Chef Jia Limtong’s baking biz is on the rise
By Fiona Patricia S. Escandor
WHEN the cupcake mania hit Cebu a few years ago, anyone and everyone who had a functioning oven and a social media page suddenly fancied themselves as pastry entrepreneurs. Online shops selling the highly celebrated “red velvet” were opening everywhere, and though the craze eventually simmered down, some shops thrived in putting a foothold in the local circuit. One of those is Baked! by Jia Limtong.
Started in 2011, Baked! over the years has not only been offering cupcakes—inarguably its bestsellers — but also customized fondant cakes known for intricate and neat details. It has become one of the more familiar names when it comes to all sorts of pastry needs, and its young chef Jia takes pride in having single-handedly led it to where it is today, from the preparation and baking, up to dishwashing and delivering.
Despite Baked! being in operations only for the past three years, Jia has been dabbling in kitchen work for more than five years. She studied culinary and was part of the pioneering batch in the Philippine School of Culinary Arts, and then proceeded to getting her diploma in baking at the At-Sunrice Global Chef Academy in Singapore.
“My mom used to bake when I was younger and that was when I started getting curious of what’s inside the kitchen,” Jia said. Admittedly, she said the interest died down in her teenage years and was only reawakened when after a brief stint studying interior design “for a more traditional degree,” she realized cooking and baking are what she’s fervent about.
Jia moved to Singapore shortly after that and it was there, she said, her skills were honed. For a year and a half, she was an apprentice at the upscale Crowne Plaza Hotel in Changi Airport, working six days a week, morning until evening, until overtime.
“They didn’t treat us as interns, but as actual employees. We weren’t just asked to do the chopping and whatnot, but we were asked to create our own pastries and they would also value our opinions,” she said.
Prior to Baked!, Jia was part of Radisson Blu Hotel Cebu’s food and beverage division.
First came the cupcakes, then the customized fondant pieces – all of which are now being craved for by a growing clientele, a demand that finally led to the building of a separate kitchen commissary inside the family-owned Limtong Press compound. “It was getting difficult to work inside the house kitchen, where I was competing with the house help for space,” she said lightheartedly.
Baked!’s commissary was built in November last year in time for the holiday rush. It’s where Jia — with no assistant in tow — prepares orders with utmost concentration, her only regular visitor nowadays her seven-year-old daughter who insists on joining her mom in making the cakes. “She thinks it’s clay,” Jia said.
As a single mom, Jia said it’s her daughter who keeps her going, especially at tough, busy times when she’s close to quitting. “I want to be able to provide for her,” she said. But more than just her “bread and butter,” baking is also her passion, a hobby which she has fruitfully transformed into a worthwhile profession.
Photography: Alfred Gregory E. Bartolome
Hair & Makeup: AJ Airraveche