Dessert Professional magazine proudly presents the Top 10 Cake Artists in North America for 2015.
The editors of Dessert Professional magazine are proud to present this year’s list of the Top Ten Cake Artists in North America, awarded to cake professionals whose dedication to their craft has ensured that the cake continues to be our premier celebratory dessert.
The honorees include artists of varied backgrounds, from professionals who gained fame through televised cake competitions to instructors in the field of cake decoration. Whatever their path to success, each of our award winners is a role model for the industry, promoting and re-imagining our favorite symbol of celebration, the cake. Following are profiles of each of this year’s Top Ten Cake Artists.
- Fernanda Abarca
- Debbie Goard
- Kaysie Lackey
- Madison Lee Barricelli
- Joëlle Mahoney
- Lisa Mansour
- Lucy Martin
- Dawn Parrott
- Joshua John Russell
- Eva Salazar
Fernanda Abarca CakesMontrose, CA
Owners: Fernanda Abarca & Issac Abarca
818-669-3269 • www.fernandaabarcacakes.com
Twitter Handle: @FernandaACakes
Training: Maryland Institute College of Art – studied Illustration; Ringling College of Art and Design – Bachelors in Computer Animation; Self-taught sugar artist
Cake philosophy: Cake for me is an art form. It’s simply a medium to tell stories and bring life to characters.
What inspired you to become a cake decorator: I am a feature animation artist at DreamWorks Animation. I’ve worked for the company since 2006. As an artist, sometimes your creativity becomes stagnant, especially after doing the same thing for years. In 2010 I started a small family catering business and I volunteered to be in charge of desserts. I liked baking, but I wanted to be sure our cakes didn’t just taste good, but looked awesome as well. That was the first time I experimented with fondant. I quickly realized the possibilities were endless. I took all I had learned from my experience as an animation artist and from my illustration background and simply applied it to sugar.
How long have you been in business? We have been in business for two years. We officially opened our doors in January 2013, after a very successful gig for Dreamworks Animation’s “Rise of The Guardians” release party. It was the first time I took fondant and sculpted tons of individual characters for their event. It was the hardest and most rewarding experience I had been through in a while. The cupcakes where such a hit that we were later booked for upcoming releases including “The Croods”, “How To Train your Dragon 2”, and “Penguins of Madagascar.” Word quickly spread about our quality and soon we were getting calls to assist marketing campaigns at DreamWorks and Disney. Since then, we’ve made cupcakes for the Disney studio’s “Frozen” Oscar party, the Disney Music Awards, and most recently the world premiere of Disney’s Oscar Animated Feature “Big Hero 6”. The primary focus of our company is entertainment. We help entertainment companies bring their characters to life in sugar form for press, premieres, and studio events. It’s an extremely hard, but also a rewarding and fun job to have. I know firsthand from my animation experience the complex and oftentimes tedious hard work that goes into making these films, so I am honored these world renowned companies trust me with their “gems” for their important celebrations.
Signature style: I’m a sculptor. Most of my work is very detailed and I take my time to really bring out the proper likeness in characters. Whether it’s a two inch bust sculpture for cupcakes or a four foot tall cake, the details are always present. I look for ways to enhance the characters and present them in a unique and appealing way.
Strangest request: One time we got a request to make an adorable “My Little Pony” cake, which of course we were excited about. It was unusually comical however, when we learned the cake was to be made for a grown man. It may have been for a “Brony” party, but either way, it was strangely funny.
Favorite cake flavors and colors: I am a sucker for romance, and if you were to look at my cake collection you would never think it. I absolutely LOVE looking at beautiful romantic pastel cakes and often wish I did more of that. My biggest clients, however, are animation companies that target their films to children, so the cakes are always very, very colorful and fun to make. I am very careful to ensure color accuracy and I spend a lot of time designing and planning. Everything from liner and sculpture colors, to linen colors must be down pat before I even start the cake. My favorite cake flavor is definitely chocolate with salted caramel. It NEVER disappoints and it’s just simply delicious.
Favorite cake ever: Honestly, I don’t think I have a favorite. They were all in their own right super fun and each held a special part in my heart. I guess I can say it’s always my most recent cake. I like to raise the bar every time. I am always learning and experimenting so each time I create a new cake, I apply different techniques that makes the current one a little more successful than the last. I guess that in turn makes me fall in love with them just a bit more. “Hiro” for “Big Hero 6” was my last cake “crush” because he just turned out so freaking cute. But “Astrid” from our “How to Train your Dragon 2” cupcake series is definitely my other current “love”. She was simply so tiny and so full of fun details. Sometimes it’s hard to let go because I spend hours and hours on these guys, but when I see the reaction of the client I present them to, I remember why I do what I do and I am happy with that.
Most challenging project: My most challenging was our four-foot Toothless Cake for DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train your Dragon 2” release party. He was massive and planning for him took over 10 hours along with my husband and business partner, Issac, who created the rig (or structure) that held him together. Two brains are always better than one, especially when planning such a massive cake. Toothless was so big we had several challenges to figure out before we even started. We had to consider, for instance, how heavy would he become? How would we lift him? Would he fit through the door? What would be his maximum height in order for us to fit him in the delivery van? etc, etc.
Biggest cake disaster: My biggest cake disaster had to be Toothless’ wings. At the time I had never dealt with wafer paper and I assumed the wings would not be an issue if we left them for last and used wafer paper to make them. That turned out to be a huge disaster! We had five hours to go before delivery and had yet to put the wings on. When we did, however, the wafer paper started to shrivel up big time. We had to tear it all down and wire the entire wing and layer it with fondant. This added at LEAST 20 pounds to the cake and really messed up the wing design. On top of that, it had no time to dry. Lesson learned. I will never forget that heart attack!
Greatest cake triumph: When “How to Train your Dragon 2” won the 2015 Golden Globes for best animated feature, Dreamworks Animation commissioned us to make 95 sugar Toothless figures holding a mini golden globe and sitting on top of a chocolate covered Oreo base featuring the film’s logo. The problem? They wanted it in two days! Issac and I worked around the clock for 48 hours straight with little to no sleep. While he prepared the bases and intricate mini Golden Globes, I hand sculpted and painted 95 dragons from scratch without using molds. It was insane. We worked till the VERY last minute possible. There were tears, laughter, hallucinations, and much heartache. It was the time limitation that easily made this our greatest triumph. Simply because two people had the will to take on the “impossible.”
How has the cake artistry field changed since you started? I think it’s very competitive. That’s not a negative. I think it’s certainly a positive. Competition makes you stronger and a better artist. Everyone has raised the bar and continues to do so. It keeps me on my toes and I thrive from it.
Where do you see the field of cake artistry going? The possibilities are endless. There are so many talented people in the industry, it goes without saying, that it’s just going to continue to grow more impressive. The artists will take it to a new level. It will be exciting to see and be a part of it.
Favorite quote: One of my favorite quotes comes from Luke 1:37: “For with God, nothing will be impossible.” I honestly believe God has a huge part in our success. For an artist to be able to use their eyes and hands to replicate or create something beautiful is a gift from God. Before each project I pray for understanding, wisdom, and for God to open and direct my eyes. So much goes wrong when making cakes, for me it’s wise to have the Creator of all things help me create! Our goal at our business is to not only wow our clients but to bless them with a memory that will last a lifetime. And at the end of it all – to God be the glory for another successful mission. May he always keep me humble and may he always use me and our business to bless others.
Debbie Does CakesOakland, CA
510-759-6098 • www.debbiedoescakes.net
Twitter Handle: @debbiedoescakes
Cake philosophy: Since I only offer custom cakes, I personally prefer to not see other examples of whatever I am making, lest I be unduly influenced. I know that many cake artists freely borrow from other’s work, and if that works for them that’s great. Personally, I strive to be as original as possible; in fact, I don’t even like to replicate my own work and rarely do.
What inspired you to become a cake decorator: I never set out to make cakes, the job actually came to ME. I was working various freelance art jobs but really needed a steady income. I was hired to do counter work at a bakery/deli. The decorator was preparing to retire and I was asked to consider taking her position. I literally just watched her for a week and then made and sold my first cake. Now, I am certain that it was probably Cake Wrecks-worthy [www.cakewrecks.com], but thankfully, there is no photographic evidence.
Signature style: Undoubtedly, I am known best for striving for hyper-realism. As a painter, I always eschewed representational work, but there is something intriguing to me about the juxtaposition of an edible medium and really realistic pieces.
Most unique cake: Since my business is sculpted cakes exclusively, I do no traditional cakes of any kind, so to some ALL my cakes are pretty quirky. I’ve done practically every food imaginable. Dead squirrel? Check. Dead squirrel for a Christmas party? Check. Whenever I am asked this question, however, I always refer to the giant nose cake I made for a woman who “had a nose fetish.” Sometimes it’s better to not ask questions....
Favorite flavors and colors: I really like decadent but simple flavors, and dark chocolate with a ganache or salted caramel buttercream are my absolute favorites. Since what I do is not really about certain colors, I tend to think more about colors that are my kryptonites. I use the airbrush extensively, and would love to help formulate better versions of a few airbrush colors that leave much to be desired. (I’m looking at you, pink and brown.)
Favorite cake ever: I LOVE making food cakes, so they are definitely among my favorites, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the standing chihuahua I made as a surprise for my partner. That cake opened a lot of doors for me around the world and even appeared in the “Ripleys Believe It Or Not” annual in 2011.
Most challenging project: I do a lot of corporate product launch cakes, which can be quite fun, and replicating objects is what I feel I do best. Recently I was tasked to make a cake for Activision’s Skylanders video game launch. The cake was essentially a three-foot tall obelisk on its point, topped with a two-faced horned creature. Oh, and did I mention it had to resemble glass? It was a big hit with the company, but the stress of transporting something that big and perilously perched for nearly an hour driving in rush hour traffic? Oh boy, I seriously thought about quitting cakes that day. The stress can be overwhelming.
Biggest cake disaster: My biggest cake disaster to date (knock wood) was my first car cake. I really had no idea what I was doing, but surprisingly pulled it off. Until – San Francisco is not famous for its hills for nothing. One wrong turn took us up the steepest incline this side of Everest, and then we had to do it again! I learned that day that you never open the cake box in front of the customer. Some surprises are not good. The front end of the car had fallen off. I was absolutely mortified and offered the customer her money back which she refused. After much sobbing and subsequent reflecting, I came up with a more reliable way to construct car cakes. Today I worry about them the least. So, some good came from that disaster and helped forge one of my philosophies: “Never make the same mistake twice.”
Greatest triumph: While it sounds so silly in the retelling: a sub sandwich. Always looking to improve on my past work, I created a few techniques to make the most realistic sandwich cake I could. Really, it was just an experiment that I cooked up in “the lab,” as I call it. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the reaction I received online. It was really gratifying to be acknowledged by so many for simply doing what I like to do.
How has the cake artistry field changed since you started? For starters, when I first started searching online for fellow cake sculptors, my search results netted about three posts. Seriously. I spent a good deal of time explaining to people what a sculpted cake was, exactly, when they saw the graphics on my delivery vehicle. All these years later, thanks to cake TV, everyone has been exposed to these kinds of cakes.
Where do you see the field of cake artistry going? I’ve referred to my magic 8 ball and the answer is always “Reply hazy, try again.” I think as with all things, there are ebbs and flows. I definitely think that the demand for over-the-top cakes is leveling off. Ironically, the interest in the field as hobby has perhaps never been stronger. With the field much more crowded now, for me this fortifies my focus even more so on the niche client. I see myself doing even more product launch cakes where having a grand cake is both within the budget and makes perfect sense.
Personal motto: It can be intimidating to be in such a competitive field, so my approach to this is to compete only with myself. I want to be the very best Debbie I can be. When I started my business, I was encouraged by others to try to offer everything to everybody, but I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do. Instead of offering what everyone else did, I only offered what I did best. Perhaps this is counter-intuitive to making a profit, but by remaining true to myself I feel that I am able to grow as an artist and offer my very best to my clients. I am never content to rest on the accolades of my last cake, either. My personal motto is “Always be better than the last time.” I don’t know if I am always successful in this endeavor, but I am always trying.
The People’s Cake; Innovative Sugarworks177 Western Ave West, Suite 268-A,
Seattle, WA 98119
206-484-2063 • www.thepeoplescake.com, www.sugarworks.com
Twitter Handle: @KaysieLackey, @thepeoplescake
Training: BFA in Painting and Sculpting from Belmont University, Nashville, TN
Cake philosophy: Make it look amazing and taste even better!
What inspired you to become a cake decorator: I was living in New York and used to watch all the cakes shows and always thought it would be fun to try. It was sculpting with cake! So I started making cakes for my friends, and I was hooked. I just played around and experimented with recipes and techniques until I got them right. Lucky for me, my Mom used to decorate cakes, so I had someone to help me with the basics. I’ve been really lucky in my career and have been in the right place at the right time for opportunities like Food Network and teaching.
Signature style: For weddings, I love clean, modern, and edgy with beautiful, unexpected details. For novelty work, I like funky and fun with personality. My character cakes always make me laugh!
Strangest request: Oh boy, I had a bride want a huge (500 servings!) naked fun-fetti cake with this crazy custom acrylic stand. No so strange, until she insisted on no pink sprinkles because they were tacky. We had a lot of fun quoting Mommy Dearest “NO PINK SPRINKLES, EVER!!!” I also had a groom who’s favorite movie was Seven, so the bride surprised him with a groom’s cake of her severed head in a box.
Favorite cake flavors and colors: Anything citrus flavored! I have a citrus problem and need help. My favorite for the moment is lemon cake with lemon cream cheese and wild blueberries. As far as colors, I love gray. It goes with everything! I use it so much in designs for clients and my personal work that my employees joke I’m going through my “Gray Period”.
Favorite cake ever: I can’t pick just one! For wedding cakes, it is a three-way tie. The cake I made for Meghan and Chris (the owners of Innovative Sugarworks) has to be one. It had all these sugar flowers and I hand-painted the most beautiful peacock toile pattern on it. A cake I made for my friends Ben and Libby’s wedding, it was a very Pacific Northwest cake. I hand-cut this amazing tribal salmon pattern and made local wildflowers out of sugar. It was so different, but still elegant and romantic. Also, my sister’s wedding cake. It matched her dress and bouquet and I was able to surprise her with it! For novelty cakes, I made a life-size tiger that I still think is one of my best pieces, and this cute cow jumping over the moon.
Most challenging project: Anything gravity defying. It is always a challenge to try and suspend cakes in any way, because gravity can be cruel. Doing a structure is like putting together a 3-D puzzle. They are my favorite types of cake to do though, because it is so satisfying when you are done and all you planning worked. I’m always like, “Yeah, cake... I WIN!!!”
Biggest disaster: More of an almost disaster. My boyfriend, Ryan, and I were delivering a very tall cake that looked like stacked wine barrels. Unbeknownst to us, the cake board lost a foot as it was loaded into the van and as we pulled onto the interstate the whole cake started to lean and topple. Ryan reached out and managed to save it from falling (he HATES touching the cakes!), but I had to pull over and try and save it for the rest of the hour delivery. I ended up sitting mermaid style holding the cake up for the rest of the delivery, and never have I wanted to just let a cake die so badly! Luckily we survived to the venue, saw that a foot was the cause of the problem and managed to patch and hide any damage that occurred!
Greatest triumph: Winning my first Food Network Challenge was pretty amazing! That show was how I was first exposed to the “art” of cake and made me want to be a cake designer. Winning my first time out was a surreal full-circle experience.
How has the cake artistry field changed since you started? People are pushing the boundaries of the medium so much more! When I started, there were only a handful of artists really pushing the gravity-defying angle, and I love that that side of the industry keeps growing and reinventing itself. Clients have changed a lot, too. They know what can be done with cake now, and I get much more extreme requests than I did when I first started.
Where do you see the field of cake artistry going? I teach all over the world now, and I love seeing how cake is spreading and evolving in all the different countries. I think that Americans are much more liberal when it comes to design and what can and can’t be done in cake. I have loved seeing this mentality impact countries with a more traditional take on pastry and cakes, opening them up to a new cake mindset. Also, seeing countries with no classical pastry tradition embrace cake and run with it is amazing to watch! As far as trends that I’m seeing, a lot of the artists I know are returning to the classic artistry of cakes. Intricate piping, hand painting and sculpting just keep getting better and better.
Favorite quote: “Do you think I’ve gone round the bend?” “I’m afraid so. You’re mad, bonkers, completely off your head. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”— Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Madison Lee's Cakes336 W. 37th Street, Suite 330, New York, NY 10018
212-564-5656 • www.madisonleescakes.com
Twitter Handle: @madisonleescake
Training: Institute of Culinary Education in New York City for my culinary training. As for my artistic training, I have studied in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, London, Paris, and Amsterdam.
Cake philosophy: I refuse to have a book of cake pictures to show clients. Years ago I was working for someone else and everyday they would give me a print out and say, “Make number 129 today,” and then the next day, “Madison, you have number 129 again today.” As you can imagine, I felt as though there was no creativity and that anyone could just replicate a picture. I pride myself on the fact that every cake I make will be unique to the person, and no two cakes should ever be the same.
What inspired you to become a cake designer: Growing up, my mother was always making my brother and me outrageous cakes for our birthdays. She absolutely loved to have fun with sugar, so I was exposed to that from a very young age. I was also always encouraged to pursue art since it was a passion of mine and that, coupled with the fact that my father owned a bakery, it was clear that it was a perfect fit.
Signature style: I like to think of it as classic and modern at the same time. I take the classical look of flowers but like to add a modern dimension to the design. I don’t like to do the same thing twice, so I’m always trying to use new techniques and styles to keep it fresh and exciting.
Most unique cake: That would have to be a 3D carved stomach with a lap-band. It was for a bariatric surgeon that performs the lap-band surgery from one of his patients saying “thank you!” I always feel a bit strange making body-part cakes, and this would have to be the most non-traditional of them all.
Favorite flavors and colors: My favorite cake flavor is our chocolate ganache cake. It’s a classic and an original recipe that has been in the family for years. It is absolutely delicious! I am a bit of a chocoholic and it always hits the spot. Is glitter a color? At the end of the day I can’t deny my love for sparkle!
Favorite cake ever: The birch cake I made for the Societe Culinaire Philanthropique. It was a design I first made for New York Magazine and I really wanted to amp it up for the competition. We must have worked on that cake for two weeks straight with quite a few very late nights. The birch came in first place in the competition that year. Still to this day it is the most beautiful cake I have made.
Most challenging project: A life-sized chair was ordered two days in advance. We had to build a support system, bake enough cake and decorate this truly unconventional cake in both shape and design. It was one of those projects where we needed a bench saw and a heavy-duty nail gun. When I delivered the cake to the designer’s showroom, you could not tell the cake apart from the actual chair. I had all of the details down, all the way to the white chocolate afghan throw draped over the shoulder of it!
Biggest disaster: Very early in my career, before establishing Madison Lee’s Cakes, I made my cousin a five-tiered pillow cake for her Sweet 16 during the sweltering heat and humidity of August. My father and I were both driving out to the venue, I was driving a car full of small desserts and he had the huge cake in his. What can I say, he’s a rough driver! The draping on the cake started to fall, so he actually pulled over on the highway and began throwing cake over the railing of the overpass he was on and into the traffic below! Thankfully I was right behind him and saw this happening so I immediately pulled over behind him and stopped him before he threw it all out of the car. Despite this, the cake was actually salvageable and I was able to make the repairs in the car on the side of the highway. Once I got to the venue no one even knew! I can say it was at that moment that my father started taking me seriously as a cake artist. I still cannot drive past that spot without feeling a pit in my stomach.
Greatest triumph: Opening up my new cake studio in Manhattan. New York City really is an amazing place for cake artistry, and I am so excited to have both a place in Manhattan and Brooklyn. It was very important for me to keep my original location in Brooklyn since that is where I got my start, so being able to serve both communities has been such a blessing.
How has the cake artistry field changed since you started? When I was learning and just starting out, the focus was all on technique: being able to pipe and being able to make things solely with your hands. Now I feel like it’s a whole different ball game. New techniques are constantly being developed and it’s fun to let go of the traditions and come up with new ways of doing things.
Where do you see the field of cake artistry going? As time goes on, the cakes are getting better and better! The boundaries are constantly being pushed, which is something I love about this industry. It is constantly changing and adapting. A lot of it can be attributed to the clients. They are coming in with crazy requests that are always pushing the envelope, which keeps it exciting!
True story: The truth of the matter is that your parents are always right. Both my mother and my father knew that I should be a pastry chef, and as much as I tried to fight them, I kept coming back to this. I could not be more thankful to them than I am now for believing in me and pushing me to be the best I can be.
Signature Cakes & Confectionery, LLCBrewster, NY 10509
845-259-3065 • www.signaturecakes.com
Training: Having started in this business later in my career, life did not allow the opportunity to enroll in a culinary school on a full time basis. Although already a pretty good baker, I was forced to develop any specialized skills I needed mainly by attending private, hands-on classes and seminars. Thankfully, they were with some of the industry’s most talented luminaries. I studied flavor profiles and entremets with Sylvain LeRoy, chocolate and pastry with Jacques Torres, pulled sugar with Ewald Notter and Andre Renard, gum paste flowers with Betty Van Norstrand and pastillage with the late, great Pasquale “Pat” Rocco, to name but a few. I often reflect on how privileged I’ve been to learn from these masters while on my quest for knowledge.
Cake philosophy: Hands down, I believe a cake, regardless of its size or shape, must not only look magnificent, but taste outrageous! My greatest compliment is when a guest asks for that second piece.
What inspired you to become a cake decorator: For years, I was heavily involved in planning various community and not-for-profit fund-raising events. It seemed that I was always disappointed by either the design or taste of our centerpiece dessert, the theme cake. I just knew they could – and should – be better. Having become known for my flair for producing great tasting desserts and cakes, I just jumped in. Word spread quickly and soon I had a business by default. I love using my talents to transform someone’s vision into that lasting impression their guests experience at the end of an affair.
Signature style: When left to my own devices, I create in the “Grand Baroque” style, as exhibited at the courts of French and British royalty. I am know for my large – “Extraordinaire” – type cakes, reminiscent of 1640-1800’s. Unfortunately, most events today choose modem themes and far simpler designs.
Most unique cake: A cake where the design required custom created, hand-made, pastillage cages, to be used as tier separators with gum paste flowers within them. Each cage was custom crafted and extremely fragile. Hence, the suspension system left everyone wondering, “How did they support that much weight, on such fragile looking separators?”
Favorite flavors and colors: Classic white and chocolate, as I find they are excellent bases for various fillings. White cake for those “citrusy” light summer fillings and chocolate for decadent ganaches, raspberry mousses and my personal favorite, mocha. I lean towards the pastel colors, and classic white with occasional touches of gold.
Favorite cake ever: A competition cake which not only required high level skills in gum paste, but showcasing a 10-pound chocolate sculpture, surrounded and supported by 20 pounds of pastillage! It stood just over four feet tall. I still see that cake as a homage to the old master pastry chefs of centuries past, who had not only knowledge, but mastery in every medium of their craft.
Most challenging cake project: A huge groom’s cake which replicated his vintage Porsche roadster in one-fifth scale. All of his car club buddies would be at the event. This was years ago, before sculpted cakes were trending. I searched the internet for the car’s blueprints and studied two dozen photos taken in their driveway. I baked for a good six hours straight and then sculpted the finished car (sadly leaving almost one-third of my baking behind on the cutting table). Then came the fondant, the hours of hand tooling and finally the airbrushing and detailing. Every skill was brought to bear. The hours of work did pay off, however. The groom was beyond surprised and completely thrilled.
Greatest triumph: Winning “Best in Show” for my wedding cake entry in the Société Culinaire Philanthropique’s Salon of Culinary Art. This event is an International Food Show where 17 different food categories are exhibited and judged, ranging from grand buffet tables, to blown, pulled and cast sugar work, tallow and chocolate showpieces, fruit carving, artisan breads, fish and meat platters, all-occasion and wedding cakes, just to name a few. Therefore winning Best in Show meant beating not only the pastry entries, but all other entries! Then, the following year, I won “Best in Show” again. This was the first time this had ever been done in the 141 years the show had been running.
How has the cake artistry field changed since you started? Where do I begin? It actually changes every day. We have extremely gifted cake artists who are continuously pushing the envelope of what is possible. Some of these individuals come from an art/sculpting background, adding amazing realism to their cakes. Today there are tools and molds for every item possible on earth, and mold making materials to easily create anything else. On the product side, there is flexible lace, Isomalt, and various additives and oils to enhance flavor profiles, allowing you to appeal to any palate. Today anything a customer desires, they truly can have. Recently, with the invention of 3-D sugar printers, a new frontier has opened. Who knows where we will go from here .... the sky is truly the limit! In addition, from an education standpoint, there are more culinary schools and pastry programs teaching cake decorating throughout the country than ever before. Talented and dedicated cake, sugar, and chocolate artists are on the road continuously teaching the latest innovations and techniques to those who can attend. Tutorials on every facet of the field are readily available in industry magazines as well as very affordable video classes over the Internet. Even someone who is a shift worker can watch streaming video any hour of the day or night. As the old saying goes, “What a great time to be alive!”
Where do you see the field of cake artistry going? Cake artistry was once a pursuit shown irregularly on local PBS stations. Suddenly, interest in culinary advancements spawned The Food Network, creating “Challenge”, thereafter followed by TLC, Bravo and others. This mass media tsunami is largely responsible for bringing public awareness to the world of cake, sugar and chocolate artistry. As this awareness continues to increase, I see the field continuing to morph into more and more personalized/sculpted theme cakes in lieu of the classic cakes of years gone by. Even wedding traditions have been occasionally set aside in favor of trending bride and groom cake requests, each reflecting the unique personalities and lifestyles of the individual, rather than reflecting the couple as a unit. More young people entering·our field, fresh out of culinary school, are exposed to job opportunities that never before existed. I have high hopes that this entry level generation of cake artists will build upon our foundations and shortly surpass us all.
Favorite quote: “The quest for excellence is a never-ending journey!” –Anonymous
NY Cake & Baking Dist.56 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10010
212-675-CAKE • www.nycake.com
Twitter Handle: @NYCake
What inspired you to become a cake decorator: I truly love cake decorating! I have been baking and decorating cakes from a very young age. I was lucky to have a mom and grandmother who influenced me a lot in this field. As a child I would be with my grandmother, who was a perfectionist, and she would have me measure sugar in a measuring cup. She would have me flatten the sugar with a spatula and if I didn’t do this correctly, I would have to do it over. I really received my decorating training at the Chocolate Gallery in the 1980’s, which was my mother’s cake decorating school. She would bring in cake artists from all over the world, such as Nick Lodge, Alan Dunn, and many more. We were learning about gum paste and fondant when no one else knew much about these materials. The cake artists of that time were still working with plastic wedding figurines and plastic bridges while we were learning gum paste flowers and fondant techniques. I am so delighted to see it finally caught on big this past decade.
Signature style: My cakes represent my own personal style. I live and work in New York, so my style tends to be fashion forward and trendy, and I like to apply the updated trends to cake decorating. Seeing as shoes, fashionable purses, and bling have been really popular in the fashion world, I created my own line of molds and kits to produce these trends for cake decorating easier for our future cake artists.
Favorite cake ever: My favorite cake is the recent wedding cake I made for a competition in NYC for the Societe Culinare Philanthropique, where I won the grand prize of “Best In Show” and a Gold Medal. The cake is over six feet tall, all gum paste and fondant in a fabric effect. The toughest part of the cake was making the gathers evenly. I had to use dowel rods, so the process was very tedious. Since then I have created a “gathering mat” to make the process easier for others to create that same beautiful effect. Taking a technique that can appear to be difficult and making it easier for others is something that is dear to me.
How has the cake artistry field changed since you started? Something I always tell my students is how times have changed since I started in the cake decorating business. All of my friends went in different directions in life, and when I told them that I was opening up a cake decorating business with my mom, they all looked in confusion because they couldn’t grasp what that meant. They actually looked at me like I was wasting my life away. Now when they see me, they ask, with enthusiasm, “Are you still making cake? I watch Cake Boss. I think that is so cool.” Television really has brought tremendous awareness to the cake decorating industry.
Favorite cake to eat: Many people assume that I do not like cake or I am sick of cake. Actually nothing can be further from the truth. I have a real sweet tooth, and I would eat cake with coffee every morning. I love pastries, and there is nothing better than a well-made homemade cake. I love all kinds of cake whether it be Carrot Cake, Chocolate Cake, or Red Velvet, I can eat them all!
Sofelle ConfectionsOrlando, FL
407-579-1962 • http://sofelleconfections.wix.com/sofelle
Twitter Handle: @sofelleconfect
Training: I am a graduate of The Institute of Culinary Education in New York, where I received my formal training as a pastry chef. In addition, I have studied the art of cake decorating under Colette Peters, Marina Sousa and Toba Garett. Crealde School of Art in Orlando, Florida is one of my favorite places to continue to learn in all areas of art.
Cake philosophy: They better taste as good as they look – if they don’t, you are wasting your client’s time, money and expectations, as well as your reputation.
What inspired you to become a cake decorator: I am actually a pastry chef first, but cake artistry is what I do most of these days. I simply love the creativity in all areas of pastry arts. With cakes, your imagination has no boundaries – they can be so elegant and romantic, and then again bold and fun – the sky’s the limit. I also love working with chocolate and very frequently apply what works with one medium to another.
How long have you been in business? Sofelle Confections was born in January 2013. The company was named after my two staunchest supporters – my daughters Sophia and Ellie.
Signature style: I don’t have a particular style. My clients have so many different preferences; my job is to cater to their style. Regardless of what that might be, I am a stickler for it being clean, neat, and professional.
Most unique request: Once I was asked if I could replicate my five-foot chocolate motorcycle from one of my previous Food Network’s Chocolate Challenges – they were thinking it would be great in cake. Then there was the Millennium Falcon spaceship – that was pretty neat to work on. I had to find “blueprints” for it and do lots of calculations to get it to be scale accurate.
Favorite cake flavors and colors: For flavors, delicious combinations are endless – I like Apricot & Almonds, Chocolate & Grand Marnier, Coffee Caramel & Irish Cream, and of course, Peanut Butter & Chocolate Crunch, to name a few. I don’t have favorite colors. Cake art is like painting – whatever the colors are that belong on that painting, then that is what they are! However, I do like warm fall colors as well as Tuscan colors like mustard yellows, olive greens, wine reds, and plum purples.
Favorite cake ever: The Spanish Flamenco cake challenged me and was fun to work on. I listened to a lot of Flamenco (love it!) and had to come up with my own mix to make the black veil work. I would have used Sugarveil, but it was not available and I had only two days before delivery to a photo shoot.
Most challenging cake: I don’t know that this was my most challenging, but certainly my most frustrating! At the hotel I was working at, the catering manager met with the bride to be, and she pointed out the cake in a magazine she wanted. It was a tremendous size cake comprised of a total of 17 tiers which sort of fanned out from a central cake tower, with the little plastic bridges and graduating cake stands. I pointed out this was an insane amount of cake for her wedding of 250 people, but the catering manager assured me that is what she wanted. So, bridges and cake stands were ordered, 17 cakes were baked and covered in buttercream. The morning of the wedding the catering manager came to see the cakes and said “Wow! That is a lot!” Come to find out after he had meant the bride only wanted the five-tier cake in the middle and not all the other 12 around it! Communication, communication, communication…
Biggest disaster: It was a May wedding in Cedar Key, Florida. The cake was a three-tier cake covered in 100% buttercream. The bride had told me the cake would be displayed indoors, but hadn’t mentioned there was no air conditioning indoors. It was 102°F that day. The cake stayed unassembled in the refrigerator the whole time and we were barely able to assemble it just long enough for a quick picture, it was just melting away – it was an awful mess. From then on I don’t assume indoors means air-conditioned.
Greatest triumph: Finishing on time, meeting my own standards, delivering at or above my clients’ expectations, those are always my greatest cake triumphs. The event will go on with or without the cake, the deadline cannot be changed just because I am having challenges or running behind. It can be very stressful sometimes. But, when it’s all said and done and delivered – whew! Next!
How has the cake artistry field changed since you started? It has changed completely. When I first entered the world of pastry, sculpted cakes were just starting to break through. Artists like Mike McCarey were setting the tone for what would really take cakes to the next level. Back in those days, folks were still using plastic columns, dying fountain water pink, and placing little plastic bride & groom figures on top of the cake. I actually recently had a bride who wanted one of those retro cakes – plastic bridges and all.
Where do you see the field of cake artistry going? Well, it’s a hot and trendy field right now and has caught the attention of not only artists but also other fields you wouldn’t think of, such as biotechnologists like the talented Richard Festen. With the variety of technological skills that is coming in, I can see that hanging cakes from chandeliers is just the beginning. I just hope that we don’t get so far from what it is meant to be – cake should be delicious, beautiful, fitting to the occasion and bring smiles upon its audience. It’s like the whole gastro-molecular movement in culinary – it’s neat and interesting, but at the same time I think it can go overboard where food stops being recognizable and becomes some sort of science project. I once had a BLT shooter. I have no idea how they made it, but there was foam and vapors, and it was just weird. Tasted like a BLT, but no toast or lettuce crunch, no bacon crisp, no tomato coolness. Let’s hope cake doesn’t get that far away.
Favorite quote: I once had an Executive Chef whom I greatly respected and he would say, “Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” Years later that remains one of my favorites.
Dawn Parrott Designs20111 Stanton Lake Drive, Cypress, TX 77433
832-421-8996 • www.dawnparrott.com
Training: I am a Certified Working Pastry Chef (CWPC). I studied 10 weeks at Culinary Institute LeNotre in Houston, Texas. Other than that, I am pretty much self-taught from books and magazines. I credit the artists that wrote those books and articles for much of my skills. I became a culinary instructor at Culinary Institute LeNotre for a year, teaching Level 3 in Baking and Pastry. The only other experience that I have, my true training, is competition work. The judges’ critiques truly helped me learn my skills.
Cake philosophy: Practice, practice and more practice. Plan to work and work you plan.
What inspired you to become a cake designer: My dad and step mom did cakes on the side when I was a kid. My mom had a ceramic business. Guess you could say we are an artsy family.
Signature style: My style is definitely architectural and old school piping. I love the clean lines and symmetry. Generally, a lot of pipework.
Strangest request: One strange request was an Internet order years ago. They wanted a wedding cake that was chocolate, with a giant fortune cookie on top. They also sent me their names and several words in Chinese to be piped on the cake. I spent hours and hours getting them just right. Could not wait to meet the couple. When they arrived to pick up the cake, imagine my surprise when they were not Asian but Jewish! Guess they loved take-out.
Favorite flavors and colors: Favorite flavors are definitely Amaretto, Champagne and Mexican Chocolate. Colors: Purple and greens.
Favorite cake ever: I can’t pick one favorite, that is like saying pick a favorite kid. One of my all time favorites has to be my cake from OSSAS, Sea and Shore year. It was a cake based on a mansion in England, Brighton’s Palace. This building is spectacular and had so many areas to pull design from. I used many techniques for the first time and, to be honest, this cake was as near to flawless as I have ever completed to this day. The bottom tier had a coral reef that looked so real. Definitely, one of my best cakes ever.
Most challenging project: That is easy. The cake from this past year at OSSAS, Royal Elegance. This cake was 100 percent royal icing. I had never coated a cake in royal icing before. Not only did I have to cover the cakes, each cake was 12-feet tall, 8-feet tall and 6-feet tall. It made work difficult. One of my biggest problems was design. Due to the style I was making, there wasn’t really any place to go for help and design. To say trial and error would be putting it mildly. The pressure-piped people on the bottom tier almost didn’t happen. I attempted them 12 times. Each time I felt they looked worse than the one before. One night at 2 a.m., I decided to give them one last try. Something clicked and it all came together. This cake took years off my life for sure.
Biggest disaster: Oh easy, only had one! My daughter’s sixth grade graduation cake. It was a four-tiered cake, in the theme of Hollywood red carpet. It has movie reels on top, with the tape coming out of it, red carpet, etc. I made the cake for 150 kids. On the way there, it slid in the box and was a mess. We had to cut the cake in the box, and serve. No one got to see the finished cake.
Greatest triumph: One of the greatest triumphs would be not so much a cake triumph, but a career triumph. I have to say becoming an ACF Certified Chef has to be one of my greatest accomplishments. Not only does it recognize my work in cake, but also other sugar mediums, such as Isomalt, sugar, chocolate, pastillage, etc. Then becoming a culinary instructor and getting to share my passion was the best blessing of all.
How has the cake artistry field changed since you started? There seems to be a real trend leaning towards artists (non-cake) transitioning into the sugar field. This pushes the creations to new levels and I think sometimes takes away from the old school techniques. I think it will be very interesting to see where all this leads.
Where do you see the field of cake artistry going? I think we are going to see more sculpted style cakes, and fewer handmade, piped cakes. My personal mission is to keep piping alive and to use molds in more inventive ways.
Favorite quote: My favorite is “It is just cake.” Now that is not meant for the customer, it is meant for the artist. I see so many people that lose all control when something doesn’t go right, or breaks. My thought is that it was not meant to be, and next time it will be better.
Pastry Chef, in2food2175 Clairmont Terrace NE, Atlanta, GA 30345
678-315-0147 • www.joshuajohnrussell.com
Twitter Handle: @joshuajohncakes
Training: Johnson and Wales University
Cake philosophy: I always try to design cakes that are editorial. I like to create ideas that are new and different in some way and that are executed well and photographed well so they can be considered for publication.
What inspired you to become a cake decorator: I have always been into cooking and art. Cake design is a way I can combine the two.
How long have you been in business? Well I have been making cakes for 12 years. I currently work for in2food, a pastry product importer. I mostly work with in store bakeries for large grocery chains and create concepts for our catalogs.
Signature style: I pull most of my inspiration from the fashion world. So I tend to create detail through texture and layers. I love to pipe as well.
Strangest requests: I find it funny when people ask for cakes that look like other food. I have made a giant corndog, a huge Vidalia onion, and a three-foot-tall chicken sandwich.
Favorite cake flavors: I make a pecan pie cake that has brown sugar curd and toasted pecans – I think it’s my favorite right now.
Favorite cake ever: Oh that’s tough! I made a zombie cake once that was a ton of fun. I created a traditional white wedding cake with piping and pearls….and then I ripped it up and splattered “blood” (well an edible version) all over it.
Most challenging cake: I made a huge wedding cake for a black tie wedding in Chicago a couple years ago. I had to drive with all of my layers and tools from Atlanta and finish the cake in the hotel kitchen. The logistics of it all was the biggest challenge!
Greatest triumph: The first Food Network competition I did with Jason Ellis, [which] we won. We were just cake babies and thought we didn’t have a chance.
How has the cake artistry field changed since you started? Oh wow….leaps and bounds. When I started designing, the cake world was not such a cool place. Now there are cake designers everywhere!
Where do you see the field of cake artistry going? I think we are getting away from tradition. There are more designers now than decorators. And brides seem to be more adventurous!
Favorite quote: I love the quote by Alexander McQueen, “You’ve got to know the rules to break them….” It’s simple, but very true. Anytime I teach, I tell students to learn how to do it correctly first….then you can experiment.
Makememycake3330 NE 190th Street 2116, Miami, FL 33180
305-904-8408 • www.makememycake.com
Twitter Handle: @makememycake
Training: I have a degree in Corporative Design, but I don’t think that influenced my cake life. I had a natural cake instinct inside me, and it just came out at the right moment. I also grew up in a very gastronomic family, so ever since I was a kid food has been a way of life.
Cake philosophy: Cakes are an artistic medium that have to please my clients in every sense. Beautiful outside and delicious inside is the premise for a cake. I love to see the eyes of my clients when they see their cake – it makes it worth every single minute spent on the process!!
What inspired you to become a cake decorator: Since I was a kid, I have always been very creative – my mind is always working with ideas, colors, textures. Cake design has been a way to bring out all the ideas inside my mind. I could say that it has been a relief to find my way.
Signature style: I would say clean cakes, striking designs, chic mix of colors and textures, but above all very aesthetic. I began with sculpted cakes and now I am in another stage of the evolution. I am very versatile, which is an advantage to materialize your ideas and I love to explore new ways and techniques.
Most unique cake: I have had lots of strange cake requests, but if I have to choose one, it would be when I recreated Manhattan in cake. It was a five-foot-long cake with every little single place in the city on it. It was so fun to make, but not so fun to transport!
Favorite flavors and colors: I am a chocolate lover and addict, so any chocolate is welcome! Colors? Black and white are a must for me.
Favorite cake ever: My super ‘Bows’ cakes are very special for me; they are like my babies. They brought me so many good things, I have to be thankful to them.
Most challenging project: I made a poodle cake for a birthday party. At the beginning I was nervous about what I was doing, but when I finished the cake, it was so amazingly real that I didn’t know if I should feed her or take her for a walk – it’s amazing how a cake can be so alive!
Greatest triumph: Cake decorating has brought me a lot of satisfaction, such as writing my first book and doing my Craftsy class, which allowed me to have contact with my students. Hopefully the greatest one is still to come.
How has the cake artistry field changed since you started? Now there are a lot of resources to learn from. TV cake shows, online cake decorating classes, and social media all open a new big door to not only the cake artists, but also to clients. And there are a lot of artists from other fields making cakes...now everyone want to make cakes!
Where do you see the field of cake artistry going? It’s growing so fast, when you think that you have seen it all, then you see a new technique or way to create something. It’s amazing how this art can give us so much.
Motto: A.B.C.: Always Be Creating!!