The Publicity Effect of Cake Art
Living in New York City, I soon discovered early in my career how easily one can be dragged unwittingly into publicity events, even if one does not particularly want the spotlight. Cake art brings focus to anything being celebrated, and eventually propels some level of fame towards any decorator as well.
Caterers, publicity agents or even celebrities looking to promote their products or launch their work, seek out cake designers to mark in a special way, those important events. Here are just a few of the various media driven cakes throughout the 80’s and 90’s when I was doing most of my decorating.
In those days without the ease of digital cameras, regretfully, many cakes were never captured on film. For instance, I could kick myself for not grabbing a camera to photograph the cake celebrating the 1000th performance of the Broadway musical, “Evita”. On the top tier was created a marzipan bust copying the Lucite sculpture of the head of Eva Peron by sculptor, Eliot Goldfinger. Some of you old enough may remember the original slowly spinning and flicking light in the TV commercials. However, some cakes had made it into newspapers or magazines for me to share with you now.
Summer of 1982, an enormous party was held at the Park Avenue Armory on the East Side of Manhattan marking the 10th anniversary of “Ms. Magazine.” Originally called the “Seventh Regiment Armory,” the brick building takes up an entire city block. To be seen in such a big hall, all I was told was to create a cake as large as possible, and that it incorporate a big red “Ms.” logo and the number ”10”.
In 1933, Parker Brothers firmed up the design of the current version of Monopoly from a real estate game created in 1902 called, “The Landlord’s Game.” In 1983, a request came to me from their descendants in the above photo, to create a three foot square replica of the game board to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
Notice the elder son on the right with the mustache! He looks remarkably similar to Rich Uncle Moneybags who pops out of the center of the board. Coincidence?
Upon delivering one my very earliest cake designs, I had the pleasure to meet two very famous movie stars, the amazing tap dancer, Ann Miller, and the inimitable, genius of comedy, Mickey Rooney. I stood while still holding the cake as Mickey takes a big bite out of it for the newspaper cameraman. He sure knew how to add pizazz to any media event. Rooney originated the starring role in the Broadway show, “Sugar Babies”. He was returning after a short break, relieving his friend, Joey bishop, who for several months had covered for him.
A publicity agent of a top ad agency often called me for product launches. Here, Christie Brinkley is using a pastry bag to sign the cake that I made copying a water color she had painted of her clothing design studio. She is posing here with Harvey Russ, of Russ Toggs, the owner of an 80’s clothing design company that would include her projects for the runway.
Boy, Miss Brinkley sure got around! Below, at a completely separate event, she places her lovely face next to a King Tut sarcophagus cake that had instead, the mug of benefactor, Mortimer Sackler, glasses et al. The party was given at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, specifically in the wing called, “The Temple of Dendur.” Sackler had previously donated ten million dollars to the museum for the wing’s construction. They were thanking him with this celebratory event.
The chocolate, buttercream-frosted, sarcophagus cake above was four and a half feet long!
The following year, another birthday, another Egyptian theme cake for Mr. Sackler at the MET.
This time his image, double chins and all, were sculpted in sugar for an enormous Sphinx cake feeding 500 people. To present it, the cake required six waiters holding poles inserted through the wooden burial bier cake board. Sometimes carpentry skills come in handy when cake designing.
Portrait cakes were common throughout my career. More CEO’s than I can count had their images painted in floodwork sugar. The president of Condé Nast Publications is honored here at his 50th birthday bash.
For all portrait cakes, royal icing is liquified and then flowed within a piped border. Color sections, like stained glass, are first created. Once dry, the details are painstakingly painted with food colors, similar to a dry brush technique used in water color. Floodwork is not the easiest of surfaces to paint upon since water melts sugar!
Frame is constructed from an even mixture of gum paste and fondant, and then painted with gold highlighter dust color.
Here are two portrait cakes on floodwork for clothing designers, Carolina Herrera and Sonya Rykiel.
Herrera is known for her polka dot dress patterns. With many of my cake designs, I feel the cake board is as important a decoration as the cake. Both portrait cakes are sitting on flowed sugar cake boards.
Rykiel was launching a new line of designer ties. I had to be assured that the coat she was wearing was not real fur before I would agree to paint the image. Being a vegan, I am a strict opponent to the cruelty of the fur industry. Occasionally, I had to turn down work, like a commission from “Glorious Foods” catering company who once wanted me to create a cooked salmon on a platter cake. Not out of my pastry bag!
Hasbro Toy Company has asked me several times to help them celebrate toys that they manufacture. I really enjoyed creating every child’s favorite, silly Mr. Potato Head, as he became 40 years old.
Shown above is one of many birthday parties that have been held over the years on the U.S S. Intrepid, docked always at the edge of the Hudson River by Pier 86 at 46th street. Actor Darin McGaven of the film, “Christmas Story,” and the 1972 TV program, “The Night Stalker,” congratulates his friend, Harvey Russ.
The battleship cake was nearly four feet long!
An author was launching his book publication at the home of Mona Riklis Ackerman who I did many cakes for over the years. She never questioned the cost of my cakes living in an immense apartment on Fifth Avenue that once was musical actress, Betty Hutton’s abode.
In 1985, Tishman, the construction company that created some of the largest buildings in the world was celebrating its 25th anniversary of Tishman Research. The cake design was to include the Sears Tower, Epcot Center, and sadly, the World Trade Center.
The financial services law firm, Cantor Fitzgerald, located on a top floor of the World Trade Center, in 1985, was celebrating its 40th anniversary. I was asked to create a huge newspaper cake for 500 people that included a silhouette of the Auguste Rodin’s famous statue, “The Thinker,” which sat thoughtfully in the lobby of their office.
Unfortunately, besides the many lives lost with the collapse of the building on September 11, 2001, many irreplaceable art treasures as well were destroyed. The only consolation is that there still exists 12 other bronze copies made from the original plaster mold of this renowned statue.
Possibly the strangest request for a cake came to me from a famous interior designer in NYC who was asked to create one of ten tableaus for a gala evening at the New York Public Library. Each room was to conjure up for the onlooker, a famous literary work. In this tableau of the novel by Charles Dickens, “Great Expectations,” the dining room was to include Miss Havisham’s wedding cake. So I was contacted to create a very tall, utterly decaying, tiered wedding cake that still sits, waiting patiently, as does the jilted Miss Havisham, for the groom to finally show up.
What I found most challenging with this request was that it had to be created crooked, and frosted with such a strange, yellowed icing that it would look like it was decades old. Mice, moths and cobwebs in sugar helped to add more of the disintegrating effect desired, as well as the sepia-colored, broken heart lattice in the center, symbolizing the bride’s utter despair.
And last, but not least, let me share my own unique publicity event. In 1998, “Cakes by Design – The Magical World of Sugar Art” filled an entire window of the Barnes and Noble book store for an entire month at West 66th Street in Manhattan. It was a very proud pinnacle moment for myself, and my partner in art, the late, Michael G. Farace.
Hope you have enjoyed reading about some of the most memorable moments throughout my cake designing career.