Shchelgachova brings more than traditional cupcakes to the table with Sweetlife Highlands

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Oksana Shchelgachova, owner of Sweetlife Highlands, suspends reality with her realistic pastry creations, both a pastry artist and a chocolatier.

To call Oksana Shchelgachova just a baker is an understatement, compounded only by calling her creations, “just cakes.”

The award-winning chocolatier and Ukrainian native has fascinated Highlands residents with her lifelike dessert creations, which include a live rainbow trout and a New York strip steak. 

And yes, everything is edible, right down to the pebbles covering the river bottom. 

Of course, the New York strip is edible, you just won’t need steak sauce. 

Shchelgachova, who goes by Oksana SH professionally, introduced her desserts to Highlands consumers with Sweetlife Highlands in 2017. 

“The concept of Sweetlife Highlands was established through special project collaborations with respected staples of the Highlands Community which included Old Edwards Inn, Wolfgang’s, The Park on Main, Cullasaja Country Club and many more,” Shchelgachova said. 

She comes from a long line of bakers and confectioners. 

“I grew up with the smell of fresh bread at home” Shchelgachova said. “I am destined to follow family traditions and become one of the best pastry chefs of our generation. Intuition, education and extensive experience gives me the opportunity to reveal myself and create unique desserts.”

Shchelgachova started baking at the age of five, with the first seeds of her love of pastry art planted in her heart a long time ago, she said.

She attended school at the National Art Academy in Kiev, but her heart brought her back to pastry and she received a second degree from the Australian Patisserie Academy. Shchelgachova has studied under world famous pastry chefs like Frank Hasnoot, Dinara Kasko, Antonio Bachour and Kirsten Tibballs. 

“I love meticulous attention to details,” she said. “Friends tell me, ‘I feel so special when I have your pastries,’ and this is exactly what I want, to make people feel so special, to impress them with beauty and rich taste in every bite… and enjoy till the end.”

Shchelgachova has had the flair for being artistic and creative for as long as she can remember, as well as having a strong interest in the culinary world. 

“This concept was the perfect outlet to combine both my strengths and my interests, and get paid to do it,” she said. 

When it comes to her inspiration for specific pieces like the New York strip steak, Shchelgachova draws from the world around her, but also takes specific requests from time to time.

Shchelgachova, who enjoys a Christmas Day birthday calls herself “both young at heart and an old soul, rooted in tradition, compassion and diversity,” and believes both these traits will continue to fuel her creativity. 

As her business has grown over the years, so has her client base, branching out to offer her creations to individuals and for corporate affairs. 

“I treat both with equal attention to detail,” Shchelgachova said. “I believe each customer, no matter the venue, should experience the same satisfaction and enjoyment out of the work I do. This motivates me.”

Shchelgachova feels Highlands is well represented with strong women leaders in the business community. Like other businesses, she has had to make adjustments to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is no question that we, like many similar businesses during this time have created challenges that we couldn’t have predicted,” she said. “You’ve seen this impact throughout the entire service industry and we’re all learning as we go. We take the safety of ourselves and the public, who puts their trust in us very seriously as we believe this is our responsibility.”