Q&A with Serdar Yener

In honor of Acts of Green, the United Nations of Sugar Artists’ Earth Day Collaboration and fundraiser for the National Geographic Society, Serdar Yener answered some questions for ACD about his life, work and his contributions to this very worthy cause. Yener is the co-founder of Yener’s Way, a library of video tutorials showcasing Yener’s techniques, methods, style, design and original creations. Yeners Way also has its own social network and a forum that connects cake artists around the world.

1. What was your initiation into the world of sugar art? How did you get started?

It all started when I was 17. I asked my mum to find a job for me during the school holidays. Her first choice was Istanbul Hilton, for she knew the director of finance who rented an apartment from us. That was the day I had my first encounter with the pastry world. We went to see him and he sent me and another boy (with the same intention as me) to the chief cashier. I can never forget that particular moment. The chief cashier shortly looked both of us up and down, pushed his glasses up, pointed his finger at me and said “you go to the pastry kitchen” and to the other boy he said, “you go to the Roof Restaurant”. And with those few words, he had paved my lifetime career for me. I didn’t know anything about pastries then; thus it was the beginning of my profession. This was the very beginning of my inspiration and I was stationed in an enormous pastry kitchen with 25 staff. Whenever the mixer machines were on, I felt like I was working in the engine room of a cruiseship. Everything happened right before my eyes in that kitchen; mass production, fine cake decorating, chocolate dipping and bread baking.

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After a few days’ hesitation, I stood up and started giving the staff a hand. I realized that it was much more interesting than just filling out forms. The Summer holidays had ended and I continued part time for a year. I then applied for a full-time commis position and knew that pastry would be my life from now on. I gave it everything I had and involved myself fully in all the functions, promotions, banquets and special menus. Even without my apprenticeship, I was confident and holding all the key tasks in the pastry department. I was also trusted by local chefs and an expatriate Danish pastry chef, Mr Peterson. When he left, his successor, a young Swiss pastry chef, Mr. Peter Straub came on board and we enjoyed working and clubbing together.

So to go back to your question, everything I experienced and observed in that first year led me to believe that if I just implement my existing talent into this profession, there is no limit in the world of edible art. This was my inspiration.

2. How do you continue to learn and grow as an artist?

As an artist? I can’t start my answer with that. That is a title that can only be awarded and judged by others. As a pastry chef dealing with cake art, learning and developing your self wasn’t as easy back then as it is today. Having a high interest to learn is probably the first ingredient we need. Observing other chefs inside the same kitchen and picking up bits and pieces was the only available method for me at the beginning. I remember deciding that I would not walk out of the kitchen without learning at least 2 recipes a day no matter how late it was. Istanbul Hilton was the best place in the city in terms of learning from experienced chefs. I was 20 when I took my first offer as Pastry Chef in Ankara Palace to lead a 10 person crew. They did not realize while they were learning from me that they had been my teachers first. Competitions were another great avenue for self development for me. Every entry was a project and I was a Project Manager rather than a Pastry Chef. Finding a good idea, research, planning, exercise, execution, perfection was all part of the learning process. I thoroughly felt the difference in my self confidence after every entry and the urge of doing better on the next. I must have been doing ok because on a few occasions I was also asked to judge some of those competitions. Internet is part of our life today and plays the most important role in education and self development. Younger chefs don’t know that only a short while ago, people had to spend days of time in libraries to learn something, which today is basically replaced with a “click”. Today, there is no excuse to be ignorant for more knowledge. You have to consume knowledge in order to produce new ideas.

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3. Your website not only provides a wonderful library of tutorials, but offers a forum for sugar artists to gather as a community. What value do you find in fostering this kind of community?

About three years ago, my son Serkan and myself started to pursue the idea of online cake art education. We started brainstorming all the components of Yeners Way. One of the main priorities of the site, apart from the video tutorials, was to build a community, that would not only learn from me, but also communicate and share ideas with each other. Having the chance to witness these cake decorating discussions and be able to join into these conversations, to me is priceless. The forum at Yeners Way is not a large one at this stage but it is growing and we hope that it will eventually become a useful resource for everyone.

4. Why did you choose to participate in USNA’s fundraising collaboration, “Acts of Green”? Can you tell me more about the giveaway and how you’re participating?

I have found that the cake decorating community is a very special one. >From the person just starting out, to the person with lots of experience making amazing cakes everyday, everyone is so kind and supportive of each other. I feel that taking part in collaborations is a great opportunity for me to be part of this amazing community. To be able to create cakes and showcase them beside all these other outstanding cake artists is always a privilege and honour. If it’s also for such an important cause like to increase awareness about the problems of the only home we have, that made it even more worthwhile. I am so grateful to Zawadi Parizek that she included Yeners Way in her invitation list for this very special collaboration and we are more than happy to contribute 2 Annual Subscriptions valued at $179 each.

Acts of Green_UNSA

5. Can you tell us more about the incredible cake you created for this fundraiser?

It is nice to see there are a lot of activities happening around the world and everyone is trying to bring more awareness to this very fundamental issue. As a cake decorator and online tutor, I also wanted to take part and accept to produce a piece with great pleasure for an Earth day theme collaboration. I designed a cake with two important things in my mind. Giving a message about the preservation of Earth and also creating a tutorial that would demonstrate some special cake decorating techniques that I haven’t covered before. I decided to incorporate a Bonsai tree into a cake in order to send this message…”If everyone of us looked after our world like a bonsai tree gardener looks after a bonsai, we wouldn’t have any problems.”

Serdar Yener_Bonsai_Resized

The bonsai pot is textured with a map of the Earth and the bonsai tree has little huts for human inhabitants who are living in the bonsai tree. This represents the concept that we should live with nature, not replace it. At least we need to find the balance and not over do it. This is the only home we have and we need to look after it before it’s too late.

To download a tutorial on how to make Yener’s Earth Day Bonsai Cake, click here.

Learn how you can participate in UNSA’s Earth Day fundraiser for the National Geographic Society here.

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