Manjit Harrison looks at a combination of eggs, butter, sugar, flour and other ingredients and sees something most people don’t — a spark for communication.
Harrison, owner of home-based Victoria Sweets, is adamant about the multi-faceted value of food.
“I’m really big on food being a connector,” she emphasized during a recent interview at her Victoria home. “Food nourishes you emotionally, physically, spiritually; it’s such a great connecting piece. How much social stuff is around food? And when it’s around a dessert table, well, usually everyone has something to say.”
Harrison’s road to baking success and recognition covers thousands of miles, two continents, at least two distinct cultures and several relocations.
“It’s been quite a journey to get to this point,” Harrison said with a smile and an accent which initially surprises most people. “I’m very thankful to be where I am and do what I do.”
Harrison has become widely known for elaborate, tasty and impressive hand-made gourmet cakes, cupcakes and other dessert concoctions, including dairy free and gluten-free items.
“What’s not to love about making desserts that people want and enjoy? I am truly blessed to be able to do this; and so often it’s for wonderful events, like weddings, birthdays and other celebrations,” she said.
“That’s what I mean; when you have food and particularly cakes and desserts at a table, people gather around and talk,” she added. “That’s what I mean about food being a connector. Just watch and listen the next time you’re in that situation and you’ll know what I’m talking about.”
Harrison has designed and created cakes that resemble everything from a cat and girl on a piano bench next to baby grand piano, to peace-sign and daisy cookies for a “feeling groovy” party.
Harrison has an extensive array of stories related to customer requests, noting that her goal is to learn exactly what a customer wants.
“The priceless part for me is that I get to run my business the way I want to, and I get to meet so many people,” she said, adding that she enjoys the consultations with customers.
“My favorite is wedding cakes and talking with the people getting married; asking what they want; that they can have a different flavor for each tier; things like that,” Harrison said with excitement. “I want to know what they love, what they dream about. It’s their wedding. I want to get to know them and give them something that fits in their budget.
“I want to help them realize that this is an art for a person like me; that it’s not just flour, eggs and butter,” she added. “I create with those things.”
Harrison shook her head a bit when she started to detail her road to dessert creativity, explaining that her parents were from India and she grew up in a culture where pastry-type desserts were relatively uncommon.
Her parents moved to England, where she was born and raised, giving her the recognizable accent that surprises people “because I don’t look like I should have a British accent. It causes a bit of confusion,” she said, followed by a laugh.
“I had to teach myself how to make desserts,” she said. “We didn’t make them at home and I wasn’t able to eat them apart from going to school and school lunch, which was a very poor version.
“I would walk home from school and see all the wonderful desserts in the shops and I came to the conclusion at a very early age that if I want to eat cake, I need to learn how to make it,” she added. “My mother was wonderful to say to me that I could do what I want in the kitchen but to clean up afterward, which I did because part of the Indian culture is to learn how to run a home and run a kitchen and cook.”
She has an intriguing saga of meeting, marrying and sharing a life with her husband, Steve Harrison. Their story covers terrain from Michigan to London and eventually to the small community of Minneota in southwestern Minnesota (for 22 years), before their Eden Prairie, Chanhassen and Victoria adventures.
Steve Harrison is a missions-related pastor at Grace Church in Eden Prairie after previous careers in construction management and teacher/principal at a Christian school.
“We both believed that God has a plan for our lives and being open to that leading has taken us places we wouldn’t have imagined,” Manjit Harrison said. “I went from London to Minneota — wow!”
Manjit started a small but well-known baking business in the Minneota area before the family relocated to this area, where she continued baking. Her business “grew exponentially” during the pandemic because some bakeries closed.
Harrison has acquired use of a church’s commercial kitchen for larger projects. Outside of her custom-made items, her goods are available at times at Getaway Motor Café in Carver and Grace Church.
“My passions are pastry and ministry,” she emphasized. “I enjoy making treats and seeing people enjoy eating them.”
Harrison does most of her baking alone, turning down potential customers if she doesn’t feel she can manage a request.
“When I started here in 2015, I had two daughters at home with me, but then, as each one left home, I ended up baking alone,” she said. The couple has five adult children.
For a family wedding last fall, Harrison made 22 cakes, two each of 11 different varieties, including a Victoria Sandwich cake in honor of the late Queen Elizabeth II.
While Harrison smiles while talking about possibly getting entered in “The Great British Bake Off” show, or hosting tea parties “complete with a person with an authentic British accent,” she says she currently enjoys “serving people by trying to make the best desserts I can.”