 12 hours, lack of ingredients, resources, machinery, internet connectivity have all been challenging.
Ingredients reach Manipur after crossing West Bengal, Assam and Nagaland so in effect any problem that arises in any of these three States impacts my work. From flying cream down by flight to meet orders, to sending my vehicles to landslide areas for getting ingredients …. the journey has had its fair share of trials. However, things have improved considerably, especially in the last few years and so has connectivity.
Q. What is the most rewarding part of baking/cake decorating?
The most rewarding part is knowing you made a difference in someone life’s on their special day whatever be the occasion. A memory that is forever. For me, it has always been passion first and it is this passion that I put into every cake of mine.
Q. What is your favorite baking/cake decorating tools?
I’m very particular about my tools, whenever I go for a conference I take all of my tools along with me, which includes my turning table and my pallet knife and I can’t simply function without them (giggles).
Q. Which one of your cakes is your favorite?
I have been asked this question several times but the journey has been so long and enriching that it is difficult to point out a single cake. At every stage – the first wedding cake, the first birthday cake, the first challenging cake, the first theme cake are all equally special and building blocks to my bakery. In recent times cakes that represent the culture and tradition of my home State Manipur are close to my heart. “ Potloi “ “ Loktak Lake” 3D 37 kg all cake and cream Tiger cake and the Blue Monarch are some of my favorites.
Q. Could you give some tips to people who have just started decorating cakes or would love to start?
The bakery business is booming in India. However, there is something called information overload which is leaving new bows totally confused. My advice would be to identify your strength, practice on it day after day and establish yourself in that particular line otherwise you are left being Jack of all trades and master of none. Being self-learned and not having had the privileges that those who are starting out now have I would still there is no substitute for passion, practice, and perseverance.
There is a market for everybody. Work hard, practice and you will get there.
Q. What does The Bakers Collective mean to you?
TBC is for the bakers and by the bakers. It is an enriching platform where bakers of all levels come together and can learn from several experts at one venue which wouldn’t be feasible otherwise. It is my third year at TBC and I couldn’t be happier to inspire, learn and teach at the same time. It is a collective effort to share knowledge so that each participant can enhance their skills and take their baking journey forward.
This was the conversation we had with Michelle Salam and what a wonderful piece of advice she provided to the budding bakers. Her journey is an eye-opener that we can’t keep waiting for the perfect day, we have to get out there and seize our opportunities.