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The Lyre, Spring 2012 / Reinventing Herself…From Scratch

RSWAs a freshman at American University, Corina Testa Elgart, a 1995 Beta Rho initiate, had her future completely planned. She was to study law, become a criminal defense attorney at a top firm, make lots of money, and live a very busy yet gratifying life. Fortunately for her, fate had some different plans. Even with some bumps in the road, Corina became exactly who she wanted to be—a woman of goals, accomplishment and reinvention.

Wanting to help the underdogs of the world, Corina Testa Elgart began her college career with the strict mindset of becoming a criminal defense attorney. She enjoyed all of her classes and made wonderful contacts—all of which reassured her choice in career. Following graduation, Corina received a prestigious job offer, and a salary to match, from a law firm in Washington D.C. Not only was she rising in her field and at such a young age, but all of her dreams were coming true.

As time passed, Corina continued to climb. Working alongside the D.C. Federal Public Defender, she was a part of high-profile national and international cases such as kidnappings and mass murders. She worked 14-hour days in high-tension arenas, and she was thriving.

In fall 2003, Corina met her husband and thoughts of family began to cross her mind. Her career was booming and she was on a great financial path. Was she willing to give up her success? Was she willing to put off having a family? That winter, her decision was made for her.

Out of Her Control

To help with her father-in-law who had become increasingly ill, she and her husband moved from the fast-paced, big-city life they had created for themselves to a life of Long Island suburbia. The culture change was a shock to not only her profession, but her personal life as well. Although she had grown up in the area and her family was close, her life had been built in Washington D.C. She had no ties to Long Island and, there, she had no individuality. She only saw herself as her husband’s wife.

She began a short-lived position with the Federal Defender’s Office in their Long Island branch, but her life still lacked the passion and excitement she had experienced and had gotten used to while living in Washington D.C. Unmotivated and bored, she needed to do something just for herself.

Trying something brand new, Corina dabbled in small business ownership and began consulting for local bridal needs. She remembers, “I went from being with people on the worst days of their lives to the best day of their lives.”

In December 2005, the birth of her first child, a son named Jasper, began her slow-down. She wanted to be with him more, and subsequently, her work began to lessen. By the birth of her second child in January 2008, a Daughter named Domenica, Corina found that she was staying home more and more. Working was no longer in the schedule.

During her second pregnancy, Corina developed anxiety. Her Doctor suggested that she was showing early signs of postpartum depression. She did not want to rely on medication, so she sought alternative remedies. To her amazement, some flour, eggs, vanilla and sugar seemed to do the trick.

Finding Herself On Her Own Terms

From a strong Italian background, cooking was definitely in her genes. Baking, however, was not. Following videos on YouTube, reading recipes in magazines and replicating online photos, Corina attempted one dessert recipe after another, but creating the perfect tasting vanilla cake was her focus. For months, her husband would come home every night to a lineup of cakes, just for his tasting pleasure, until they found one that topped the rest.

“I loved how exact the baking instructions were. My anxiety was gone. It calmed my Type A personality down to an A- .”

Watching her kids during the day, she began night classes at the local culinary school. She remembers, “When I wasn’t at school, I was practicing at home. I was truly finding myself. Who knew I could bake! I sure didn’t. I loved it, and I was good at it. I found a new passion and something just for me. Not my kids or my husband, just me.”

The Start of Something Big

As her time at the culinary school came to a close, an internship was the last piece before graduation. Disillusioned by the common practices of other area bakeries, Corina took a step back. She was continuously told that the part of baking that made her so happy—the use of fresh, measured ingredients—was not practiced by local bakeries. Using premade and premixed ingredients was how everyone was doing it, but it made her question her own values and standards. She felt it was cheating and left customers misinformed. Was she in this just to make money? No. Was she looking for convenience? No. She knew her passion, and she needed to follow it.

Corina soon opened her own “shop” out of her home and vowed to stay true to her own wants, needs and strengths. She vowed to take no shortcuts, and everything from her cakes and cupcakes to her own hard work was to be done from scratch. Through word-of-mouth, Corina’s home-based business was a local sensation.

“Our entire kitchen transformed into a little bake shop. I can remember me and my husband staying up until 2 a.m. to make fondant bows and Sesame Street figurines. It was all trial and error, but we were getting orders for five, six cakes per week!”

In 2010, Corina finally moved her little business out of her home and to a more permanent facility—a cottage of only 400 square feet in Syossett, New York. Her bake shop was aptly named TASTE: It’s In The Cake.

Battling the Competition and the Public

As TASTE was opening, Corina received the news that any pastry chef would love to hear: she had been cast in a reality show hosted by, none other than the “Cake Boss” himself, Buddy Valastro. Surprised that she would even be considered, questioning her own skills in comparison to the others, excited for the possible business publicity, Corina had no idea what she was getting into. But with her husband’s support, she went for it. That fall, she began filming on TLC’s “Cake Boss: Next Great Baker.”

Her bake shop was closed for three weeks, and she was unable to see her family. Although she was able to call her husband and parents each night, she was incredibly lonely and exhausted. Public opinion did not help matters.

At first her only worries were how she would physically look on television, she had no idea she would be criticized for her character and personality. Although there were many fans for whom Corina inspired, she was also given a spoonful of cyber bullying.

“I got painted as a stereotypical Italian girl from Long Island, hot tempered, nasty and loud…The show was great for my business, but it tested my personal strength. I was exposed to America the way T.V. wanted me to be seen. And let me tell you, America has loud opinions, and they are not afraid to share them. When you’re on national television, viewers believe only what they’re shown. Viewers were harsh and attacked me as a person, questioning my ability to be a mother and a business owner. I got hate-mail and the blogs, Facebook and other social media networks flowed with degrading comments that were brutal and hard to read. Having battled my share of bullies growing, up I knew this feeling all too well; I thought the days of people making me feel badly about myself were over. While the show was airing I felt like I was in middle school all over again.”

Rather than crying and feeling helpless, Corina turned it into something positive. She used her status as a finalist in the competition series to give back. She and her husband had “team Corina” T-shirts made for the final episode and donated 100 percent of the proceeds to “Stomp Out Bullying.” She wanted to take her experience and use it to empower people to be who they are and to be proud of their talents and passions in life. Today she is an anti-bullying advocate and hopes to someday form her own anti-bullying organization locally.

Having It All

Although the route may be a little different than others, at the heart of things, Corina is still a small business owner who just wanted to find herself and be able to set a positive example for her children. Like what so many other women across the country have experienced, what she believed at the age of 18 to be her calling, was just a stepping stone to finding her true passion in life: family and cake.

Today, Corina works five to six days every week, and loves it. And as for her earlier thoughts of having to choose between a career that she loves or having a family: When someone asks, “How do you do it?” She responds, “Do you walk into my husband’s office and ask how he does it? We make it work, we figure it out! If you want something bad enough you’ve gotta fight for it. With heart, drive and passion, you can have it all. Hard work, confidence and determination go a long way.”

Corina Testa Elgart, her husband Keith, and their two children reside in Huntington, New York. For further discussion on starting your own business or for opportunities to speak out against bullying, Corina may be reached through cakesbytaste.com or on Facebook.  Photo provided by Lightful Photography LLC, lightfulphotography.com.

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