“I decided that I wanted to specialise in one particular area and that was bakery.” John added, “As I was growing up I always loved baking with my mum and was always creating a mess in my mums kitchen when she wasn’t there – not that I knew what I was doing, and most of it was inedible but sure that’s part of the learning process!”
“I always loved the smell of bread baking and in particular for some strange reason the smell of yeast. So after I enrolled in the bakery course I new I was happy, the course was broke up into sections and cake decoration was my favoured section, which incorporated sugar flower and modelling work, cake baking, art classes and also the science behind the cake making process.”
It was during this course that John says he received the “opportunity of a lifetime” and pushed his creative catering craft into top gear.
John tells Sugahfix: “The college had been contacted by an ex-student looking to take on someone for work experience on the QEII! so I was chosen to go and it was the best time ever, I got to work alongside some of the best chefs in the world and in particular the Roux Brothers who had came on board to work alongside the chefs for one trip, so I learned a lot from the best.”
John’s cupcakes became a hot topic in Belfast and beyond after his delicious designs scooped overall winner in Sugahfix.com’s Cupcake Challenge in May. The baker caught the eye and the admiration of judges with his stunning array of elegant and original cupcakes – from the chocolate sparkled to the champagne mojitos to the decedently strawberry-topped vanillas!(Pictured above). But going into the craft wasn’t always top of the agenda for John who admitted being put off by the long hours and the workload involved.
“After I finished the bakery course I decided to take a change of direction, the reason for this was the very long hours or early hours that are involved in becoming a chef or baker and it seemed to me that you didn’t get the recognition for the work and the hours that you put in. And anyone that knows me knows I’m not a morning person!
“So I changed my career path and went into hotel and restaurant management , all the while still continuing my passion for cake design catering for private clientele and taking on cake commissions.”
It took 14 years, a varied career with Northern Ireland’s Michelin starred Deanes Group and a few life coach lessons before the talented chef turned to his passion into a way of life.
“I re-realised my passion for cake design and also the fact that everyone was telling me how good my work was, that The Sugar Room was born.
“The Sugar Room is a home-based business at the minute but its getting busier and busier every week so expansion is imminent. I specialise in couture cakes of every kind and each one is custom designed to suit the client down to the smallest detail, and just because I say couture or custom designed doesn’t mean it will blow your budget we cater for every budget and the same care and attention to detail is spent on every cake, be it a cake at £10 or a cake at £1000.
John adds: “I also try to do something that bit more special and way out. I love the wow factor and so try to avoid tradition , although if a client comes to me and want s a traditional three tier fruit wedding cake so be it, it shall be done, although I always try to talk them into something a little more adventurous the sparklier the better,”
John continued: “I think it was always in me to do something artistic and creative, growing up I was always into arts and crafts , at school I excelled in all the art and creative class as well graphics and I was lucky enough to go to a mixed school that offered home economics as an examining subject so the foundation of it all really came together at school.”
“Every week brings a new challenge but probably it was the decision to restart my career in cake design and to kick start The Sugar Room. As I said previously its taken a lot of hard work to get here and its still not where I want it , when you first start out you have a plan in your head of how you want things to be and want everything to go , and you just want it all to happen NOW , but it doesn’t work that way , you have to be patient and take small steps , don’t run before you can walk as they say , I learnt that very early on.”
With the boom and glamour of the cupcake industry hitting Belfast, John has no doubt that more and more people will be attracted to the craft.
“Its a great business to get into,” advises John, “If it’s done right, even though it’s hard work I really enjoy it , every week just keeps getting busier and busier.
My advice? Fail to prepare , prepare to fail. Prepare yourself for hard work and long hours . Prepare to have highs and lows. Prepare to work with the greatest critics ever who could make or break you – yhe general public.
“Now I’m looking forward to all the challenges that lie ahead and what happens on the never ending road that The Sugar Room is on.”
The Sugar Room will be exhibiting at The Merchant Hotel Wedding Show on 7th November. Tickets for the show are £25 and can be purchased by calling Regents Events on 028 9072 6024 – the show includes an exclusive catwalk show and a Merchant Couture Goody Bag worth over £50.
Pictured right: John McClean with Sugahfix.com Editor Katrina Doran and one of his winning cupcakes at The Sugahfix.com Cupcake Challenge.
Left: Una O’Brien get’s stuck into one of John’s award-winning cupcake at The Sugahfix.com Cupcake Challenge at The Ivory. Photos by Ruairi Drayne.
Cakes by The Sugar Room.