Sweet living: Summerlin residents say they’ve found their true callings

Some people look forward to going to work each day. They’re not crazy — they’ve just found the occupation that is, for them, a “dream job.”

BAKER’S JOB TAKES THE CAKE

Chef Megan Romano owns and operates Chocolate & Spice Bakery, 7293 W. Sahara Ave. She said her culinary expertise began in her mother’s kitchen.

“Everything happened in the kitchen,” Romano said. “It was not the biggest room in the house, but everybody collected there, congregated in the kitchen. Family meals … (were) all made from scratch.”

She said her mother, Kathleen Conway, had never been taught how to cook, so she experimented. Vegetables from the garden were incorporated into dishes and apples off the trees into apple sauce or pies. That sense of culinary adventure made an impression on Romano, who recalled borrowing a neighbor’s loaf pans to craft a particularly involved recipe at 16.

“It was a ginormous seven-layer cake with big chocolate furls,” she said. “I stacked it with a chocolate ganache, then I formed aluminum foil into little troughs and poured the chocolate in them, and I used a peeler to grate it. It (wasn’t conventional), but it worked.”

The cake was for a party and was such a hit that neighbors put in orders. It became Romano’s side business and her first entrepreneurial success.

But at that time, it didn’t occur to her that she should pursue a culinary career. Romano went to a fine arts institution and then earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from Northwestern University.

Out to dinner one night with a friend just before graduation, she was taken by the food. It was so delicious, she said, and presented so artfully, she thought, “this could be a job.”

She returned, approached the restaurant about working there and was directed to another, larger eatery that had the ability to take on someone with no culinary training. Romano was hired.

“It paid next to nothing at all,” she said, “but I kind of slipped through the cracks and got my first job.”

Romano worked her way up the ranks, but the hands-on experience from her upbringing worked in her favor, and she was promoted quickly. She worked under notables such as Charlie Trotter and Charlie Palmer and was an executive pastry chef affiliated with Palmer’s Aureole for 16 years.

She had her creations featured in Bon Appetit magazine before opening her bakery. Her cookbook, “It’s A Sweet Life,” is offered at the shop.

“I wouldn’t call it a job,” she said. “It’s my life, what I’ve worked for. If you want, you can call it a dream. It’s been a long time in the works. To me, it just feels right.”

BLM RANGER IS PAID TO BE OUTDOORS

Kate Sorom said she always knew she wanted to be a park ranger. Growing up, if some activity had to do with the outdoors, she was there.

“I played with Barbies, but they were never prissy,” she said. “I was always playing in the dirt, so my Barbies (got muddy).”

Her degree is in natural resource sciences from the University of Nevada, Reno, with an emphasis on forestry and range management.

“My family would ask, ‘What are you studying?’, and I’d say, ‘Trees and cows,’ ” she said.

Summers during college would see her return to Las Vegas to work for the state park system.

“Red Rock (Canyon National Conservation Area) is one of those places I always wanted to work and never thought I would,” Sorom said. “It literally fell into my lap. I got a phone call saying, ‘We’re hiring. Would you like an interview?’ ”

She was hired by the Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Association as a park naturalist, a job she did for two years until the park ranger position opened up. Now, she’s been a ranger for 18 years. She said every day has special moments, such as hummingbirds flitting outside her office window or storm clouds moving in over the peaks, making for a dramatic sky.

She said animal sightings are “hit or miss,” but she has binoculars for when they occur, zooming in on bighorn sheep, mule deer, bobcats and coyotes. Sorom said she’s never seen a mountain lion, though she’d like to.

“I just don’t want to see one up close and in person,” she said. “I want a big fence between me and him.”

Sorom’s days are filled with planning environmental educational programs, public programs such as hikes and other events and helping at the information desk. There’s paperwork, but if it gets to be too much, the outdoors is only steps away, and a short hike is a respite to help ease the tension.

“My favorite is meeting people, people from all over the world,” she said. “I can share with people how diverse the Mojave (Desert) is, how it has 600 plant species, 20 types of reptiles. It’s not a barren wasteland.”

It’s not a wasteland, but it is a cellphone dead zone, which Sorom said is a blessing.

“People have to get unplugged and enjoy nature,” she said. “Kids can’t play on the phone; they can’t play Internet games. Here, they can dig in the dirt, climb rocks. They learn that ponderosa smells like vanilla. … Red Rock’s allure is that it’s this place of solitude or rejuvenation, 20 minutes from a gray city.”

BALLOON PILOT’S JOB SOARS ABOVE THE REST

Kevin Cloney is the owner/operator of Love is in the Air Ballooning LLC, a hot air balloon company. He’s been taking to the skies since 1999, when he was certified to pilot a hot air balloon for private use. After a six-year stint as an instructor at THE Balloon Flight School in Albuquerque, N.M., he now has a commercial license and has logged more than 1,600 flights. He owns three hot air balloons, which he calls “gentle giants,” the biggest being 12 stories tall.

What’s the appeal of the job?

“You’re just floating … it’s the only aviation sport that doesn’t beat the wind into submission,” he said. “There’s an excitement in sharing that, helping people (fulfill) their bucket list. Plus, every time you launch, it’s a mystery where you’ll land.”

One time, he said he landed in a cul-de-sac, missing a roof by inches. The startled homeowner stepped out and saw what the commotion was, only to duck inside again. He returned with a bottle of wine and glasses for everyone.

Cloney’s balloon has been the sight for many special moments, such as wedding vow renewals and, for those in the dating stage, popping the question. One groom-to-be took to one knee as the high-flying balloon floated among 500 others at a festival. He signaled to Cloney that he was ready, and Cloney tapped the young woman on the shoulder. She turned around but didn’t see her boyfriend, so she began screaming in horror.

“She thought he’d fallen out of the balloon,” said Cloney, “but he’s just kneeling, and she didn’t see him. I had the mic (on the public address system) keyed, so everyone heard her.”

Balloons fly best in winds less than 10 mph, but weather can change quickly. One time in Texas, Cloney said the winds whipped up to 31 mph, and he was forced to land, telling his passengers to hang on and brace for impact. They landed beside a major freeway.

“No one was hurt … but we certainly got the attention of the highway patrol,” he said.

His balloon has also bore witness to more solemn ceremonies, such as a grieving father scattering his daughter’s ashes.

Cloney said his favorite time to be up is “dawn patrol,” taking off in the early morning when it’s still dark.

“You get up and see the sun rise,” he said, “then you drop back into the night. You can actually see the demarcation of the line between night and day, as it moves across the valley. It’s unbelievable.”

Cloney has written an e-book about his experiences, titled “God Controls the Wind: I Control the Burner.”

Contact Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan at jhogan@viewnews.com or 702-387-2949.

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