Dessert Professional magazine proudly presents the Top 10 Cake Artists in North America for 2014.
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 a pair of super-talented sisters and 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 are role models for the industry, promoting and transforming our favorite symbol of celebration, the cake. Following are profiles of each of this year’s Top Ten Cake Artists.
- Michelle Boyd
- Mike Elder
- Charity Pykles-George
- Mary and Brenda Maher
- Jennifer Matsubara
- Karen Portaleo
- Kate Sullivan
- Mike E. Terry
- Peggy Tucker
- Becky Wortman
- 2014 Hall of Fame Honoree: Tracy Quisenberry
Good Gracious Cakes2S326 Deerpath Rd., Batavia, IL 60510708-369-9794 • www.goodgraciouscakes.com
Training: I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Art and Art History. No formal culinary training.
Cake philosophy: From an eating standpoint, food is at its best when it’s simply made from the freshest, highest quality ingredients available. That goes for cake too. From an art and design standpoint, cake makes a fantastic blank canvas. As an artist, I can draw from all sorts of disciplines: drawing, painting, sculpting, design, architecture, art glass, typography and color theory to turn sugar into a work of art. The possibilities are endless and exciting!
Inspiration: The moment I realized that I could combine my life-long incurable sweet tooth with my background in art and design, I knew that sugar would be a great medium for me. Watching the insanely talented cake artists and pastry chefs on the very early cake TV shows was a big factor, too.
How long have you been in business? Nine years as a cake artist, and before that I was a graphic designer and illustrator. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up until well after the age of 30.
Signature style: I specialize in extreme cakes and showpieces for large events. I tend not to do that many wedding cakes, but when I do, they tend to be non-traditional So there’s not a lot of lace, frills or pastels in my work. It’s ALWAYS colorful. (I don’t think I’ve ever made an all-white cake.) It runs the gamut between charming and whimsical to extremely detailed.
Most unique cake: I once surprised a dear friend of mine with a cake that looked just like a Whoopee Cushion, with the inscription “Whoopee! It’s your Birthday!” (She has a great sense of humor.) It wasn’t crazy detailed, and didn’t take me all that long to make, but being able to really zero in, and tailor a cake to its recipient and her unique personality was very rewarding.
Favorite cake flavors: Dark Chocolate with Blood Orange. Yowsa, that’s good! This is followed closely by Dark Chocolate with Raspberry, a timeless classic.
Favorite cake colors: Cake is ALWAYS celebratory, so anything vibrant and saturated are usually my favorite colors.
Favorite cake ever: Usually my favorite cake is the one I’ve just finished. (That question is a bit like being asked to pick a favorite child.) But right now, my favorite cake was one that I made for Icing Smiles last fall. Icing Smiles is a charitable organization that provides cakes to critically ill children and their families (similar to “Make a Wish,” but with cakes). The family was celebrating one year of their son Connor being free from leukemia. Connor wanted a sea-themed cake, so it featured a dolphin made of modeling chocolate jumping out of the top of the cake.
Most challenging project: I love working collaboratively with other artists, and those projects are almost always the most challenging. Last summer, I, along with Avalon Yarnes (Denver, CO) and Liz Marek (Portland, OR), got to collaborate on a showpiece via Veggie Arts Studios for the Busch Gardens Food
And Wine Festival. We traded ideas, inspiration, plans and sketches over the internet, and then packed up and shipped the individual elements we were all working on separately at our home studios to Williamsburg, Virginia. We all then met up (for the first time in person) and created a highly detailed Woodland Fantasy showpiece over three days. We were also working outdoors in early summer, so the heat and humidity posed a challenge, too. We each had to prep our elements separately, and then combine them seamlessly on-site. Luckily for us, our individual styles complemented one another and the piece looked like it had all been made by a single artist. But a challenging cake? I say, “Bring it on.”
Biggest disaster: The first time I had an opportunity to be on a televised cake show, I was an assistant on a team whose cake completely fell apart. You live. You learn (hopefully a lot). Life goes on. It’s just cake.
Greatest triumph: One of the first showpieces I ever made was a Wizard of Oz themed cake. I entered it in a local competition and only took second place. However, I posted it online, and it got shared, re-blogged and pinned so many times that I’ve lost track. As an artist, your hope is not only to create something beautiful and inspiring (and delicious), but also to strike an emotional chord with your audience. This was proof that I had done just that.
How has the cake artistry field changed since you started? With the number of cake shows on television in the recent past, there are a lot more people getting into the business and striving to make beautiful, creative cakes. There’s a lot more competition. Nowadays, to be successful, you have to be innovative, constantly market your business, never stop honing your skills, and/or find a niche.
Where do you see the field of cake artistry going? I predict that those cake artists who will be in it for the “long haul” are those who are the most business savvy, talented, and adaptable. The end result being that we will continue to see the medium pushed further and further past what we previously thought was possible.
Favorite quote: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” –Eleanor Roosevelt. My philosophy is that success begins at the end of your comfort zone.
Black Sheep Custom Cakes, Kansas City, MO816-682-1872 • www.blacksheepcustomcakes.com
Training: 40-plus-year degree in life, love and art from the University of Hard Knocks. (I actually went to Central Missouri State University for Aviation Systems Design/English)
Cake philosophy: I’m not a believer in being bound by tradition. Not from a design standpoint or by traditional techniques. I never took actual classes or lessons, but my mother was very well schooled and experienced. We frequently clashed about “the right way” to do things. I find a way that works for me, and that is how I prefer to do things. I’m not a big fan of many of the national cake shows as they tend to lean very heavily on the technique and not the artistic side of cake making. The artistic side is to me the most fun and meaningful part of what I do. My clients expect amazing, artful cakes, not well balanced technique. I find when I travel out of the US that people are much more open to this idea.
How it all began: I became a “Cake Man” by accident, really. I owned a hot rod shop and only started doing cakes to help my mother as her arthritis became worse. Eventually what started out as a Friday night and Saturday gig became much more full-time as our clients began to order more of my designs. After appearing very successfully on TV a few times, it became impossible to do both. I’m sure you can guess which career won out! I’ve sometimes missed the regular hours other jobs offer, but the friends and clients I’ve gained through cakes make up for it.
Signature style: I would describe it as very clean, easy on the color, and yet bold. I like my designs to really stand out but not be too much to look at, or too busy. Even when I’m doing something to scale like a car or 3-D object, I like it to be more of my interpretation of the subject than a deliberate copy. My designs tend to lean toward the masculine even when I’m trying to do “girlie”. I love the little details and always look for a way to really make each cake personal to the client no matter how complex or simple. The small things are often the one thing people really remember about the design. Anyone can do a car, or horse or wedding cake, but the thing that sets each of us apart is the attention to detail and the thought that goes into trying to do a uniquely custom cake for each client. It can be a huge challenge and very rewarding!
Most unique cake: This is hard for me as I do so many “strange” cakes. I guess maybe I’ve done it so often that nothing seems strange to me anymore. I’ve done a toilet for a wedding cake (the groom owned a plumbing company, it was tasteful, that is, as tasteful as a toilet can be!). I’ve done cars, animals people and anything else you can think of. Lately I‘ve been doing a lot of African and Hindu inspired designs, as well. My only real dislike are cakes where a human or especially a baby is part of the design. We all understand it’s a “baby” shower, but does it have to be a baby? It’s my job to help clients come up with ‘alternatives’!
Favorite flavors and colors: Honestly, I like it simple. My personal favorite is butter yellow with chocolate icing, but for my shop the most common flavors ordered are white, chocolate and lemon. Fillings can be fun and range from cookies ‘n cream to raspberry to ganache. My color palette is pretty soft. I like bold colors, but never heavy and dark. My cakes usually have a softness to them when it comes to color.
Personal favorite: Again I have lots of these. Usually it’s the last cake I had fun with, which for me was an AR-15 inspired design for a 40th birthday. Not that I care for guns, but the design was challenging and fun. Lots of free-hand airbrushing and a chance to try to make a “gun” cake fun. It was even more rewarding as the man it was a surprise for was beside himself with excitement! It’s always fun when people think you have a model or plastic toy instead of a cake. I recently delivered what I thought was an awesome horse cake to a client who didn’t seem excited at all by the cake I carried in. As I was about to leave she asked when I was bringing the cake in. She thought I had brought her a two foot tall plastic horse and hadn’t got around to bringing in her cake yet!
Most challenging project: I like to believe I always challenge myself, but some are definitely harder than others. My KC Chiefs stadium cake was hard for many reasons. I did the entire cake single-handedly in 3 days and it measured 6-by-7 feet and took three vans to deliver. It had scoreboards and was basically to scale except that it had to be taller in cake in order to show properly. I think we fed about 2000 hungry Chiefs fans that day! And we had a ball! GO CHIEFS!
Biggest cake disaster: Luckily I’ve not had anything keep me from delivering as promised but one Saturday while taking lunch in KC I had one final, very special sculpted cake to deliver. It was locked up in my delivery van which says clearly on the side “Cake delivery vehicle”. A would-be thief broke out the driver’s window in an attempt to steal the full sized “Major Award” leg lamp destined for the premier of “The Christmas Story” Musical which was later that evening in Kansas City. I would like to have seen the look on his (or her) face when they realized it weighed 200 pounds and wasn’t quite the prize they had thought it was! Luckily there was no damage and the cake made its debut and was served to much of the original TV cast as well as many thrilled theater goers. It made for an interesting day!
Greatest triumph: Every Saturday evening when all my cakes have been delivered and all my clients are happy, I consider it a great victory! As artists, we cake people stress about each and every cake no matter how small it is or how little the paycheck. It’s always a huge relief to look back on another hard week and realize you nailed it! If I had to pick one, then our greatest triumph was at KC Cakefest when we set a world record for the world’s fastest edible vehicle! My girlfriend Carey Iennaccaro and many of our great cake friends as well as local hot rod buddies built a car out of over 700 pounds of cake and icing and fondant , then proceeded to push Carey, wearing a modeling chocolate helmet and sugar goggles, down one of downtown KC’s public streets with a police escort, in a car she had never driven before! It wasn’t so much that we had built a big cake or set a world record, it was more about the great friendships that were made and good times we all had together! To see my greaser hot rod pals unable to wipe the grin off their faces mixed so perfectly with our awesome cake friends was wonderful! It seems that cake is pretty universal and guys who weld and paint for a living have no problem mixing with good hearted cake folk and vice versa, they became one big family! It was simply the best!
How has the cake artistry field changed since you started? I’m happy to say that the difference I see most is that people do see it more as an art than a technique these days! I know techniques are important too, but what I’m most excited about and something I try to express when I teach is taking those techniques and making them your own. Just because I do something one way doesn’t mean you can’t do it a completely different way! I’m proud to be part of a group that believes change is good, and it’s part of the reason my shop is called “Black Sheep”!
Where do you see the field of cake artistry going? I hope it keeps going like it is. I hope that more events and groups embrace the new fresh ideas and get over some of the old and often outdated ways. There are so many people who resist the changes we see coming today and I think it’s a real bummer. Just because someone is new or young doesn’t mean they don’t know a better and more efficient way. Cake design is one of the few fields where some of the long established leaders resist so much of the new ideas and “techniques” often created by technological changes and newbies! I cringe when I hear people complain about losing some of the “old ways” and “old techniques”, even going so far as to hold events where these are featured. I think it’s important to evolve and to improve, believing any technique is worthy of being set in stone is absurd to me. The new generation of cake artist will soon prove this a reality.
Favorite quote: “There is always someone willing to do it a little cheaper and a with a lot less quality.” It’s a common struggle for all of us I think as so many new shops and home decorators think that you must sell your work for nothing in order to get a good start. It seems to me that if you want to build a name for yourself, you should be focused on your quality and professionalism. Being the cheapest in town only tells clients that the low cost is all you’re worth! It is always a challenge to get what we’re worth, but I hate to see that happen to anyone.
d’Zrt Cake Studio, La Mesa, CA619-462-2515 • www.chefcharity.com
Training: Le Ritz Escoffier, Paris, and Grossmont Culinary College, El Cajon, CA
Cake philosophy: Cakes should TASTE as amazing as they look! It’s EDIBLE art for Pete’s sake!
Inspiration: I’ve always enjoyed making cakes. It was that warm glow inside when you took that plastic spatula that came with the Easy Bake Oven and took out your tiny 4”x 3/4” cake out of your blue plastic, light bulb heated oven….and it was a success! The cake bug bit me then!
Signature style: Funky, fun, contemporary. If you want Lambeth piping on your cake, you should go elsewhere.
Most unique cake: Six-foot life-sized Elvis cake for his 75th birthday party at the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego. They didn’t want to pay for him to be standing up, so he was laying down, but it looked kinda creepy, like a funeral viewing in his gold outfit holding a microphone!
Favorite cake flavors: I love chocolate; darker the better. I really enjoy a dark chocolate malt cake. If I could get my hands on those tiny malt balls that are in Double Chocolate Malted Crunch Thrifty ice cream, I could create an even better one!
Favorite cake ever: I did a 3-D Tron Light Cycle cake on a glass cake board, with a sugar “light” piece coming out the back tire, and it was all lit from underneath, just like in the movie. My kids and I are all Comic-Con junkies, so anything superhero, sci-fi or fantasy is right up our alley.
Most challenging cake project: The Tron cake, because it was so narrow, and because it was on glass, there was no way to secure it onto a cake board with dowels or other supports. It just had to be a master experiment in balance.
Greatest triumph: A cute couple who had met in a high-end watch store, asked me for a huge wrist watch cake, and they wanted to know if I could make the crystal glass on the watch out of sugar. YIKES! They had seen my Second Ultimate Cake Off episode where I did lots of sugar work on the cake and came up with that idea. That took some serious thought, but I pulled it off. It turned out truly amazing – a 16” round, beveled “crystal” watch glass.
How has the cake artistry field changed since you started? There’s a HUGE difference from when I started. I began doing cake professionally when I was 17. 1t was 1988, and white chocolate shavings coated all the popular wedding cakes in my area. BORING! Now, since Ace of Cakes, Cake Boss, Challenge, and Ultimate Cake Off, customers have seen what’s possible with edible mediums and they are open to creativity and come up with some pretty spectacular ideas!
Where do you see the field of cake artistry going? I’m seeing the introduction of new and different mediums in cake – sugar work, more chocolate work, gelatin, wafer paper and other techniques. I also see the organic, allergen-free and farm-to-table movements infiltrating the cake industry. It’s slow, and I’m probably more on the cutting edge than most, because of having kids with allergies, having my own organic garden and chickens, AND because I live in Southern California, but all those things are gaining traction across the country.
Favorite quotes: Michael Jordan said, “I’ve failed time and time again, and that is why I succeed.” And Jim Rohn said, “Success is not something you pursue. Success is something you attract by the person you become.”
Cakegirls3111 W. Lyndale St., Chicago, IL 60647773-355-1167 • www.thecakegirls.com
Questions answered by Mary Maher
Training: We did not go to culinary school or art school. We did, however, grow up in a family where our parents encouraged us to be creative and we spent a lot of time making arts and crafts and playing musical instruments. We both started working at a bakery during college, selling donuts, while pursuing other degrees. I (Mary) started snooping around the cake department. I asked if I could learn how to pipe a buttercream rose. After learning just one, I was hooked and my sister soon followed (Brenda). We worked in this bakery and a few others before opening our own business. We also learned a lot out of books, and by trial and error.
Cake philosophy: Cakes should taste as good as they look. They should never be too precious or inaccessible and should always invoke the same emotion that you had as a child when you saw your birthday cake.
Inspiration: For us, it was an irresistible mix of craft and design, hands on creation, science and sugar. Also, cakes are not abstract. Transforming sweets into something very touching and personal for people is concrete and very satisfying.
Style: Modern, clean and realistic meets cute.
Most unique cake: We created a wedding cake for bride and groom who wanted their cats’ heads as the top layer of their wedding cake, but the remaining layers were totally traditional. We did what they asked and they loved it. They ordered a smaller version for their first anniversary.
Favorite cake flavors: Right now we’re loving chocolate cake with dulce de leche frosting, but it’s always changing.
Favorite cake colors: As far as colors, right now we’re crazy about modern pastels mixed with metallics, but once again, it’s always changing.
Favorite cake ever: We designed a collection of cakes for InStyle Magazine and they let us do whatever we wanted for an ocean inspired theme. One cake, in particular, had Pucci inspired ocean waves with just the right mix of shape, texture and color. It was one that we look back on and wouldn’t change a thing.
Most challenging project: Definitely our first Food Network Challenge cake which was a full body replica of Snow White. Making a human figure out of cake can be really tough and brings all of your skills into play; construction, proportion, artistic capabilities, etc. Plus, the added pressure that everyone watching will recognize whether or not you hit it on the mark. This cake also set the bar for harder and more challenging cake orders to come.
Biggest cake disaster: I was six months pregnant and we had a rock ‘n roll themed wedding cake to deliver, but both of our vans were already out for delivery and we were waiting for one to return in order to leave. We had everything scheduled down to the minute, but the weather was cold and rainy and neither of the vans could make it back in time to deliver this wedding cake. My sister and I jumped in a cab and placed the boxed cake in the trunk. We asked the driver to take it slow, but instead he drove too fast, slammed on the brakes, skidded and rear ended the car in front of us on Lake Shore Drive. We opened up the trunk and the top layer of the cake was flipped and perpendicular to the bottom layer but the box kept it from flipping all the way off. We grabbed the box, hailed a different cab, sped back to our shop, repaired the cake, made it look beautiful, one of our vans pulled up just in time and our guys delivered the cake just minutes before the wedding. The couple was none the wiser and sent us a thank you note saying how much they loved their cake, but it was an incredibly stressful day.
Greatest cake triumph: A few years back we got a phone call from a client that we’d never worked with before. They requested a three-dimensional life size Kimodo Dragon that they wanted delivered to their private airport so that they could transport it to Argentina the next day. At first, it seemed like a prank, but after the payment was processed we got to work. We fired up ovens, printed out references and got to work. We turned it around in less than a day, coordinated delivery and logistics and dropped it off the following morning. That’s when we knew that our cake shop was a fairly well oiled machine.
How has the cake artistry field changed since you started? When we started, there was no internet and fondant hadn’t been popularized yet so everything was made in buttercream. Now, you can Google a cake theme and have instant access to ideas and designs without having to conceive of everything on your own. Also, we feel like the field is much more respected now. When we started, working in a bakery was a trade job that was production oriented and was not glamorous or respected by any means. Now, artists and designers gravitate to making cakes because it’s seen as an artisan pursuit.
Where do you see the field of cake artistry going? We definitely see the move towards less technique and more design based cakes. Instead of French pastry and classical techniques, you see a lot of new cake decorators coming at it with a refreshing, homemade design perspective that is less about perfection and more about color palette, texture and proportion and nostalgia.
Favorite quote: One of our favorite quotes was popularized by Oprah Winfrey: “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” After years of working in kitchens, practicing our skills, developing our own techniques and taking the leap to open our own business, my sister and I were invited to appear on the Oprah Winfrey show. We stood there just seconds before we were supposed to go on stage, in this very surreal moment, and that statement could not have been any truer….so when people say, “Oh, you’re so lucky,” like all good cake decorators, we know deep down the preparation it takes to get there.
Shelby Lynn’s Cake ShoppeOwners: Jennifer Matsubara and Brian Jaure118 W. Emma Avenue, Springdale, AR 72764479-750-0044 • www.shelbylynnscakeshoppe.com
Training: I am for the most part a self-taught decorator – I have taken a total of four classes in my 13 years of cake decorating. I still have a ‘cake crush’ on each and every one of he four instructors I took classes with – Karen Portaleo, Marina Sousa, Rebecca Sutterby and Nicholas Lodge. I own so many books and magazines on cake decorating, I couldn’t get enough in the beginning of my career (my habit has been tamed by lack of book shelf space at the cake shop); that is how I taught myself how to decorate. Lots of trial and error, and practice really does make perfect!
Cake philosophy: Make it beautiful and delicious. Although the client usually dictates the design, I believe in creating something that makes the design reflect my own likes as well as the client’s. I have grown to appreciate and see the art in many thing since making cakes, from shotguns to sugar flowers!
Inspiration: I have always been artistic. My father and my mother’s father painted. I have dabbled in a few different mediums – paint, sculpture and stained glass – always self-taught, and I have a lot of books. I really didn’t know that cake was what I wanted to do. I wanted to be an entrepreneur, not really having a specific direction, and a cake shop was for sale. So I guess it kind of chose me – I jumped in head-first and convinced my husband to quit his job and be my baker. It worked! Here we are 13 years later with the two of us and five other employees.
Signature style: I would describe it as elegant whimsy. When I am designing a piece, if I do not ‘ooooh’ myself, I start over. When you really are in love with a design it shows. I love to push my boundaries and sketch out decorations that are impossible, then play with the design just enough to make it possible. I love elegant soft lines with unexpected details that give the cake life and movement.
Most unique cake: This would have to be the Sydney funnel web spider I created for Food Network Challenge ‘Monster Bugs’. The giant spider was on a five-foot-square board with its front legs standing over three feet high. It was a fun cake to make with lots of yucky details like human mummies and hatching spider eggs. We won the Challenge, so I think everyone thought it was pretty unique.
Favorite cake colors: My favorite cake colors are metalics – silver, gold, champagne, pearl, anything that sparkles I am in love with! But I am sure that will all change next season, it always does!
Favorite cake ever: This would be the “Fit for a King” cake I made for the Oklahoma Sugar Arts Show. It was truly a labor of love – 175 hours of labor. Winning at the OSSAS was something I have dreamt about for over 10 years. I am sure my favorite will be replaced with another favorite soon, it always is. I think as a designer your tastes have to constantly change and evolve in an effort to stay fresh and cutting edge.
Most challenging project: One of the more challenging designs I have made would be the TV cake. It was for the groom’s cake at the wedding and he was a big John Wayne fan. I designed this old life size, 50’s style TV cake with the wood grain box and rabbit-ear antannae that was an actual working flat screen and DVD player that played John Wayne movies all night. My husband is pretty handy with the saw; luckily he can build pretty much anything I dream up.
Biggest disaster: My worst cake disaster was about 10 years ago. It was a hot, humid mid-July wedding, with a buttercream iced cake on order, and, needless to say, it was severely damaged in transit. Luckily the couple had chosen one of the designs I had on display, so I rushed the display cake over along with 100 servings of sheet cake, refund check and a hefty gift towards the honeymoon expenses.
Greatest triumph: My proudest cake moment would be everyday moments, like meeting a tight deadline, opening a hand-written thank you note, hearing a little girl squeal seeing her birthday cake when you are all the way back in the kitchen, and turning off the lights after a busy Saturday.
How has the cake artistry field changed since you started? The field has changed so much in such a short amount of time; now there are so many talented artists out there that are constantly pushing the envelope, artists that started in other fields and apply their talent to cake and other edible art forms. There is so much to be inspired by from all of these amazing artists, this field is growing and bursting at the seams, and will continue to do so. The 3-D sugar printers, along with everyday innovations and social media will take this art form to a new level. For those that love the sugar arts, this is an exciting time to be alive!
Favorite quote: “Without cake, it is just a meeting!” – Julia Child
878 East Confederate Avenue, SE, Atlanta, GA 30316678-480-6391 • www.karenportaleo.com
Training: BFA from The Atlanta College of Art
Cake philosophy: Cake is an artistic medium, visually and culinarily. My desire is to create cakes that please as many senses as possible.
Inspiration: Before becoming a cake artist, I was working in clay. I enjoyed it, but found it limiting. Once I discovered modeling chocolate, I felt I had found my medium. It smells good, it tastes good, and I can sculpt with it the same as with clay. It is easier to work with, in fact, and offers what I feel is a more complete experience of art to my clients. Clay allows me to make a piece that is experienced visually, but cake allows me to present an experience that includes smell and taste as well as the visual.
Signature style: I think I am known most for my sculptural work with big cakes and modeling chocolate. My style has often been described as whimsical. I like to take aesthetic risks, and tend to create work that tells a story.
Most unique cake: I recently was invited to create a cake for the Travel Channel show Bizarre Foods. They suggested a bust of the host, Andrew Zimmern. I thought it would be fun to represent the revenge of some of the critters he has eaten on the show, so I covered his face and shoulders with creatures like an octopus, lobster, a spider, a snail, a rhinoceros beetle, a coconut grub, a snake, a rat, and a few others. It was so much fun to create, and even more fun to present to him!
Favorite cake flavors: I’m all over the place with flavor – I tend to shift my cravings with the seasons. When it’s hot I love anything citrus, and when it’s cold I like dense spicy cakes soaked in liquors. And I always like chocolate!
Favorite cake ever: I’ll always have a soft spot for a big Octopus cake I made a few years ago. First because the octopus is my favorite creature, but also because that cake continues to go viral on various sites, and has opened a lot of doors for me.
Most challenging project: Any cake that involves precise reproduction is challenging for me. Cakes like cars or buildings, for example – it’s all just math. There are no creative decisions left to make, and I find them excruciatingly tedious! I have stopped taking those orders. I would never be the go-to girl for a big cake of the state capital, buildings like that in cake make me want to cry. But if someone was looking for a castle covered in dragons, that would be a building I would consider! As long as I got to make it all up...
Biggest disaster: No big disasters (knock wood). I’ve had to repair and even rebuild a few cakes, but I would probably only categorize cake disasters by subject matter. Early on in my career I had to create some questionably chosen cakes for clients, as we all do, and I thought they were disastrous as designs. But they pay the bills, don’t they?
Greatest triumph: Winning Food Network’s Halloween Wars. I was able to compete on a few of the cake shows before they all disappeared, but Halloween Wars was grueling, and a hard-fought win.
How has the cake artistry field changed since you started? I think the biggest change is actually in the client base. I am asked to do far more elaborate cakes now than I was seven years ago, and the clients know they are going to cost some money. When I started, clients were just starting to figure out what they could ask for, and had no idea that sculptural cakes would be as expensive as they are. Now I find clients plan their events around a big cake, and are willing to invest in having a large edible artwork as the focal point.
Where do you see the field of cake artistry going? I travel all over the world to teach cake decorating, and while sculptural cakes have been popular in America for some time, many other countries have resisted. I think this resistance was based on their long, more established traditions in pastry .While countries like France have hundreds of years of specific pastry evolution and artistry, I think it’s typically American to say “Hey, lets make that cake into a giant dancing panda!” But consumers world-wide are fascinated by the sculptural cakes, and I think it will be interesting to see how cake artistry evolves as it mingles with other cultural traditions.
Favorite quote: My favorite quote is from Anais Nin: “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Taking artistic risks, traveling, competing, taking classes, making cakes just for the joy and artistry of it, posting your work, charging appropriately (not giving our work away!), all of these things take courage, and all of these things create a bigger world full of more possibilities for cake artists. We are on the cutting edge I feel, and we can have a hand in the evolution of this wonderful art.
Cake PowerNew York, NY212-691-4330 • www.cakepower.com
Cake philosophy: I think it all comes down to moments: the moment that the person receiving it first lays eyes on the cake and they catch their breath and touch their hand to their heart, “For me?” That moment when people first bite into the cake and it melts in their mouth with an involuntary,“mmmm”. It’s such a special way to mark some momentous special occasion and carve out a memory that hits all of the senses: smell, taste, sight (and hopefully that sound of “mmm”). Visually, I am most in love with the details. I love when all the little precise parts come together and sing.
How it all began: I came across a copy of Colette Peters’s first book about 20 years ago, at a time when I was looking to make a career change. I was a magazine photo editor and I loved my job, but I wanted to do something more hands-on. It was love at first sight.
Signature style: That’s a tough one for me to boil down. Maybe clean, modern and playful. But more and more I hear other people describe my cake design style as fantasy, and that rings true for me. As I look back over my cakes in the past I can see at least some small element of fantasy running through most of them, and as I move forward I think that tendency is coming to the forefront.
Most unique cake: I can’t decide between the giant floating Rubik’s cube wedding cake (so fun!) and the “3-D” piglet groom’s cake with a the nickname “Fatty Splendid” inscribed in a tattoo on its bottom. (Groom’s cakes can be very interesting!)
Favorite flavors: I love chocolate, vanilla crunch and passion fruit.
Favorite colors: As for colors, I’m all or nothing. I love to go either very minimalist and have little or no color, or work in thoroughly bold saturated colors. Colors make me very happy.
Personal favorite: I got to make cakes for two different rock-and-roll legends and I know it probably sounds so silly, but seriously, they were both people I’d completely idolized growing up. In both cases, I was really proud of the cakes. They were absolutely appreciated, and in one case I even got a hug and a kiss from the legend himself!
What was your most challenging cake project and why? All of the television cake challenges are crazy tough, at least for me, because there is always such a short lead-time and so little sleep involved in competing. One of the competition cakes was a giant Legoland themed cake (criteria: minimum of five feet tall, motorized, and a sound component) at a time when my son was crazy over Legos. Even under the best of circumstances I am not the most organized person, and you really have to be to pull off a competition. I loved our cake idea (we came in second out of three) but it really was very rushed looking (to put it mildly) in the end. I think I was most bummed about not winning because I wanted to make my kid proud, and win him a trip to Legoland. (We took him to Legoland anyway.)
Biggest disaster: When I first started, I’m very sad to say that Elmo (a big carved cake version of Elmo covered in yummy red buttercream fur) fell victim to my inexperience and to too little internal structure. I still cringe when I think about his sweet Elmo head rolling onto the seat of the car.
Greatest triumph: There’ve been a lot of personal triumphs for me in cake making. I like to design cakes, particularly the carved cakes, that I have no idea if I can actually pull off. I have to really figure them out because I haven’t done some part of it before so it always feels like a bit of a triumph when they actually work – when they do what they’re supposed to, and everything stays together and stands upright. The other big triumph for me is that I’ve actually gotten do something that I really love for so many years. This is one of those businesses where you really have to put in a solid 12-hour day in order to make it work, and I decided when I started a family that I wanted to be a full-time mom and baker and with the help of my husband I managed to have a balance between family, and work that is amazing to me.
How has the cake artistry field changed since you started? The world of professional cake designers was a pretty small playing field when I started. Now it’s huge!
Where do you see the field of cake artistry going? I think the sky is the limit at this point! Decorators are expanding and building on each other’s successes and raising the artistic bar every day. Now there’s so much great information out there about how to make a great cake that more really impressive artists are entering the field and cakes continue to grow more interesting and beautiful. In some ways I also think that everything old is new again in that we see an emerging interest in buttercream over fondant in wedding cakes.
True story: I think my favorite story is of making a cake for my friend’s daughter’s fourth birthday. She wanted a Mermaid cake, so I sculpted a mermaid and shells out of modeling chocolate and had them packed in a box. I’d stayed overnight at their house in New Hampshire and on the morning of Nell’s birthday she came down the stairs rubbing the sleep out of her eyes and saw me holding a just barely iced blue buttercream cake – no decorations whatsoever – and her eyes opened wide, she gasped and said “Oh, it’s soooo beautiful!” Kids rock.
Bakery ProfessionalsIndianapolis, IN • www.BakeryPros.comExecutive Pastry Chef, Valle Vista Country Club, IndianapolisPastry Chef Instructor, Ivy Tech Community College, Indianapolis
Cake philosophy: Cakes and desserts are edible works of art that should be as beautiful to look at as they are to eat. They should stimulate all of our senses. We first should enjoy with our eyes, then our sense of smell, and then the way the different flavors ignite our taste buds.
How it all began: I started in the business as a baker, but soon became interested in the decorating side of the business since it allowed you to be creative, make kids smile and make people of all ages happy. I have been in the business 30 years, but most of that time has been spent teaching and sharing the art, design, and flavors that make amazing cakes and dessert. I guess it’s just a passion. I have inspired many people of all ages over the years.
Signature style: I love the clean elegant upscale designs. I also have a playful side that loves to create kid friendly and fun cakes and cake sculptures.
Most unique cake: I once had a request for a 40-inch 3-D sculpture of the Android guy as a wedding cake, and yes it was holding a mini wedding cake in its hand.
Favorite colors: I tend to lean to natural colors, but I love to use electric colors when working on young kids’ cakes.
Favorite cake ever: My personal favorite would be one that engaged all the senses, such as a cake made from multiple layers of rich goodness, topped with fresh fruit. Another favorite was a five-tier black and white cake that had cascading black scrolls. I also loved the wedding cake we did for TLC, because we achieved things on that cake that had never been done before – we made it snow in Southern California in a hot production studio on that cake and it was – WOW!
Most challenging project: I try to do a charity project each year to give back. There are two that stick out: the first was one I did to help under-privileged kids for Christmas. It was in Burlington, NC, and they gave me a storefront window and I created an 8-by-16-foot cake that I sculpted as a winter wonderland. They sold slices to raise money during a downtown celebration. People were able to watch me create it, and then came back to buy a slice. It was a huge hit. The second project was to help fight cancer, and since cancer got my dad it meant a lot to me. This one was at an air show and had to be created outside. It was an 8-by-32-foot skyline filled with 3-D hot air balloons. I created this overnight, with no sleep, under a canopy using table lamps to work by. The wind was blowing, which made it difficult to airbrush. It turned out great and everyone enjoyed this edible work of art.
Biggest disaster: I have never had a disaster, but I have had to switch gears at times. While filming the Ultimate Cake Off, for example, my chocolate sprayer failed, so I had to sponge on the texture instead of spraying. As a professional it is all about overcoming the challenge. I don’t view these events as disasters, I see them as challenges that you have to overcome on the fly. To me, that’s what makes a real professional.
Greatest achievements: Making the cover of American Cake Decorating magazine and earning the title of Certified Master Sugar Artist – it is a long and grueling exam and more fail than ever pass. The year I earned the title I was one of 13 in the world. I was also honored by being able to appear on TLC multiple times. I also enjoy watching students of mine to grow into great artists.
How has the cake artistry field changed since you started? Wow, that’s like asking the difference between the old black and white TVs of the 1950’s to the 4K ultra-high definition TVs of today! It has evolved a lot but it still relies on the hand and talent skills of the artist. I have changed, too— I was once very shy. Now I demonstrate in front of thousands of people and have been asked to teach classes at every major industry show in North America.I must say I have met some of the most wonderful people in the cake world and am lucky to call them friends.
Where do you see the field of cake artistry going? If you can dream it will happen. The changes I have seen over the past 30 years are amazing. If you can design it in your mind, you can make it happen. I see it changing all the time.
School of Cakeology507-261-7699www.schoolofcakeology.com • www.peggytucker.com
Training: Originally self-taught, I went on to take classes from quite a number of the very best sugar artists including Nicholas Lodge, Colette Peters and Ewald Notter. In 2004 I begin working with Isomalt and fell in love. After just three months of working with Isomalt I began teaching this art form. In 2009 I helped develop Cakeplay’s precooked Isomalt, which brought the required skill level needed for Isomalt to the level in which everyone could use it.
Cake philosophy: That it has to taste just as great as it looks!!!! As an instructor coming out of the baking world, my philosophy is to make it fun and affordable so that my students fall in love with sugar artistry.
How it all began: I moved from Chicago to a Rochester, Minnesota and I was in need of a cake for my daughter’s sixth birthday. I could not find bakeries of the caliber I had in Chicago for cakes, and was encouraged by my mom to make one myself. It went over pretty well and soon I was getting orders for cakes from a lot of folks in town. I opened Cakes by Peg in 1996 as orders continued to increase. In the mid 2000’s I was asked to teach at several events and found my true passion, teaching. In September, 2009 I closed Cakes by Peg and opened the School of Cakeology so I could teach full time. I have not looked back once. I love watching the joy on someone’s face when they realize they too can do what they see us do on television or at shows.
Most unique cake: I was honored to be a part of the team led by Mike Elder and Carey Iennaccaro, as well as a host of others to build an edible car that set a world record for the Fastest Cake Car, according to World Record Academy. It clock out at 28 MPH and weighed in at 716 pounds, without the driver. This was primarily done for a fund raising event for the Newhouse Women’s shelter in Kansas City MO, the World Record was secondary, but just as great.
Favorite cake flavors: This would be a true French vanilla with red raspberry and white chocolate.
Favorite cake colors: It would have to be white on white for wedding cakes. For my sugar sculptures it is all colors – I love to create very colorful and vivid elements.
Favorite cake ever: My daughter’s wedding cake that was built on a six-foot stand and held twelve cakes to look like a tree.
Biggest cake disaster: The very last cake I did under my bakery, Cakes by Peg, was a four-tiered wedding cake and four kitchen (sheet cakes) cakes. I was delivering it just a mile from my bakery to the country club and another vehicle cut me off and forced me to slam on the brakes or hit him. Well, the bottom tier slid completely forward, out from under the other three tiers, the support rods stayed put, as they should, and the other three tiers fell to fill the void. I had to go back to bakery and repair the cake and was able to deliver it 30 minutes later! It truly is amazing what one can do with buttercream and fondant. I made the delivery in plenty of time for the reception, but it was stressful, all the same.
Greatest triumph: Surviving Halloween Wars 2 on the Food Network!!!
How has the cake artistry field changed since you started? When I started making cakes, there were no cake shows. Cakes were still fairly simple and folks did not have the expectations they have today. The cake shows and challenges that have come about have folks thinking they too can have a 30-tier wedding cake that they see on TV for the $1,000.00 they had been paying. On the plus side, cake artistry has grown exponentially as more and more creative. More people join the ranks and more and more classes are available and now instructors come to them. A lot of talented folks from the art world have crossed over as well making the sugar world a true art form in and of itself.
Favorite quote: “Lord put your arm around my shoulder and your hand over my mouth.”
Imagine Something Sweet4823 Gibson Dahl, Clayton, Washington 99110509-844-2487 • www.imaginesomethingsweet.com
Training: Graduated from Spokane Community College/ Professional Baking Program in 2013.
Cake philosophy: I want to make every buttercream sculpture and cake unique, and I like to challenge myself artistically on what can be done with different confectionery mediums.
Inspiration: I have always had a natural artist ability – a gift from God. I love to bake for my family and friend, so why not put the two together. When I was in my professional baking program, we were required to enter something in a cake competition. Everybody was making sculpted cakes, but I wanted to try something different. My instructor told me to try sculpting buttercream. Ever since then it has been my passion. I love creating something unique people have not seen before in this industry. I want to show everybody that buttercream is more than just frosting, it can be art!
Style: My style is very unique. I like the ancient Greek sculptures and love many of the ancient artist like Michelangelo, Bernini and more. They inspire my buttercream sculptures and style. I like adding Isomalt to my work; it gives it a unique texture and a look that I like. I see it with my mind and create it with my hands.
Most unique cake: I think all my work in a little unique, but my “Frozen Women” buttercream sculpture I made for Icing Smiles Buttercream Ball was very unique. I wanted to give them something they have never seen before!
Favorite cake flavor: Chocolate!
Favorite cake ever: My personal favorite was a snakeskin purse cake. I hand-made all the scales. People thought it was a real purse. And my buttercream sculpture of Michelangelo’s Pieta I did at the Chicago Fine Chocolate Show in 2013.
Biggest cake disaster: Forgot to put in my support straws in a beautiful three-tier Topsy Turvy cake. BOOM!
Greatest cake triumph: Going from sculpting cakes to sculpting buttercream, because it is my passion.
Where do you see the field of cake artistry going? The sky’s the limit.
Motto: "With God, all things are possible.”
Founder/Executive Director of ICING SMILES
Icing Smiles is a nonprofit organization that provides custom celebration cakes and other treats to families impacted by the critical illness of a child. Tracy and her team understand that the simple things in life, like a cake, are luxuries to a family battling illness. The mission is to create a custom cake that provides a temporary escape from worry and creates a positive memory during a difficult time.
On January 27, 2010, they delivered their first cake to Violet, a beautiful 6-year-old battling brain cancer. At the time they had one “Sugar Angel” volunteer and long-term dreams that one day they would be able to extend their reach to serve any deserving child worldwide.
Just six months later, a feature in The Pink Cake Box’s blog garnered the charity it’s first national exposure and subsequently resulted in inquiries from hundreds of volunteers. The outpouring of support from local communities and the baking industry enables Tracy and her team to spread Smiles throughout the world. The passion for the cause continues to grow as evidenced by the following status report:
ICING SMILES by the numbers:
- 5,000+ = Sugar Angels in the United States
- 4,600+ = Smiles delivered
- 1,000+ = Volunteer hours per week donated to create Smiles
- 12+ = Countries waiting to create Smiles
- 52+ = New cake requests per week
For more information about Icing Smiles, including sponsorship and volunteering, log onto www.icingsmiles.org.