By Laura McAlister
Porter McCollister would never have believed sugar flowers could be anywhere near as beautiful as the real thing — that is, until his wedding day.
Wife Gia, a Venezuela native, insisted on creating the couple’s wedding cake. Between the layers of the three-tier cake were bouquets of lilies, berries and roses. If Porter, an avid gardener, hadn’t known better, he would have thought the flowers were Mother Nature’s creations and not his new wife’s.
The sugar flowers took months of work for Gia. Her husband was so impressed with her ability he said she should open a cake boutique. That was about a year ago.
Gia’s Cakes Bakery Boutique is slated to open June 15 in Crestline Village. While her wedding cake creations will definitely be a huge part of the business, they won’t be the only pastries this chef and artist will be creating.
“We decided it had to be more than wedding cakes. We needed retail space,” Gia said. “We wanted it to be very nice and people to feel good when they walked in.”
While Gia and Porter were still finalizing work on the interior of her new shop at press time, the space already had the feel of a Paris bakery. The walls are soft mint green. Display cases will allow Gia to showcase her many cakes, while the counter will hold daily specials and treats.
In addition to wedding and celebratory cakes, Gia’s also will have seasonal cakes and cupcakes as well as cookies and a Brazilian type of bonbon.
Two other pastry chefs, one from New Orleans and another from Austin, Texas, will join her.
While this will be Gia’s first bakery boutique, she’s not new to baking. It’s part of a long family tradition.
“Everybody cooks in my family,” Gia said. “My aunt baked, and my mom is a very good baker. She never bought cakes. She made all of them for our neighborhood.”
In 1998, Gia moved to New York. Though her family taught her lots about baking and cake decorating, she wanted to hone her skills.
She started taking classes at Chocolate Gallery, now New York Cake & Bake.
“I saw the sugar flowers there and asked if they could teach me,” she said. “I interviewed with them that day and started classes that week.”
She competed and won in several cake decorating contests, and when she later relocated to Canada and London, she continued to take cake decorating classes.
When she applied for classes at Squires Kitchen in London, instructors took one look at her work and asked if she’d prefer to teach. “I said no, I want to learn,” Gia said.
Gia’s work has been featured in several wedding magazines, and it even earned her a special work visa to the U.S.
“A lawyer saw my work in a magazine, and he said he was going to get me this special visa,” she said. “It’s usually for people in science or engineering, but they gave me one for cake decorating. It was so embarrassing.”
At the time, Gia was in Miami, which is where she met Porter. The Mountain Brook native was scoping out the area for land.
When he proposed, Gia said, she was insistent that she decorate their wedding cake.
“When my husband saw it, he said, we have to do this,” she said, gesturing to her bakery.
While Gia is still putting the final touches on her Crestline bakery, her office is ready. She has a small space in the back of the shop. The wall is covered with famous brides and grooms cutting their wedding cakes.
“That’s my favorite picture from weddings, them cutting the cake,” she said. “I think it says a lot about their marriage. If they shove the cake in their faces, they are going to fight a lot, not good.
“But look at this one of Paul Newman. They look so in love, and they stayed together.”
Amid the famous brides like Grace Kelly and Pricilla Presley is a picture of Gia and Porter at their wedding with her masterpiece cake. They’re both smiling happily.