To Ene, having ample time and space to be creative every day is top priority (besides the number one non-negotiable, paying rent). Ene spends her time baking beautiful cakes and freelance writing, supported by a nanny gig during the weekdays. She speaks about impostor syndrome as a self-taught baker, her preference for freelancing over a full-time job, and the creative joy in translating an abstract idea into a physical object.
What do you do?
When people ask what I do, I first say that I'm a baker. It's taken me a really long time to lead with that because I have felt impostor syndrome about baking, especially because I'm self-taught, so I feel as though I'm not able to call myself that. The practice of leading with "I'm a baker" gives me more ownership of this craft that I've honed and can charge for. So yes, I'm a baker, a writer, a runner, multi-hyphenate creative. I'm always tinkering and finding joy in learning new ways to use my hands for things.
You own a bakery business, The Batter End. When and how did that start?
The Batter End started in 2012 because I wanted to bake something for a friend's potluck. I wanted to bring cupcakes and didn't want to buy them, so I started tinkering with box mix and following Youtube videos. I made the worst batch of cupcakes ever—at least the worst looking batch that I've ever made—but they were eaten. It sparked a fire and I wanted to get better at it, so I kept watching more Youtube tutorials and buying more box mix. A couple of box mixes later, I graduated from cupcakes to cakes.
I made my first cake for a friend's mom's birthday and it was great. Not the best looking cake, but I got it done. I wanted to get better at making cakes so I started taking classes on Bluprint and following Youtube tutorials. I genuinely enjoyed the baking process because it brought me a sense of peace.
The thing is, I started making cakes for fun and then people started asking me to make them cakes for baby showers, weddings, and so on. I realized there was a demand so I decided to start charging.
What do you think the primary measurement was for getting better? Was it about the visuals, the taste?
Definitely the visuals. I knew the cakes tasted great but I also wanted them to look just as good.
What are some of your favorite cakes that you've made so far?
I love being able to translate things that I see in art to cakes. My favorite cake was one that I made for myself. My tradition is to make myself a birthday cake every year. This past year I made a cake using edible wafer paper printed with traditional African fabric. It looks like a fabric-covered cake, but it's all edible. I found it very fulfilling to come up with and execute that idea and then see people have a wonderful reaction to it.
You moved to New York in 2009 and lost the job you had shortly after. Can you tell me more about that time?
I came to New York for a boy I was dating, which did not work out. I had a job working at a call center. The nature of that industry is very temporary. I lost the job that I had making very little money. I was virtually homeless at some point because I was still in transition, moving from California to New York, trying to get a feel for the city, not really having a set place to live. Because I couldn't move forward in getting an apartment at the time, I was living in a hostel in Harlem. That was a super difficult time because I felt incredibly unsettled with no money and no place to live, but I knew that I was resolved to figure it out in New York.
What drove that conviction?
I guess pride. I didn't want to go home, even though that was an option. I could've always gone back to Minneapolis where my family is. My mother begged me to. But I didn't want to feel like I failed. I came here for a reason, that reason didn't work out, but I was still in love with New York. I was in love the second I landed here. I didn't want to feel like I had given up so quickly. So I was out of the hostel every day handing out resumes and looking for jobs.
I was open to anything as long as it was able to afford me a bed for even one night at the hostel. I thought if I could make it through that day, then I'd be fine tomorrow. I was determined to figure things out day by day.
What was the first job that gave you that security?
I had odd jobs in between, but getting my first admin job that I went for a sit down interview and negotiated my salary was when I first thought, "This is good. This is a good thing."
How did you eventually transition into freelancing?
I had a friend who worked at MadameNoire, a black women's online magazine. She encouraged me to share my life and dating stories. We started off with writing Tinder chronicles where I would give the lowdown on some of my Tinder mishaps. That was my first foray into writing something, having it published, and being paid for it.
With that consistency, I sharpened my skill on how to tell a story. I've always loved reading and storytelling, but never knew it was something I could do and get paid for.
That's amazing to have someone champion you like that.
Without her, I probably wouldn't have thought to write anything, ever.
Is the writing that you do now mostly about dating, or have you branched out into other topics?
It's typically about sex and dating, but I've also done branded content for moms because I'm a nanny as well. I also delve into beauty and fashion, but the crux is dating and relationships.
When have you felt lost about your work?
I feel that way whenever I have a bad cake day, which is not often but it does happen. If the cake isn't straight or things aren't happening seamlessly, I think to myself, "I should not be doing this." I often feel that way because I'm not professionally trained. Any time I run into a roadblock with a cake, I often revert back to that doubt. It's impostor syndrome, really. But I've come this far by learning on my own. It can't be that bad.
Do you have a desire to get professional training?
I do, but I don't know that I necessarily need it. I already have so much practical knowledge and real world experience with cakes as well as paying clients.
If the cake isn't straight or things aren't happening seamlessly, I think to myself, "I should not be doing this." I often feel that way because I'm not professionally trained...But I've come this far by learning on my own. It can't be that bad.
So on those bad cake days, what do you do to get out of the funk?
Walking away helps. Just walk away for a second, take a breather, and come back to it. I try not to beat myself up so much, because life happens and things aren't going to be perfect. Surprisingly and thankfully, what I see as flaws or imperfections with the cake are virtually invisible to a regular person who's ordering a cake from me.
You have this vision for how something's gonna go in your mind, and when it doesn't come out physically the way you've envisioned...I can be a bit of a stickler about that, and I can feel like I've failed on some level. But the average person thinks it's fine.
Take me through steps in the process for a cake, from inspiration to delivering the final cake for a client.
I pull inspiration from things I see all the time. For example, Kerby Jean-Raymond from Pyer Moss was at the Met Gala last year with Lena Waithe. They wore these striped suits with buttons of hip hop figures like Nas and Nipsey Hussle. So I think of doing something that looks like fabric on a cake, but also making edible buttons to add as decals on top of the cake. Then I'll start sketching out and maybe making a silicon mold.
When it comes to working with clients, typically a client will have an idea of what they want. If they don't, I ask for their favorite colors and what vibe they are going for. We create a moodboard, then I'll send a couple of ideas and sketches. People love to give me carte blanche to create a cake, which gives me so much more wiggle room to creatively express myself in a way that is really freeing.
After going to sketches and agreeing on an idea, I'll send an invoice then get started on baking and designing, sending photos, and then delivering.
What were your passions prior to discovering baking?
Honestly, nothing. I have a lot of hobbies and love to learn with my hands. I taught myself how to knit and crochet, but those were fun hobbies. It never seemed like anything that would bring me fulfillment; it was a way to pass time. But seeing the end product of a cake or cupcake, being able to translate an idea in my mind's eye to something physical in an edible dessert is magic to me. That really kept me going, and I wanted to try something new all the time.
Being able to translate an idea in my mind's eye to something physical in an edible dessert is magic to me.
When shit hits the fan, whether from financial concerns like losing a job or personal life matters, how do you navigate your relationship to work?
Freelancing gives you a heightened sense of things. You're on a net 30 schedule and if a check doesn't clear or come through, you don't have income. It puts into perspective what's important in my budget. I'm also able to filter out what I should and shouldn't pay attention to in a pragmatic way.
Non-negotiables are being able to pay rent. Having a place to lay my head and be creative, even if it's just journaling in quiet, is super important to me. Whatever it is I have to do, I know I need to be able to make rent to have that peace of mind.
Whatever my situation is, I need to not be stressed out. I have been in severe high stress situations trying to figure out money with freelancing and it's been incredibly uncomfortable. I'm no longer willing to sacrifice my peace.
Do you think having your own business helps manage some of that freelancer anxiety?
Definitely. I know that I have that to fall back on, at the very least. I can always bet on myself. Someone is always going to need a cake.
As a freelancer, do you follow an approach of diversifying the types of work you do?
I think so. When I was working full-time in admin, I had paused working on The Batter End. I honestly thought about quitting The Batter End because I wasn't getting the business I thought I would be getting. I solely depended on my admin job. But I also got laid off from that job, so I had to resort back to baking.
I put energy into advertising, word of mouth, marketing for The Batter End and that sustained me during the months that I was unemployed, along with freelancing. So I don't believe in just having one thing that you do, because it hasn't really worked.
Do you think there will be a situation down the line where you will want to go back to a full time job?
I feel like that's in the past. I love the financial security, but I don't think that it allows me the creative space to do the things that I want to do like write or bake. Freelancing and working for myself frees up time and gives me mental space to think about things other than clocking in for a 9 to 5.
I have a pretty consistent nanny job caring for a small child whose parents trust me, so I have the autonomy to do things in the day while he's sleeping. I can write, think of ideas, and send pitches. I have a bit of space to be creative. I don't think I'd ever give up that space to go back to a regular 9 to 5.
What is your daily schedule like?
I try to work out early in the morning before my day starts. Nannying typically starts around 9:30 or 10 until 5. Before that, I'll usually be doing my own thing, like writing pitches or jotting down ideas.
I make the joke that I have two jobs, my 9 to 5 and my 5 to 10. My 5 to 10 during the week is reserved for freelance assignments or The Batter End. If there's an invoice that needs to get sent out or if I need to practice on a cake, I do that between 5 and 10 PM. During my 9 to 5 I organize what I need to do for 5 to 10, so I'm not cramming my organizational time at night and feeling stressed out.
My weekends are pretty relaxed because I leave that for friends, family, and myself.
How long did it take you to find that rhythm?
It took me a bit of time. I used to think 9 to 5 had to be this one job and I couldn't do anything related to my 5 to 10 during that time. Then night would come and I would be working until 1 or 2 AM. I couldn't do that to myself anymore, so I started scaling back a little bit and leveraging the flexible eight hour day to use it for planning.
I think the one thing I get super irritated about is feeling stressed out or pressed for time. Efficacy is something I'm big on.
How do you manage when all the opportunities come in at once?
Who's paying the most first? What might be the easiest to do first? I try to balance between those two aspects.
What did you grow up wanting to do?
I have a degree in interior design. But between interning in San Diego and moving to New York, the passion wasn't there anymore. Everything is super competitive in New York and it is not in my nature to fight and push for everything. I wanted a lane where I could be creative and express myself without being tied to what someone else's vision of something is supposed to look like. So that's where the shift began, with me trying to find something that made me happy.
Everything is super competitive in New York and it is not in my nature to fight and push for everything. I wanted a lane where I could be creative and express myself without being tied to what someone else's vision of something is supposed to look like.
What do you think success meant for you growing up?
It meant a lot of money, a house, retirement savings, all that. The older I've gotten the less important those are to me. If I have enough money to pay my bills and I'm not on the street, I'm okay. But the real measure of success for me is being creative every day. I feel like I'm getting there. But money isn't the thing. It doesn't mean as much to me now as it did in the past.
A lot of my childhood friends from Nigeria are in the typical professions—doctor, lawyer, architect, engineer. These are creative people trapped in lives where they feel they need a certain level of financial security and status to be happy. The creative child in them has died. I feel like I allowed myself the space to let my creative spirit blossom by going off the beaten path and deciding that I'm going to bake cakes.
What do you recommend to people who want to reconnect with their creativity?
Allow yourself the space to cultivate creative interests. I always tell people to go to a museum or an art gallery. You get so stuck in the grind, barely resting, that you never really take the time to recharge and look at the world and see things. You never know where inspiration will strike.
Take a class. Always be learning and creating something new, even if it's once a month. Give yourself the time to cultivate interests outside of your 9 to 5. I think that's a good way to let the creative part of you start to bloom and flourish.