A Life in Layers

Former hobby baker makes her sweetest dreams come true

SWEET SUCCESS
Kristal Perez went from baking for family and friends to creating cakes and pastries for weddings and special events.
Photo by Luke Van Hine

Kristal Perez already had what she thought was her dream job. Then she discovered something that made her dream bigger. 

She was enjoying stability and rewarding work, doing exactly what she’d gone to school for — however, “I wasn’t completely happy,” she admits. “Something was missing.”

Perez had gotten her degree and set out to pursue a career in healthcare, but in the end, she says, baking “was a passion that I couldn’t ignore.” So she quit, and began to turn her beloved hobby into a moneymaker, launching Sugar Rush by Krys, a catering and pop-up dessert company. “I knew that I needed to do what I wanted to do. Leaving your job and dedicating yourself to something full time, it’s a big step — it was a whole process for me.”

Perez started Sugar Rush a year ago, and most Saturdays in season (including an upcoming holiday event) you can find her vending all kinds of savory and sweet items at the Hendersonville Farmers Market, as well as selling baked goods year round by custom order. She’s gone from baking for friends and family to growing a full-fledged operation, creating spreads of desserts for weddings and special events. “My family always had restaurants back in Puerto Rico,” says Perez, who follows in the culinary footsteps of her mother and uncle. 

Perez’s pastries are inspired by her Latin culture, mixed with classic Southern staples.
Photo by Luke Van Hine

She started doing tres leches (Spanish for “milk cake,” it’s a sponge cake soaked in evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream) and flan. These were the gateway desserts that helped her recognize her natural gift in the kitchen. “I have a signature cake — it’s a recipe back from home in Puerto Rico, and that’s what got me into business.” That amaretto-laden staple has been joined by several other of her bestsellers: apple spice (made with fruit from local Hendersonville farmers), salted-caramel buttercream, and pumpkin-spice cakes have all become heavy hitters for late-season weddings. 

At the market, customers can also pick up an assortment of tarts, pies, pastries, brownies, and s’mores. But more recently, she’s begun to expand the menu to include savory foods, made with her chef partner Tenzin Khyentse. Originally from Tibet, Khyentse uses his experience to offer a variety of cuisines from around the world: vegetable and beef dumplings, kebabs, tamales, and soups including their popular butternut-squash soup.

“I’d never made [the tamales] before — to be honest, it’s not something that comes from my culture,” she says. “But people were asking for it, so I said, we have to do it. I had someone teach me how.”

For Perez, it’s about more than just having something to sell — it’s about reciprocity. “We try to incorporate something from each culture in the area … we’re still learning.”

The desire to expand her personal horizons is also at the root of her new business. “A few years ago, I went through a really hard time in my life. And baking was what motivated me and kept my mind off of the bad things. And I decided that if I was going to do something to take my mind off of the bad things, I’d better do something that is constructive.”

She adds, “I used to bake at night, when I couldn’t sleep, and I didn’t know what to do with all of these things I was making.” So she’d bring them to work to share with her coworkers: “Nobody knew that that beautiful work that I did was the product of pain.”

For Perez, baking became like a meditation, a healthy exercise to clear her mind and create something good, something that would make the people in her life — and herself — happy.

Sugar Rush by Krys, Mills River. For more information, including custom orders, e-mail sugarrushbykrys@gmail.com, call 828-222-3171, visit the website (sugarrushbykrys.net), or see “Sugar Rush by Krys” on Facebook. Sugar Rush will vend at The Hendersonville Farmers Market’s holiday market on Saturday, Dec. 5, 9am-1pm, 650 Maple St. (at the Historic Train Depot in downtown Hendersonville’s 7th Avenue District), 828-233-3216.

1 Comment

  • Betsy says:

    Can’t wait for warmer weather and Hendersonville farmers market to open up. I remember seeing the bakery items last year

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