"As a wife and a mom above everything else, I'd never feed anyone something I wouldn't feed my own family," says home baker-turned-entrepreneur Ria Ortega. "So everything that goes into my baked goods has to be fresh and first class. I wouldn't substitute to cut down on cost." This uncompromising stance on quality is evident in every bite of Ortega's fine desserts, from her blueberry muffins to her traditional Ilonggo ensaymada. That maternal attachment also shaped the name of her new business, Apron Strings - a name connoting strong and lovingly maintained family ties, and a long tradition of baking only the best.
Indeed, baking is in Ria's blood. She recalls watching her Lola Rosita making ensaymadas and fruitcakes from her earliest childhood, an activity she thought so much fun that when finally allowed to mess around in the kitchen at age eight, Ria took to baking like the proverbial duck to water.
"My father wouldn't allow me into the kitchen before I was eight. Since to a child whatever is forbidden just seems more enticing, my interest was really piqued. Finally when I reached eight, my mom enrolled me in a baking class with Lorrie Reynoso, and I knew I loved to bake because I would wake up in the morning, already looking forward to going to my classes," Ria says. Even now the ensaymada recipe she uses is her Lola Rosita's; thick, fluffy, buttery without being oily, the top fragrant with freshly grated queso de bola. "Eating that ensaymada just takes me right back to my childhood," Ria grins. "Heaven!"
Through her years growing up and later going on to a career in theatre and music, Ria maintained her ties to the kitchen. "Ever so often I would bake again, trying recipes from books and magazines or sometimes trying to formulate my own. I would want something, like a particular texture and flavor in brownies that I just couldn't find in commercial ones, so I ended up developing my own brownie recipe," she says.
On marrying and getting pregnant with her first child, Ria discovered that her version of 'nesting' was to spend even more time in the kitchen, and took more classes with Sylvia Reynoso-Gala. "That's when I began to realize my love of cooking and baking could be deep enough that I could turn it into a career," she says, and now she's finally making that leap of faith.
Apron Strings is starting out in the classic manner of homegrown businesses built with love -- on a shoestring, but with a ready and familiar clientele of friends who've known what Ria can do for years. Working out of her home, Ria takes orders for brownies, cookies, ensaymada, and cinnamon rolls, and is developing new recipes in her spare time.
One product we're watching out for with breathless anticipation is her cinnamon rolls with mango. She'll be participating in the Cuenca bazaar at Ayala Alabang Village and is hoping to get into Mercato Centrale in Fort Bonifacio. "When the demand gets big enough, I'll consider opening a bakeshop or cafe. Slow but sure is the way to go for me," Ria says. "Anyway, whatever happens or how long it takes, this will always be a labor of love for me. Baking isn't just about producing breads or cookies or cakes. It's about creating memories as we enjoy our goodies, whether it's in the process of making them, or eating them."
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