Why no one is sweeter than Peta

02 Jul 2018

Instagram may be filled with awe-inspiring cakes, cookies and slices, but we bet none are as impressive Sweet Pete’s. Get to know our favourite Freo-based baker.

WORDS: Jessica Zoiti

Hanging out in Peta Van Heemst’s kitchen is an exercise in self-control. The smell of freshly baked cookies saturates the air and as we chat over the long counter, occasional wafts of freshly whipped marshmallow and strawberry jam escape the adjacent scullery.

Peta is mid-way through her weekly bake of home-made wagon wheels. Once I leave, they’ll be dipped in glossy chocolate then despatched to The Black Truffle, where they’ll continue to tempt sweet-toothed customers from the counter.

It strikes me that temptation aside; Peta has this work-life balance thing sussed. A mother to three children (aged 16, 14 and 12), she started her business Sweet Pete two-and-a-half years ago while managing the canteen at her kids’ primary school. Prior to that she took a 12-year hiatus from her role in construction to focus on raising her brood.

Baking seems a far cry from building, but for Peta it’s a far more natural fit. A long-time lover of baking and a creative at heart, it allows her to scratch both itches.

“My grandmother on my dad’s side was a beautiful cook – she’d cook both sweet and savoury. Also, my dad loves to make preserves, jams, pickles – all that sort of stuff – and my mum is a lovely baker,” Peta explains.

“Personally, I’ve always loved baking too. I would often bake for my friends who’d say, ‘you should look at doing this as a business’. When we bought a house that had three kitchens, I guess I saw that as a sign it was time to take the plunge, so that’s what I did.

“Plus, it suits our lifestyle. Because Mark (Peta’s husband) is very busy and works long hours, I do all the running around. This fits in perfectly with our lifestyle and it allows me to be creative at the same time.”

Currently a one-woman-show (and that’s the way she likes it), Peta does all her baking at home from kitchens that have been certified by council. A flick through her Instagram account (@sweetpetestreats) proves just how diverse Peta’s baking skills are. There are birthday cakes, wedding cakes, biscuits and slices, and all are exquisitely decorated.

“I love it when a client says, ‘I’ve got an idea, this is what I’d like’,” she says. “They’ll tell me a flavour, a colour, a theme, or whether they want flowers or chocolates on top, and then leave me to bring it all together.

“For me, the biggest thrill is actually giving them the cake and seeing it blow them away, often because it’s not what they imagined, but it still ticks all the boxes. There’s an element of surprise because you’ve done something different to what they’ve got in their mind, and usually that’s a good thing.”

According to Peta, that’s the point. Anyone can make a good old fashioned chocolate cake with frosting, but how many can turn it into a majestic flamingo, or an ombré-iced floral masterpiece? In Peta’s hands, a simple cupcake turns into a thriving cactus garden or a magical blessing of unicorns. And that aforementioned wagon wheel? Way better than the Arnott’s original.

For all the fancy frosting however, Peta’s favourite sweet treat remains the humble honey jumble – not that she often feels eating like them.

“I do have a sweet tooth, but by the end of the day, if I’ve made two or three cakes, all with buttercream and marshmallows, I don’t have much of an appetite (for sweet food),” she admits, adding that she does taste all her goodies…for quality control purposes only, of course.

When your weekend orders include five cakes, a dozen cupcakes and 24 biscuits, all to be picked up during a 12-hour window, is there even time to sit down and enjoy a sneaky sweet?

“Sometimes if it’s busy, I’ll bake into the evening, so I’ll get dinner ready, the family will sit down and then I’ll continue to bake. But that’s just the nature of the beast. The busiest times are on Thursday, Friday and Saturday when I’ve got weekend cakes, but then earlier in the week it’s more quiet,” explains Peta, who, despite the weekend demand, loves the flexibility of being a sole trader.

“I like that the business is small, and I like that it’s local. Perhaps I’d look at supplying a few more cafes (like The Black Truffle), but my current work load feels like enough – it keeps me occupied, it keeps me going and looking for new things.”

 

Find treats from Sweet Pete including honey jumbles, wagon wheels, Monte Carlos and passion fruit yo yos on the counter at The Black Truffle. Also, look out for her stand at this year’s George Street Festival, Sunday November 25.

Image via Instagram: @sweetpetestreats