November 1, 2012

Station Marine takes the cake on, off duty

Story by Cpl. Sean Dennison
Desert Warrior Staff
Courtesy photo
A Winnie the Pooh themed birthday cake Staff Sgt. Richard Zepeda made for a friend’s daughter.

A good baker is hard to crumb by. Not so for a Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 information systems management office chief.

Self-taught baker Staff Sgt. Richard Zepeda, a native of Miami, Fla., owns and operates Zepeda Family Bakery, a newer business specializing in hand-crafted cakes and pastries.

“I like the artistry that goes into baking cakes,” Zepeda said. “The cake is the centerpiece. Everyone in the room looks at the cake.”

His themes range from whimsical children’s books characters to the military lifestyle he lives. But whether it’s Tigger from Winnie the Pooh or drawing aircraft on the cake’s layers, Zepeda always maintains a single constant: painstaking attention to detail.

“Creativity comes from anywhere,” he said. “Whoever the cake is for, I’ll draw from their personality, and slam it into the cake.”

Though the name of the business is Zepeda Family Bakery, it’s a new family tradition Zepeda started himself.

“It’s not a huge family tradition,” he said. “I’m the entrepreneur in the family.”

The Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1, Marine Corps Ball Birthday cake made by Staff Sgt. Richard Zepeda.

Growing up, Zepeda paid attention to his father’s cooking, the way he taught Zepeda’s mother to cook, and, naturally, Julia Childs and other culinary artists. But the real credit to Zepeda’s current culinary passion is due to one of his high school instructors.

“My high school home economics teacher inspired me to be a baker,” he said.

You can take the Zepeda out of the kitchen and put him in the Marine Corps, but you can’t take the kitchen out of Zepeda; in 1996 he enlisted in the Marine Corps as a food service specialist.

“My recruiters look at me like I was a crazy,” he said.

But it was during his first tour of duty as a Marine he would decorate his first cake. For the captain of the ship he was on, the USS Dubuque.

“My chief asked me if I knew how to decorate cakes,” Zepeda said. “I said I did it once. He said, ‘Good, you’re doing it’.”

Zepeda got out in 2000, disliking the direction the civilian-run chow halls were going in. He returned in 2004 in his current job field. During the interim, he worked at Outback Steakhouse, where he earned the title honorary grill-master.

“I missed the Marine Corps,” Zepeda said. “I missed the camaraderie and the brotherhood. They’re not something  easily gained once out.”

Now as a seasoned baker, Zepeda’s confectionary creations have seen their way into birthday parties, general celebrations, and last year he was commissioned to bake the MAWTS-1 Marine Corps Birthday Ball cake. The 13-hour endeavor featured the various aircraft used during MAWTS-1’s famed Weapons and Tactics Instructor course.

The piece was a far cry from his first client’s request.

“My first client was a good friend of mine,” Zepeda said. “She was a fellow Marine. It was her daughter’s first birthday. She asked me to bake a cake and I said ‘with honors’.”

The result was a Winnie the Pooh-themed cake.

When it comes to baking, the air station has its very own cake boss. And who knows, perhaps the next slice of cake you eat will be a Zepeda original.

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