LISA SWEENEY: Easy As Pie

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LISA SWEENEY BAKES HER BUBBLY PERSONALITY INTO HER NEW CAREER AS A PASTRY CHEF.

Lisa Sweeney isn’t afraid of new experiences. After all, this is a woman who has sung in a rock band, lived in the Caribbean, and rescued a veritable Noah’s Ark of animals— from baby squirrels to possums to dogs. She currently has a pet raccoon named Chutney, who splits her time between Sweeney’s house and the neighboring woods.

So when she decided to quit teaching after nearly 20 years to go back to school to become a pastry chef, it came as no surprise to her friends.

It all began a few years ago, when she decided to start a baking club for her students. A music teacher and director of the arts program at St. Francis Catholic School, run by St. Francis by the Sea Catholic Church on Hilton Head Island, Sweeney was excited to expand her students’ creative horizons. The club also encouraged her to dust off her apron to re-create some childhood favorites.

“I wanted to make the same pie crust that my grandmother made,” she said. “And I realized how much I love to bake.”

And the rest, as they say, is history. Sweeney left St. Francis and enrolled in the pastry arts program at Virginia College in Savannah, trading the chalkboard for the rolling pin. Of course, the transition wasn’t without its challenges.

“It was a whole different ballgame, realizing that I was a student again,” she said. “The teachers are very serious. (Pastry) is an art form, and they aren’t messing around.”

But Sweeney soon found her groove, whipping up wedding cakes, cookie dough and sugar sculptures. She said it helps that she has a background in art.

“It’s literally another medium I’m working in,” she said, drawing parallels between her work as a glass and clay artist and pastry. “Sugar works the same and blows the same (as glass). I can blow bubbles in it.”

Lowcountry residents are happy to gobble up the fruits of Sweeney’s labors, and she has plans to share her pastry creations at a bakery near the Morris Center for Lowcountry Heritage in historic downtown Ridgeland. A volunteer at the center, she’s currently serving up high tea and delicious delicacies for other events. She hopes her planned bakery — in a restored brick building on the center’s property – becomes a place for area residents to gather, share ideas and, of course, enjoy a few treats.

And while others might be nervous to make such a big career change at her stage in life, Sweeney isn’t looking back. It’s not the first time she’s embraced such a change, she said, and it surely won’t be the last. But that’s the fun of life, she said: trying new things, exploring your options.

“If I don’t do well, I can always do something else,” she said. “There will be something else out there. Never burn your bridges and always constantly do the best that you can do and always keep pushing the bar. See if it works and if it doesn’t, at least you can say that you tried.”