Tharusha from Tutu’s Kookies on the art of cookie decorating
Tharusha Perera’s story is different from other bakers. At the age of 26, he graduated from the Informatics Institute of Technology Sri Lanka (IIT) affiliated with the University of Westminster, London, after majoring in business information systems, and has been working as an ERP (enterprise resource planning) consultant in a leading private organisation in Sri Lanka for one-and-a-half years. He described himself as simply an IT person and part-time cookie artist.
Currently, his brand Tutu’s Kookies provides customised cookies for all types of occasions. We spoke to Tharusha on the field of cookie artistry and more. Here’s what he had to say.
Where did your passion for baking come about?
My mom used to bake cakes all the time at home. For special occasions as well as for casual evenings at home, when I was a kid, I remember I used to help her with her baking. That’s how I learned the A-B-Cs of baking. Also, I used to draw when I was a kid. I participated in several art competitions and have received recognition from them as well.
Time passed by, I went on a different path, and entered university, but I always had a passion for entrepreneurship and wanted to start something my own one day. But I didn’t know where to start, what to start, or even when to start.
I tried a couple of other businesses and failed several times, but I was always looking for new opportunities and thinking of only one goal, which is “I should start something of my own”. Then this Covid-19 pandemic happened and we all were stuck at home. As most of you remember, during the first wave of Covid-19 and the lockdown in March-April 2020, people started doing new things at home and especially started to try out making new food and sharing it on their social media. Similarly, I was doing some baking and making new food at home.
One day, I came across some beautiful cookie artists’ pages on social media, which gave me the idea and attracted me to cookies. Then I thought this would be a good opportunity for me since I have basic baking skills and drawing skills, so why not combine both? That was the initial thought process behind Tutu’s Kookies.
Why did you choose to focus on cookies?
After I saw the foreign cookie artists’ social media pages and their beautiful creations, I did some research in Sri Lanka to find out what the demand and local opportunities for decorated sugar cookies were. And it turned out that a very positively sized market opportunity was available. We have highly talented cake artists in Sri Lanka, but I realised that unfortunately, we have fewer cookie artists in Sri Lanka. I also realised that there are so many different, beautiful, and unique creations we can make on a cookie as well. So I thought decorating cookies would be my best option on how I could add more value to the industry and provide a more unique experience to customers, and at the same time, use my skills – baking and art – to drive my goals.
How did you go about learning cookie decorating, and how were you able to advance your skills so fast?
I am a self-taught cookie artist. From April-June 2020, I was testing recipes. I had a nine-to-five job, so I had to do all my research and development for cookie decorating after 6 p.m. From six in the evening until midnight, almost every day for one-and-a-half months, I tested out many recipes for cookie dough, icing, and drawing techniques by myself. I followed international cookie artists and referred to so many online articles of them, and watched YouTube videos.
Most of the recipes failed several times, but I kept making changes until I got the proper recipe and figured out the proper technique to follow. My initial designs are not that perfect, but I knew I had to step forward at some point. I kept learning about baking, food production, packaging, and the list continues; even today, I practice new techniques for decorating to improve my skills.
What tools or resources do you most rely on, and why?
The same as all other bakers and cake artists; I use ovens, baking trays, decorating tool kits, food colouring, etc. I used to buy cookie cutters during the initial stages, but currently, I digitally design my cutters and make those cutters by myself.
How much time do you spend on cookie decorating or cookie-related activities? How many cookies do you decorate in a typical week?
It actually depends on the quantity of the cookies I am baking and decorating. On average, as a part-time cookie artist (I still have my nine-to-five job), I spend another eight to nine hours per day on my cookie-related activities.
Would you be able to change the base flavour of your cookies? Would that affect the art on the cookie?
The base flavour does not affect the art of the cookie. On special occasions and for special customer requirements, I have done a chocolate cookie base, as well as coloured cookie bases.
What was your most challenging design, and which one was the most unique?
The most challenging designs are drawing portraits of people. I do caricature drawings of human portraits on special customer requirements. The most unique cookie set I have done is the set I created for Halloween 2020. I made a human skeleton cookie set, which got a lot of attention from people during the Halloween season.
What were some of the challenges you faced along your journey?
There were so many challenges from the beginning that are still present today; I believe it is the same for all types of start-up businesses in the world. Without challenges, there will be no business, but I will point two challenges out of the millions of challenges I have faced and am still facing. The initial challenge I faced was funny: To convince my friends and relatives that it was actually me that was doing this. It was almost impossible for them to come to terms with a guy from an IT background starting a baking business. Yes, surprise! I am not a girl, I am a guy behind the brand.
The next biggest challenge I faced was delivery, since I am operating out of Colombo. There are very few reliable delivery services that provide same-day delivery for the bakers out of Colombo, but I am currently working on some solutions for it.
How do you come up with your designs? Do you have original artwork or do you use reference pictures?
I always encourage and give the opportunity to my customers to tell me their ideas on how the cookies should look. Based on that, I suggest designs and colours to them. I always have friendly discussions with my customers to figure out their requirements properly. Sometimes I make designs and send customers to approve. I also refer to images online for decorating cookies.
Is there anything new coming up for your page this year?
Yes, I am currently working on the development of the website for Tutu’s Kookies. Our one-year anniversary is falling next month. I also thought of using my knowledge in IT and combining it with baking to release some uniquely decorated cookie creations next month for my customers to experience, so keep following my Instagram and Facebook pages for the latest updates!
Contact: 0713 484 536