Michelle Heston, who is executive regional director of public relations at Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, loves her job in marketing communications, but she also loves to bake, and to share the beautiful and delicious confections she creates with friends, family, colleagues, and hundreds of people she’s never met. As Heston explained to LODGING, baking is a creative outlet that provides welcome balance to her fast-paced, highly interactive day job. However, Heston points out, it is ultimately a means to the end of sharing and caring, which, at its heart, is what hospitality is all about.
How did you get involved in the hospitality business in the first place?
Oddly enough, I began my career after graduate school as an investment banker. Realizing nearly immediately that it was not for me, I was open to the suggestion when a friend’s mother, who knew someone in the hotel industry, said she thought I’d be great at it. Given that I needed to make a change ASAP, and even though I knew nothing about the actual job, I went for an interview. I thought then and there that this was the best thing in the whole world!
So, how did that lead to this passion for baking that goes far beyond a hobby?
Having worked in luxury hotels almost my entire career, I had plenty of opportunity to be around pastry kitchens, where I could watch the pastry chefs at work and observe their techniques. I found baking at home to be relaxing and creative, truly “me time.” But much of the pleasure I get from baking comes from creating happy moments, when these are shared with groups, given as gifts, or donated to be sold or enjoyed at a fundraising event. Of course, when I’m invited to a dinner party, there is a 100 percent chance I’ll be asked to bring dessert.
How did it mushroom to the extent it has—with classes as well as donations?
I am a marketing professional, so between my corporate partnerships, including with William Sonoma, and sharing pictures of my cakes on my Instagram feed, I was getting noticed.
While I often bake for friends and family, I also donate my cakes and conduct cake-decorating lessons to benefit non-profit organizations. This began when I was approached by the general manager at the local William Sonoma store, who asked if I would consider leading a class as part of a fund-raiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Last month, I led a holiday cake decorating class at Williams-Sonoma’s “original” store in Sonoma. All of the proceeds from that class were donated St. Jude, which is a fantastic organization that seeks cures for cancer and other life-threatening diseases in children.
Again, it’s my passion and a way for me to give back to a charity either chosen by me or the partner organization. In any case, I donate all the proceeds; I don’t take any money, not even expenses for creating and baking.
In what ways, if any, does this “side gig” jive with your hotel job?
I think a good hotelier seeks to surprise and delight guests, to make their hotel stay special. It gives me great pleasure to do just that by presenting someone with a cake that is all about them. Of course, you can go out and buy a cake for somebody commercially, and that’s a lovely gesture, but I like to make a cake that tells a story about the person, the ingredients, the place—one that speaks to you. A friend of mine says, “I love looking at the pictures of your cakes on Instagram, but what I really love are the stories that each cake tells.” Exceptional stories and experiences are especially important to today’s hotel guests, too, and are what I promote as Executive Regional Director of Public Relations at Fairmont Hotels & Resorts.
What is your own favorite flavor combination?
No question about it, I’m all about chocolate.