Lesi Lambert’s career path didn’t always mean using molding chocolate and sculpting tools to design life-like cakes. Until a few years ago, it was more likely you’d find an iodine drip or retracting tool in her hand as an ophthalmologist technician.
But, as she allowed her creative passion to flourish, she traded in her medical career for cake makers’ school.
Lambert’s own schooling happened at the then Mount Royal College, where she hoped to go into nursing.
“I was going to college to get my nursing degree when my student loans ran out. I had six months before the next opportunity to apply for my student loans,” Lambert said.“I got a job. Ironically, it was in the medical industry, and that particular surgeon asked if I wanted to specialize in ophthalmology. I said ‘certainly,’ and he sponsored me. It changed my path completely.”
That change was out of necessity. As a single mother of three, the needs of her family were more important to her than her career goals. “I saw the opportunity to better the life that we had, because I was working my butt off. I had three little boys that I was raising on my own. I think that when you’re a single mom and you’re on a very limited income and someone offers you a job and offers you free education, you can’t say no to that.”
After more than two decades as an ophthalmologist technician, Lambert said her boss was about to retire at the age of 70. He ultimately decided not to. But Lambert decided she didn’t want another boss and dedicated her semi-retirement to her business, the Lambert Academy of SugarCraft.
Lambert’s interest in creating the kind of artistic cake sculptures she now teaches others to make began in 1989. That’s when she made a guitar cake for her son. Lambert said she attempted the cake because she felt confident that she could make a realistic sculpture. From that moment on, she was hooked. Largely self- taught, Lambert also sought out mentors to hone her craft. After years of work she was able to create her academy where she could teach others what she had learned.
STEP 1 (left): Basic form of the cake. STEP 2 (right): Applying the chocolate.
Lambert led a double life for more than a decade as she struggled to maintain her medical career and be the owner and teacher at Lambert Academy of SugarCraft. “I would work all day. I would be sitting at my desk at around six in the morning, then come home and have to prep because I would try and throw in a Wednesday evening class,” Lambert said. “I would finish work at about 3:30–4:30 pm. I would get home by five and then the class would start at about six on the weekdays. On [Fridays], I would come home from work and set the room up for Saturday and Sunday, which would go all day.”
In 2007, with the launch of her academy, Lambert transformed the basement suite in her Calgary home into an industrial-sized kitchen where she could hold her classes and create her cake sculptures.
Lambert poured all her time and energy into her academy after leaving her medical practice. She expanded her teaching by creating master, beginner and kids classes. She also developed a professional cake designer certificate course for her students.
The Lambert Academy of SugarCraft website is full of comments from previous students that rave about her teachings.
Lambert says some of her students from her master class go on to graduate from her program and become bakers and designers in their own right.
“There’s a girl that was in our program in December of last year. She now has three bakeries. — one in Lethbridge and two in Calgary.”
Lambert has big dreams to expand her academy in the near future.
STEP 3 (left): Scuplting the details. STEP 4 (right): The final product.
“I’d love to have a building where I could live in the loft above and have my kitchen downstairs — with kitchens that I can rent out to up and coming bakers that maybe don’t have commercial kitchens in their house … I would like to have little cubical kitchens and places for classes, enough room to maybe have a couple classes going on at the same time,”Lambert said.
Lambert hopes to show people that cake decorating isn’t as daunting as it might seem and anyone can do it. “I just love it when people find something like this [sugar craft] that they can just dive into because, in the past, we have had limited resources which are built on kits, built on selling tools. I don’t want to sell kits. I don’t want to sell tool to experience this from the ground up.”