I have been meaning to start this blog for a long time now. To tell my story, and to share the story behind each cake. Every couple I meet, every cake I make is an inspiration for me. I love what I do, and hopefully it comes across it in every piece of edible art that I create. For me, every cake has a story, and with the little time I have to sit down and put it into words, I will try my best to share a bit of each story with you!
I came to Portugal back in 1998 for a 3 month paid internship, working as a web designer for a company who wanted to develop their web department. I didn't speak a word of Portuguese, but it was an exciting challenge and I was up for the adventure. I had longed to come back to Europe after having spent an amazing semester in Florence, Italy, studying architecture, so when the opportunity arose to come to Portugal, I enthusiastically said YES, packed my bags, and came running.
Little did I know that moving to a foreign country where you don't speak the language and don't know anyone isn't as easy as one thinks! The first month I think I cried every day, so homesick and lonely, struggling with everything - being far away, trying to meet new friends, going to the supermarket with an English-Portuguese dictionary so I could find the ingredients I wanted to be able to cook; then, coming home to my apartment and having to call my landlord on a nightly basis to come light my oven because at the time it was a gas oven that had to be lit with a match (can you believe it? I was terrified of the oven...!).
I would call home often, using a calling card that my dad had given me (do you remember those?). After the first month my parents got the bill, and jokingly (I think) told me to stop calling home so much because the bill was outrageous. It was a hard time, but luckily my life was about to change and my outlook on being thousands of miles away from home was going to become a lot easier.
A month after settling in Portugal, I met a girl who invited me to go to a charity dinner at the famous and distinguished Hotel Palacio in Estoril. A beautiful, iconic hotel where former royalty and celebs used to come spend their summer holidays, I was excited to spend an evening in such a glamorous setting, not to mention it was for a great cause (it was to support a children's hospital in the UK). She told me she would arrange a date for me, and the Cinderella story started.
When I arrived at the Palace, I think fate arrived with me. I spent the night sitting next to my future husband, Jacques, chatting away about everything and anything. Everything glittered. I don't remember much about the evening except for the fact that it stood still in time and something felt different to me. After the dinner, we went out dancing at a club on the beach until 5am. Very European! It never occurred to me to give this charming guy my phone number, but determined as he was, he magically tracked me down the next day and asked me if I wanted to go out on a proper date with him. I said yes.
My plan was always to come to Portugal for 3 months, and then to go back to the States and continue with my career path there. But that's not what happened. And it seems that I'm not the only one. Portugal has this captivating effect on people - you can't imagine how many friends I have now that also tell a similar story of coming for a short period of time and becoming a "lifer".
Jacques and I hit it off and became inseparable almost immediately. When the 3 months came to an end, the company I had come to work for ended up closing its doors and I was left with the decision of going home or staying and seeing where things led me. I chose to stay. Good choice! I sent out over 300 CVs looking for work, and soon after I was busy again with lots of work.
One of the most significant jobs that came from this send out was a freelance art director job at a local magazine (and in English, which was even better for me!). I worked on and off for them for a few years until the owner wanted to retire, and I decided that the best career move on my part would be to buy the magazine and run it, so that's what I did. A few years later, I ended up selling the magazine to start my own magazine.
In 2003, Jacques and I got married. It was a fairytale wedding, and we were the dream team. Me and Mr Handsome. Inseparable. Unstoppable. In love. Always there for each other.
At this point I think I should mention something about baking and cakes, and how I made the transition. Jacques comes from a huge family, he is one of 11 siblings (10 boys and 1 girl!). Ironically, when I was a little girl, I used to tell my parents that when I grew up, I wanted to be part of a large family, so when my parents came to find this out, my mom told me "be careful what you wish for!". With such a big family, there were over 35 nieces and nephews, so there was always a birthday party or special occasion of some sort, so I became the dedicated "cake baker". Having learned how to bake with my mom and grandmother, I always loved it. It was a dream of mine to learn how to make wedding cakes, so I enrolled in the Wilton Master Course (convincing Jacques it was just a hobby) to learn the ins and outs of cake decorating. I learned a LOT during this course, including these three things:
- my grandmother used to make wedding cakes after she got married (I didn't know this until I started getting into wedding cakes!)
- I wanted to do this professionally, not as a hobby
- my fine arts background was a great foundation for cake design
I arrived home with my first wedding cake masterpiece, tears of joy rolling down my face. Jacques took one look at me and said, "maybe you should consider a career change". Immediately I put an ad for wedding cakes in my magazine, and in one month I had received more requests for wedding cakes than advertising revenue, so the decision was made. Change.
Since I started, things have really taken off. I have written three beautiful cookbooks (in Portuguese), one of them was awarded a Gourmand award for best photography for a cookbook in Portugal! The demand for my cakes has grown, and it seems like every year the cakes get bigger and more elaborate. I love it.
Recently I decided to expand and open a second location in Sarasota, Florida, to accompany the winter wedding season there and to be closer to my side of the family for part of the year. It's a pretty great life, 6 months in Portugal and 6 months in Sarasota, with Captain Handsome by my side. Two beautiful coastal towns with an incredible amount of inspiration.
I hope you enjoy my story, my cakes and my artistry.
(All images and design concept copyright of Julie Deffense Artistry, LLC 2018 and may not be copied/reposted/published without prior consent from Julie Deffense.)