Alaina Sargent is a notable alumnus of Oregon Culinary Institute and pastry chef owner of Sargent’s Sinful Sweets. Read more about her story here.
What Inspired You to Become a Chef?
My name is Alaina Sargent, and I am the owner and baker of Sargent’s Sinful Sweets.
I grew up in the small town of Scappoose, west of Portland. I had a pretty average suburban life growing up. After graduating high school, I was pretty lost on what I wanted to do for a career. I thought I wanted to be a photographer, then an artist, then a tattoo artist, but nothing seemed to stick. I had two years of not doing any schooling before culinary school clicked.
How Did Sargent’s Sinful Sweets Come to Be?
I didn’t always know I wanted to be a baker. Growing up, my mom was a cake decorator and was always making amazing and fondant-free cakes. If I was lucky, I would get some of the scraps. I would watch her for hours.
It was in high school where I started to love to bake, just as a hobby. My friends and family loved it, too. After my mom got an office job and quit making cakes, my family started to ask me to do the birthday cakes. Then during my two-year break in between schools, people close to me suggested that I should attend a culinary school. The problem was that I always thought I was never good enough.
After some serious pep talks, I went in to apply for the Oregon Culinary Institute. To this day, it is still one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
After just trying on that first chef jacket for school, something sparked and it’s then that I knew I never wanted to take that jacket off. That first week of school is when I took pride in everything I made and knew I had what it took to make this my career for the rest of my life.
I was very fortunate in my journey to open my business. For five years I volunteered at my aunt’s booth down at the Portland Saturday Market, along with working in a few kitchens in the Portland area during the week.
After being down there for a while, people would always ask where to buy cookies and at the time there were no vendors that did so. There wasn’t a coffee stand on our side of the street either. So after running the idea past my aunt, I filed the forum and talked with directors about opening up a small coffee and bakery stand, and they loved the idea! I immediately set out to work on getting it up and running, and it’s been such a long and crazy journey with it.
The first weekend down there was the hardest. I sold out of everything within two hours. It took a lot of time, and a few tears before I finally found my stride. Then I noticed, I needed to stand out from all the other bakeries. That’s why when you go down to my stand, there’s always a new item because the menu changes monthly and by the season. I also have some unique flavors, and items you’re not going to find at a bakery in that area.
We Are Coming to Your Place Tonight, What Do You Make Us?
What I’ve grown most famous for (so far) are my macarons. Having learned the macaron art and craft from OCI’s baking and pastry program, I chose to create unique and outstanding flavors that you won’t find anywhere else is Portland. But have no fear, Salted Caramel is always on the menu as a good solid choice for the less adventurous.
Some of my favorite ones I do are my Raspberry Rosemary, Blackberry Black Pepper, and Strawberry Ginger macarons during the berry seasons, with the berries picked from Sauvie’s Island. During the fall the most popular, we have our Whisky Peach Brûlée and Pumpkin Spiced Latte.
Any Advice to Aspiring OCI Ninjas?
My advice for aspiring cooking ninjas would be to work hard. This is no cake walk (pun intended).
I had a few peers in my class thinking this field would be fun and easy because they would bake at home for fun. Most people don’t know how hard this field is. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but one of the most rewarding.
I didn’t know what to expect when I walked in, but it was amazing. The staff is amazing, and you can tell how much they care about their students and the culinary field. I had such a great experience that I didn’t want my classes to end. My love of baking is what got me into OCI, but it was their teaching and constant mentoring that turned me into the baker and businessperson that I now am.
About Alaina Sargent
Alaina Sargent is the pastry chef-owner of Sargent’s Sinful Sweets, home to the sinfully baked cakes and pastries in Portland, Oregon.
For more information about Alaina or to satisfy all of your sweet craving and catering needs, visit her website.