Zahara Valibhoy on viral cakes, mental health and life portraits
by Frances ChnaideronAug 17, 2023
Meet Zahara Valibhoy. A pastry chef, maker of deliciously viral cakes, and a mural-painting mother of two talks mental health, the art of cake making and staying true to what you love.
What I’m loving right now
In no particular order: the Barbie movie, feeling blessed that high waisted jeans are 'in', and I’m always loyal to a laksa, but especially in winter.
The truth about me
The lovely people that have been following along on my Beurre journey for many years will know that I struggle daily with mental health. Sometimes I feel a little bubble that needs to overshare, and I end up talking about it a lot, other times I worry people will judge and I keep my lips sealed.
I also had fairly severe PND after my eldest was born (I was a sitting duck for this, to be fair) and I don't think I realised how bad it was until some time after it had passed. I like to still gaslight myself about it now, to be honest. We normalise so many things that mums experience, all under the guise of 'welcome, this is motherhood, suck it up', and end up feeling buckets of resentment in the process- at least I did anyway.
So from time to time I like to remind people that it's not just pretty cakes on my feed. Behind those photos, my husband - Ed and I, are dealing with the revolving door of illnesses that kids bring home, juggling drop offs and pickups, while running a business, making so many decisions throughout the day without a team (one day there will be a team, hopefully!), staying somewhat on top of domestic tasks (never on top, always drowning), making room for therapy and exercise, fighting the urge to give up, trying to reply to emails in the most timely way possible and of course, making the cakes.
Who I want to be when I grow up
I think I'm slowly getting there, but I'd like to be more at peace when things don't go the way I'd hoped for. Just feeling the feelings, and moving through them, rather than spiralling and getting caught up in my head. I have always been anxious and an over-thinker and the goal is to expend less energy on both those things.
What inspires my cakes
My cake flavours are largely driven by what flavours I like, have grown up with (Indian/Pakistani & Singaporean elements), as well as what fruits are in season.
My designs, similarly, are based on what catches my eye - bright colours combinations, painting onto cakes and using dried and fresh flowers.
What I’ve had to do badly before I got good at it
1. Setting my prices. This was absolutely tied to my view of my self-worth. So I had to do some really hard work on that before working on my price points.
2. Staying true to the designs and flavours that I love to work with, rather than trying to please everyone, and offering absolutely everything.
3. Realising that not everyone wants fancy flavours. So now I have 2 menus- one for classic flavours and one for more complex ones, while still offering custom flavours between all of that. Designs are important to me, of course, but the flavour will always be number 1.
4. Accepting that I will make mistakes. Sometimes the customer isn't happy. Sometimes that has been an error on my part, other times it hasn't. I've had to learn to just take many deep breaths when this has happened and do my best to rectify to the best of my ability if it's within my power, and then move on.
Thankfully, I can count these experiences on 1 hand in the 10 years of operating Beurre but they absolutely still sting when I think about them!
Your cakes went viral a few year ago...
I love the 'vax' cakes that I made in 2021. They looked cute, made lots of people happy during a low point, and gave me a sense of purpose when we were all stuck at home!
My most creative projects
My absolute favourite creative things I’ve done to date though are actually the murals I’ve painted in both my kids’ rooms as well as their play space. Filling my home with colourful paintings makes me happy and gives them such fun bedrooms.
Similarly, the family portraits I do (I take only a few commissions a year for these now as juggling has become too tricky for my brain). It started with someone who wanted a portrait of her and her sister, who had passed away. Another wonderful customer wanted a portrait of her and her son- the first few years had been rough, and she wanted something to mark how they were coming through the other side done for her family. Another gorgeous customer has one where her mum, who passed away before she met her grandchild, is holding her grandson. These feel incredibly special.
The last one that comes to mind is one I did of a small birthday cake. I received a message a few days afterwards that still makes me tear up when I think of it. Tearing up now, in fact. The customer had bought it for herself to take to her father at the hospital, for what would be the last time he would be there for his daughter’s birthday. She described how they sat together on the side of his bed and shared the cake, how while the cake wasn’t a giant, sparkly, OTT creation, it still made such an impact. It meant everything to know this and it was just such an honour to make that cake.
Best advice for being creative
1. I've found that making things that bring you happiness and pride are the ones that are worth pursuing