People of Austin Profile Series
The front room of Coco Paloma Desserts, where owner, pastry chef and artist Paloma Efron meets with clients to discuss her custom cake designs, feels a bit like a sweet culinary confection itself: The high ceilings are topped in crown molding and the walls are painted a sugary shade of pink. Efron, whose longtime dream was to open a pastry shop, says she still occasionally pinches herself. “There are days when I just stand here and look around and think, ‘This is mine. I did this,’” Efron says.
Efron comes to cake making by way of graphic design. Though she worked in her former field for years, she found herself baking in every spare minute. So she took a leap, enrolling in Le Cordon Bleu pastry arts program in London. Upon her return stateside, she immediately landed a gig at the Driskill, and while there, she crafted as many cakes as possible. And then in 2006, she opened her own shop. “The best part of it is not so much the physical end product, but instead the feeling that you’re a part of somebody’s celebration,” Efron says. “That’s what I get joy out of. I’m creating a product that’s actually an important part of someone’s life.”
What is your favorite dessert?
I love ice cream. It’s so versatile; whatever you’re in the mood for, you can find it in ice cream. You can mix up textures and flavor profiles, go simple or extravagant. Plus, everyone can have a different flavor profile and be happy.
Which place in the world inspires you most?
London. I’ve been there a few times, and I’m looking forward to another trip with my daughters this spring. It’s such a multicultural city, and there are all of these amazing pastry shops. When I was there for school I sought out as many as I could find. Plus, there’s a lot of interesting wedding cake design coming out of the UK. In London, they put wedding cakes on display in Harrods and fancy department stores. They’re crazy about cakes there.
If you could choose another career, what would it be?
I would love to be a dessert historian, or a dessert anthropologist. I would travel the world, trying different desserts everywhere and writing their histories. I don’t know if dessert historian exists as a job, but why not? What could be better?
How does your graphic design background affect your work now?
I approach cake design the same way I approach graphic design. The cake is a blank sheet of paper to me. I start to make a plan, and then I take away everything that’s not necessary. In design, you try to keep your work concise. My teachers used to say, “You don’t need that there; you don’t need that line, take it away.” I do the same in my cake designs.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome?
It’s one I’m still working on: work-family balance. I have two girls aged six and nine and I’m not home on Saturdays. I have to plan my weeks really well.
What is perfect happiness to you?
Watching my children discover the world, seeing the light go on when they learn something new. It was amazing to see it when they were babies, but even now, there’s still this whole world for them to discover piece by piece. London is going to be an amazing experience for them.
Describe your style in four words.
Restrained, whimsy, colorful, graphic.
What’s the best kept secret in Austin?
The Elisabet Ney museum in Hyde Park. She was this talented German-born sculptress with a long, romantic life story. It’s this amazing historic gem right in Hyde Park—and it’s a castle! How cool is that?