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How A Solo Trip From Malaysia To Australia Sparked Chef & Baker, Grace Earthiam's Entrepreneurial Journey
"There were times when people around me would try to pull me down stating my dreams were unrealistic. I decided to challenge the status quo that has been programmed for me. As the saying goes, your dreams and your actions define you. Don’t let others define you with what they tell you to do and not to."
Ara Ehamparam
Co-founder & Podcast Host
Canada
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What was your upbringing like?  How did you end up in Australia?

My family always been a strong pillar of support for me.  The values they’ve instilled in me have provided a strong foundation for me generally in life.  I was born in Malaysia in a quaint town known as Buntong, Perak – West coast of Malay peninsula. When I was a kid, my leadership qualities stood out among my peers. I was the head prefect in my school and also leading various curriculum and non-curriculum activities. 

I’ve always wanted to be a businesswoman as I was inspired by my father. He’s a businessman running his own successful “Mee goreng” (fried noodle) restaurant in my hometown in Buntong, Perak.  As a child I basically spent most of time in my father’s restaurant and I was fortunate enough to learn some business skills from him. Watching him doing what he loves has piqued my interest to follow in his footsteps. So, I decided to explore my capabilities and talents which lead me to a journey of discovering my love for culinary arts (mainly baking). 

I realized that there were a lot of things that captured my attention and I needed to explore and learn more about baking and cookery. So, I randomly selected Melbourne for a solo vacation and to do a short chocolate design course in Savour School.  Melbourne swept me off my feet with its mainly wonderful characteristics including beauty, culture, hospitality and friendly people.  One of the patisserie café which truly inspired me was Brunetti (Italian Dessert) and I had to mention this café because it was a mjaor turning point in my career journey. After I came back to Kuala Lumpur (capital of Malaysia) after my vacation, I started to search for a baking and cookery institute in Australia.  I decided to enrol myself to study a Diploma in Hospitality Management in Melbourne.

I am proud to say that I am a Qualified Chef who lives in Melbourne independently and at the same time I am working as part-time cake decorator at one of the well renowned bakeries in the city. I carried all my skills with me to this country promising (Australia) to upgrade myself and my skills. 

Although I have confidence internally, my experience growing up in a conservative South Asian household/community definitely puts doubts in my mind about what I can do.  The journey to Melbourne was not definitely an easy one. I decided to take the road less travelled and that made all the difference.

Tell us about why you started Gracielicious Bakery.

It came in 2014 while watching Nigella Lawson’s fruit cake baking show and decided to bake a similar fruit cake at home. To my surprise it turned out very well, and my family/friends whom tasted it loved it. They encouraged me to bake another cake that same week. I baked a few cakes referring to the recipes I found on the internet and with God’s grace, I received an order from my friend for my first cake which was sold for (MYR 50). On the next day, I received positive feedback from my friend saying the cake was really delicious. It really motivated me and after few days, I decided to enrol myself for some baking classes which gave me the confidence to start a small business in Kuala Lumpur on a part-time basis.

What were some challenges you experienced setting up the business?

The baking industry is not as easy as I thought it would be. It’s highly demanding and customers will always come with their own designs and expectations in terms of creativty to be seen from the bakers.

The challenges I had to face during my initial years include:

1. Little experience/knowledge to run a business. I didn't have this knowledge as I was self-taught.

2. Facing customers’ expectations and requirements based on current trend. Especially with dietary requirements such as Halal, Vegan and Vegetarian etc.

3. Financial difficulties to purchase tools to do cake decorations. Improper financial/budget plans.

4. Lack of time since I was working full time and ran the business part-time.

5. Balacing a good product, service & pricing. Mostly customers will expect the cake to be cheap.  It was quite challenging to beat other bakers.

7. Home-based business.  There are a lot of advantages doing it this way but it can be daunting in many ways especially if you are a one-woman business doing it all.

8. Lack of a social life.  Missing time with family and friends to focus on fulfilling orders. 

To overcome the challenges, I ventured to upgrade my skills tremendously to the next level based on customers current expectations, so I enrolled myself for some courses including:

- Wedding Cake Construction & Decorating course.

- Participated in a cake decorating class with few famous bakers (local & abroad) running their business successfully.

- Chocolate-making class in Melbourne, Australia in October 2016 at ‘Savour Chocolate & Patisserie School’ during my vacation. 

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How did the COVID pandemic affect your business and yourself personally? 

The pandemic has impacted everyone’s life one way or another.  During the COVID pandemic, Melbourne was under lockdown for almost 8 months. The world was battling and continue to battle the worst pandemic in modern era.  We faced the same crisis like other countries where most of us have lost our source of income. The government announced that non-essential industries have to close their business temporarily due to this pandemic. Having said that, I still did not give up on my passion even though I truly missed and still missing all my loved ones who lives in Malaysia.  I've tried to maintain a positive outlook in life and have faith that there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel. 

I know I am not alone in this situation. I decided to spread the positivity by cooking authentic Malaysian meals and post it in my social media to honour my heritage as well as the people that I miss back home during this period. A silver lining in this pandemic as that I had more time to try and improve my recipes/skills.

Is the bakery something that you’re able to focus on full-time?  If not - do you have plans to make this a full-time endeavour in the future?  If not - why?

Yes, I do have some plans to make this baking business as a full-time endeavour in the future. I’d love to share and educate other women who thinks that they are not capable of running business. For example, if there were organizations out there organization talks or baking classes, I would love to share my experience.  I will spare no effort to help educate women whom are brave enough to step forward to learn and better themselves through education.

I am planning to start my online baking and decorating classes for beginners this year.   I’m also looking forward to get some platforms where I can teach baking and cooking classes where I hope to inspire younger folks to embark on their journey.

How have your family and friends supported you through your journey?  Did you have any doubters?

As mentioned, being a female born in a conservative South Asian household, the path to reach where am I today was not easy. There were times when people around me would try to pull me down stating my dreams were unrealistic.  I decided to challenge the status quo that has been programmed for me. As the saying goes, your dreams and your actions define you. Don’t let others define you with what they tell you to do and not to. 

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”  - Dr. Seuss

In terms of your personal legacy, in a few sentences, describe how you want to be remembered by your family and friends?

I want to remembered as a funny person who always made people laugh. I want to be remembered for my kindness and generosity.  A daughter, a sister and a friend who never afraid to stand up for what’s right.  As someone who never gives up on their dreams while living life fearlessly.  

"Dream is not what you see in sleep, dream is something which doesn't let you sleep." – Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam

What do you think you would tell 16-year Grace looking back?

1. Grades in school are important but please don’t over-extend yourself to get amazing grades.

2. It may not be easy to stand up and speak out for what’s important to you, but you will be amazed how empowering that can be.

3. If you want something just ask. The worst thing someone can ever say to you is a NO. 

4. Eat clean and sweat daily.

5. Happiness isn’t a destination, but it is a journey. 

6. Trust your instinct. If it feels wrong, it is wrong. 

7. Nobody made history by playing safe. Be bold and confident

8. Always have a curious mind – it makes you observant of new ideas. 

9. Never be afraid to stand up for what’s right, even that often means stand alone. 

10. Don’t let failure get you down. Look for the learning opportunity in every bad situation. 

What is your favourite book(s) you've read recently or a podcast(s) that you've listened to recently that's had an impact on you?

"12 rules for life - An Antidote to Chaos" by Jordan B Peterson has changed my perspective about life. I strongly recommend the book. 

What is a new belief, behaviour or habit that has most improved your life?

Belief: Have strong faith in your own abilities.

Habit: Make annual goals for yourself so you know what you're aiming for or just a way to measure yourself.  Treat yourself each and every time when you meet the goal. The reward will keep you motivated and drive you to be more positive.

Be surrounded with people who encourage you and believe in you.

"A friend is one that knows you as you are, understand where you have been, accept what you have become, and still, Gently Allows You to Grow." ~William Shakespeare.

"Show me who your friends and I will tell you who you are" ~ Vladimir Lenin

What are some of your interests outside of work?

I am working on writing my own recipes and hopefully publish them one day, as this has been a dream of mine.  I am keeping a log of all tested and proven recipes to help with this. Besides my passion for gastrectomy, I lead an active lifestyle. I am an ardent outdoor fan. Tennis is my second love. I play often with my friends to keep myself fit. Also, my love for hiking is worth mentioning here, two to three times a week. Hiking always clears my mind and make me truly live in the moment surrounded by nature.

If you were given $1 billion, how would you allocate the money to change the world?

I know I can’t solve all world’s problems with a billion dollars. Definitely it is substantial amount of money to put to a good use to educate our next generation, particularly children.  To me, knowledge is the most empowering thing we can give away and the path to widsom.  As the famous saying goes "Give a man a fish, he will eat one day; Teach a man how to fish he will eat every day”.

What is your favourite Tamil food (meal or dessert)?

My mum and my God Parents are amazing cooks. I have learned so many dishes from them - especially south Indian (Tamil) food and desserts. When it comes to cooking, nothing can beat like these dishes that have so many flavours and spices. My favourite meals are vegetarian banana leaf food, spicy chicken masala and fish curry, mutton/lamb varuval and many more. I would love to cook for my family and friends. 

To be honest, my God Parents and my mum are my mentors that really elevated my interest in becoming a chef.  I always admire the way they cook with all kind of different spices and flavours.

What is your favourite Tamil movie?

I am a die-hard fan of Kamal Hassan. He is extremely talented and fantastic actor. His passion for the art never fails to amaze me. His dedication to cinema is unparallel. 

Some of my favourite movies are Indian, Vishvaroopam, Hey Ram and Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu.

What does Tamil culture mean to you?

Tamil is one of the oldest cultures in the world and observed mainly by people of Tamil Nadu (India), Sri Lanka, Malaysia/Singapore while successfully evolving/thriving for centures.  I love doing things like wearing a saree, putting kum kum on my forehead, wearing colourful bangles, etc.  Also, I am very proud to say that I studied in Tamil school and learnt classical dance. 

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Ara Ehamparam
Co-founder & Podcast Host | TamilCulture
Canada
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