Let’s face it; a birthday party isn’t a fiesta if there’s no cake. “Cakes are the key to every occasion. They celebrate life,” says 34 year-old 3-D cake designer extraordinaire, Joeleen Medina, owner of A Sweet Design & Cupcake—and she should know, she’s designed cakes for some of Hollywood’s biggest celebs and their kids.
If you have any doubts as to Medina’s determination of becoming the next queen of the San Fernando Valley cake world, just talk to her about her first career as an Air force airman, with a focus in law enforcement, and then how she met her husband. Determined to put the same attention into finding a man as she did into her goal of becoming the most well known dessert decorator, Medina ran an ad on Craig’s List. “Looking for a Latino, 27-35 years old, hard worker, honest and single”. Two years later she married her husband Miguel, and today they have two children together.
After leaving the Air Force, Medina came home and lived with her mom for a bit. She did some office jobs, and all was going well, but she felt dissatisfied. She’d always loved cooking and it seemed only natural for a go-getter like Medina to study professionally, so she enrolled in Pasadena’s Le Cordon Bleu.
Within months of graduation she’d found an internship in New York at Craft, a restaurant owned by famed chef Tom Colicchio. While in NY, Medina says she’d hang around bakeries where she wanted to learn. She’d offer to wash dishes or fruit, without pay--do anything to get into a bakery with chefs and bakers she respected.
Missing her hometown of the Valley, Medina came back to California when her internship ended and found work at a bakery in Pasadena. After a year, she decided to open her own café in Canoga Park, specializing in Pan Dulce and Tamales-- mostly Mexican and Central American food. But all the while Medina was focused on making cakes.
She started taking art classes to broaden her abilities in colors, dimension and painting--very important skills in her line of work. Her family is gifted in art. Her brother is an architect and sister studied art and currently works as the Gallery Manager/Curator/Assistant Director at the Latin American Masters gallery.
In 2007 Medina re-vamped her café in Canoga Hills, and decided to focus the business on strictly cakes. She named the store A Sweet Design & Cupcake and moved it closer to her family in Grenada Hills. Today, Medina is the only one of her kind in the Valley to create 3-D masterpieces.
She says in addition to her ability to transform the average sheet cake into a virtual sculpture, because she’s a trained pastry Chef, her flavors are still the most important aspect of her success--and Medina certainly brings her heritage to her baking--with her signature Mexican Hot Chocolate, Churro and Chile Mango cupcakes.
“Latinos bring flavor. My aunts are amazing cooks, and their food is always delicious. My fondest memories of visiting my family in Chihuahua, Mexico are enjoying the food,” Medina says.
The average cost for a cake from Medina’s store is between $75-$150 for a regular sheet or round cake. One of her 3-D cakes, go for around $400 to one the of most expensive at $1800.
Her business has lately kicked into high gear with celebs. She recently made a cake for actor Omar Epps’ daughter, won 2011 Best of Wedding Cakes from The Knot, was asked to create a 3-foot high dragon cake for a huge TLC event, been featured on the TLC TV show Fabulous Cakes, and even though funnyman George Lopez can’t eat cake (he’s a diabetic), Lopez asked Medina to make his birthday cake in the likeness of his favorite car—a ’51 Chevy—Lopez was quoted as saying “That’s really cool, it’s my ‘51 Chevy as a car.” Medina has also been part of the George Lopez Foundation, providing cupcakes and cakes for his non-profit events that raise awareness to organ transplants.
But Medina says that although the celebs help bring the buzz, everyone is treated the same. “It’s not about who the cake is for, every cake should be special, and make the person who cuts it feel the love.”
Rebekah Sager is a nationally published lifestyle and culture writer. She's a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. Follow Rebekah on Twitter @Rebekah_Sager.