Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"Fake it til you make it" Vol II

In case you missed the original version it might be helpful if you read it first.

An old friend once told me that "you got to fake it til you make it"... I wrote the original blog about the subject in response to a flood of facebook post about being "so busy and having so many cake orders" at the time, while everyone I know was struggling to figure out how to make a living off of doing cakes.  Many truly talented and very well known cake artist are right this minute trying to figure out what it is they're doing wrong.  The concept isn't crazy in terms of building an image of a strong and successful brand.  Often as a budding business or artist, it's priority number one to appear successful.  The idea being that looking like you're doing well and creating an image of prosperity, will eventually lead you to actual success.  I guess to an extent the idea is sound and could justify a client being willing to separate themselves from their cash, and is perhaps even necessary to a degree. Why would a client feel justified in paying you a healthy sum, when they know they are the only job you got that week?  We all fake it, it's the degree to which we do it to our peers that bothers me. (it's an interesting note that many fledgling cake decorators act to the exact opposite, believing that doing cake for free or at extremely low cost is a good choice for starting up!  your work has to have value, and that's not how you add value to your work!)

Even though I seem to say it in every blog, and risking sounding like I'm stuck on the idea, making a living solely on cake is TOUGH!  It never really donned on me before but, I got started because of this difficulty!   My mother spent much of my youth doing cakes...  For bakeries, for food brokers and finally for herself, when the work finally began to take it's toll on her body, she started to need help, and that is when I began to come up on weekends, or Friday nights to help out.  At the time I was blissfully unaware of just how tough a career choice it was.  For me as a mechanically minded guy, used to working on customers hot rods, the fun of doing something short term, creative and seemingly lucrative was a blast.  I never considered it as a career, but eventually after being on several TV shows, and after our clients became used to the style of cakes I could do ( my mother and I had very different styles) we got so busy that the hot rod shop began to suffer and ultimately it was the cause of the demise of it.  It's hard to keep a shop going when you're never there to answer the phone, or work on a customer's car.    At first I really enjoyed the work and when busy, the money was good.  But after making the move outside Kansas City, the business really fell off in spite of the fact that I deliver everything!  The strain of the industry took it's toll on my relationship with my mother too.  My success at times overshadowed hers and eventually added to the issues we already  had with each other until finally it became too much. 

I've been asked so many times how I find time for it all and the truth is I don't!  I've even been approached before and asked for advice about survival and keeping your sanity while owning a cake shop, and all the while I've felt like I was the one loosing my mind!  These days my day begins at 6 am...  I climb from bed exhausted and throw on my work clothes, climb in my van and rush to KC where I work a second job painting houses, doing remodeling and general construction.  In the past 2 years this is the first time I've felt like I could reliably earn a stable living.  During lunch, and I hate to admit it, but sometimes on the drive to and from the city, I check my emails, call clients and try to keep from falling too far behind in my cake shop.   Some days I make it home early enough to spend some time with the kids, but more often then I can stand these days, I'm at the bakery in the evenings and nights trying to keep a handle on my cakes.   KC Cakefest is one of the things I care about most, and it turns out that too often I don't have the time or energy to really do it like it deserves to be done.  Additionally there's what I now refer to as "The TV Thing"...  For some time now I've been working on a project that should have been completed a year ago.  All the while I've received and turned down offers to do several other TV shows, from Halloween wars to next great baker.  Every time I get the call or emails I let myself get excited.  It's been over a year since I did any national TV and like anyone would I worry that without it, my business will fail, or people will not want me to do events or teach classes. I worry so much about it that at times I have seriously considered doing the shows.  My opinion of most of them has been pretty harsh, maybe to harsh, but the reality is that the producers of these shows are experts at faking it!  I've watched a little of some of these shows and honestly I'm really let down by the level of quality shown, yet presented on TV  to the general public as "The BEST OF THE BEST"...  After being courted by so many different production companies about one lame knock off of another already existent show after another, I decided to do what felt right and try to produce a show that has some actual heart!  I've been working  to produce a show that shows the real true hard work your every day average American does day in and day out for nothing much more then the satisfaction of a well done job and a paycheck.  Our world is created and run by these people, yet they never get the acknowledgment so deserved. We cake people are among them.  We create something that seems simple; a cake...  The truth is cakes are far more than that, they are the things that memories are made from, celebrations are held around and people share with one another. Every great celebration can be made greater with cake, and seldom do we ever make enough to be worth our while.  We do it because we feel good about it, we do it because making someone smile is worth the effort and time spent, we do it because we love it.  I'm proud of the concept and proud of whats been put together, even though the consensus with networks seems to be that it's not "unreal" enough!  Essentially I have 4 jobs in addition to trying to spend enough time with the people I love and it's not an easy task.  I'm not trying to get rich, just live a life I can be proud of and make some sort of mark, but it's getting harder every day, I don't feel like I'm doing a very good job.

So for once I actually have advice that may have value.  Be careful about judging yourself and your own success based on what you hear on TV or read on Facebook!  It's one thing to admire someone or follow them on facebook because you like their work, or they inspire you in some way, but it's a bad idea to judge yourself by their standard. (they may be faking it!)   Admit your fears...  For myself, I tried for a while to fake it, all the while afraid of failing, not being able to support my family, not being good enough, being forgotten and longing for something more.  I still fear these things but admitting them and facing them is oddly a great source of strength for me.  It's very easy to get caught up in all that I CAN'T do, all the things I struggle with and places I've failed, but I choose to believe that from pain comes strength!  From failure comes knowledge and overcoming doubt is possible.  I focus on doing what I can, work as hard as I can and believe in what I'm doing even when it seems I don't measure up.  It's human nature to look at others and wonder why they seem to have it all while I struggle.  It's even easier to inflict that self imposed punishment upon ourselves these days while a FB friend is posting "gee I have so many cakes this week and they're all awesome orders for celebrities and TV shows, what am I to do?"  all the while trying to sound like they are complaining about having to do so much work! only to follow up later in the week with only one or 2 photos of the work.  Competition is a fact of life.  Many people will do what ever they can including these post to feel superior or gain respect, but in reality it paints a false picture of what is our normal life.  Try a little humility and we may all be closer.  I've said it before: We're all in this together...  There is only one you and the impact you make on the world is yours and yours alone!  Whether you choose to  to make a grander one, or are happy to sit by and watch the world go on, you will still have made your mark. 

thanks for letting me once again vent.

peace n love

Monday, November 12, 2012

crazy biz and crazier clients! How to cope?

Have I ever mentioned just how difficult the cake decorating industry is? (oh wait only all the time..)   I have friends in every aspect of the food biz, and that runs the range from chefs to bloggers to magazine editors and of them have it rough these days, but as cakers we've got all their troubles plus the additional perks we all know and love so much.  this blog is a short comparison between cake design and the regular restaurant chef's world and then we'll move on  to define the different types of clients we seem to get in our industry.

Restaurants are fickle just as cake is, but with different pitfals.  Many chefs cater and frequently do large banquets that closely mirror our experiences, requiring advanced tastings, meetings with the client and stress about supply and cost versus profit.  There is a big difference between how they sell and how we must sell.  For one, they can give the client the finished product months before the actual event.  This means that the client can try the "Tagliatelle with roasted chicken, tossed in a light olive oil with sun dried tomato, or the   Apricot glazed salmon with saffron baby potatoes with soy, garlic and ginger splash"( yeah I'm hungry too) during the actual sampling.  They can eat at a table decorated just as it will be the night of their event with the same wine, same lighting and same service staff they will expect when their guest arrive!  As long as things go more or less to plan, there is little to worry about in terms of surprises.  If the client orders 150 dinners, the chef will plan for that and the odd occurrence of an unplanned vegan guest showing up unannounced.    The everyday operation is more trying, with an unknown number of guest ordering what they will.  Trying to plan for the ups and downs of that sort of business is very tough, especially as today's economy tends to force more and more people to cut back! 

Our business is similar, but also very different. (if that makes sense?)  Our work is much more abstract.  We can still meet clients and plan many things months in advance, offer several different choices of flavor, style, icings and fillings, and as far as our job goes that's the easy part.  The client may die for your lemon cake with raspberry filling, and you can assure them that when they cut their cake that's what they'll get, but after that they're going almost entirely on your word and reputation, and there is no way they can really understand what it is that you're going to do for them. 

I consider myself to be a "well known cake person" in my area...  However I get calls all the time from people who have never heard of me, or have no clue what it is that I can do.  Even the educated ones ( and by that I mean they've researched my work) can barely grasp what it is that I'm presenting to them in terms of a cake.  I can't show up to the consult with their completed cake, I can't show them the exact size that 350 servings represents, though I do know bakers that stack dummies for clients (great idea!).  I can't expect them to understand the value of my talent, nor the amount of work that goes into my craft.  The time creating, and the hassle of delivering and setting up a cake is also outside their comprehension.  So then how can I really truly convince them that the price is fair and that the cake will be beyond their greatest imagination?  I'm not sure I can, and here in lies the problem for us all.  People seem to more and more often expect more while paying less.  They think that because walmart does a cake that honestly presents well ( and looks like the 100 done before it) on the cheap, that we as custom cake designers have to follow suit.  They think that because so many decorators do and well, it's the way of things these days!    I know a lot of bakers in our area that will work cheaper than walmart thinking that they are "competing" with them.  They price their work so low that really there is no profit.  I've heard so many times from budding businesses that "we're trying to build a clientele so we have to work cheap".  The idea being that because they're cheap they'll get more cakes, thus more repeat customers, thus more and more referrals.  This works but the reputation you've built is " she's really cheap"  I don't know how else to put it other than quality cost!  We all know it and when a client perceives your work as "cheap"  that also means "acceptably worse" but since they're not really paying for quality work, they're OK with it...  If that's the business reputation you're looking for, well, then good job.  I've said it before: " there's always someone willing to do it a little cheaper and a little crappier"  (congrats you're cheaper and crappier than walmart)

I've dealt with so many crazy uninformed client inquiries I've decided to start a glossary and even offer advice on how to deal with them.  Maybe next blog I'll tackle the issue of post-delivery and angry clients!

Clueless dreamer:  This person has no idea who you are, but saw way to much reality CAKE TV!  They call you blindly with no clue what they really want and even less though about it actually costing them.  They want a cake just like they saw on TV but for he and his girlfriend only (2 servings).  They expect that you have that cake just sitting on the rack ready for them without thought of advance ordering.  (I have had these people call looking for anything from a chainsaw to Barbi dolls, and for this afternoon... good thing I stock cakes like that?)
solution:  I've never landed a cake from a client like this.  Usually I end up feeling insulted when I give them some sort of guideline about the price and they say something that matches their mentality... so instead I tell them to go to my website, look me up online and call me back when they have some idea what they want and how much they want to spend.  The less time wasted on them the better. they wont call back. 
Cheapskate:    This client calls or emails and gives very vague info. "Can you do a cake for me in August and how much is that?"  They're bargain basement shopping for the lowest price and haven't realized yet that walmart is their place!   The reason the info they've giving you is so vague is because they don't want to spend the time explaining what they want until they like the price.  They're calling or emailing so many places that to save carpal tunnel or loosing their voice, they cut to the chase. 
solution:  again as little time spent on these people the better.  They're looking for a quick answer anyway so they can call the next bakery in the book.  I tell them my minimum price and explain that most cakes don't fall under that category.  I'm up front and honest so that I'm not trying to figure out what corners to cut later so as to fit their budget.  cutting corners for me just means I do the same amount of work but get paid much less.  These people can be a problem post delivery as I've found they can get "buyers remorse"  and regret spending their hard earned money on a "silly cake"  beware!

Fatal attraction ( big fan):    This may be more for those who've had some TV or press exposure, but people will try it on anyone!   This cake shopper contacts you explaining that they love your work, perhaps they've seen you on TV and undoubtedly their cute lil 6 year old niece loves you dearly and is your biggest fan  and they're quite convinced "you should be on one of 'dem TV shows"!  They will schmooze you and massage your ego until you feel obligated to do the cake for them for next to nothing!  It seems ( for me at least) a little flattery goes a long way!  It's a cunning strategy and sometimes it's even true!
Solution:  This is a toughie as you'll already be in a better more peaceful place.  I try to be fair and charge as I should but honestly they're going to get more out of me than they bargained for!  I'll go out of my way even if I do think they're pulling my leg.   I had one lady totally bullshit me once:  She called with the "I'm your biggest fan and my entire universe of friends and family all love you and we've all dreamt of having one of your "masterpieces" ...  she went on to explain how they follow me and love my "recent" cakes.  I asked "which one"  to which I could hear her clicking away at her computer until she described a cake...  Mike McCarey's cake.  (nice one too BTW!  you da man Mike)  she still got a good deal!

Alexander the great ( I want it all!):    This client suffers from Cake Reality TV Syndrome (from this point on referred to as "CRTS"   They've watched the magic of TV and like a "big fan" they may truly love your work and want a cake from you, or they may have been lulled into the misconception that making cakes is as easy as it seems on TV.  Random bakers get random unknown request for huge mechanized cakes and somehow manage to make 'em in 8 hours.  They have never been presented with the actual reality of the industry and will find it hard to understand why you cant repeat what they saw on TV or the cost involved.  They ask for the world not realizing that everything they add to their cake adds tons of time to our work, and thus, more cost!  Frequently this client will even think it's their "job" to make last minute changes or "twist" to their order all with no regard to the cost difference.
solution:  The usual fix is quoting a price that's actually worthy of the work they want done and explaining why they can't get what they're asking for on a budget.  I had one of these after our Christmas tree show aired on TLC.  The lady called for a cake "just like" what they saw us make in a 5 minute segment of a TV show.  I found out they were on a $100.00 budget.  That amount wouldn't have bought the icing required for the piece!  I try very hard to create something they can afford and be happy with but truth is if they want the world but their budget is Ramen Noodles, there's a conflict brewing!  I've had more clients unreasonably angry after a cake like this scenario because it didn't meet the extremely high demand they imagined.  I've rarely done a cake I wasn't willing to stand behind 100% but when they wanted far more, they can become unhappy pretty easily.  I try not to let my clients settle...  better to move on.

Sir Lancelot:  This client is so well connected that you should feel honored that they took the time and had the good nature enough to think about including you in their kids 2nd birthday!  The amount of business and number of people they will magically transform into mindless followers of your bakery is staggering!  You should literally pay this person for the honor of doing a cake for them, as the rewards for you will be endless.  They can be individuals or huge groups (or in my case pro sporting teams)  Either way this customer believes or wants you to believe that they have the ability to single handedly make your business!  You'll never need to advertise again.
solution:  run away!  or at least don't fall victim to the idea that anyone gets something for nothing!  Just as Lancelot vowed to protect and honor King Arthur, he also caused the fall of his kingdom by banging the crown off of Guinevere!  It's easy especially if you're a small bakery to feel like opportunity is knocking, but as a small bakery you should understand that you can't go giving everyone a cake with the hopes of creating a business or free advertising!  I've done cakes for all sorts of people in the past that I believed would have the ability to increase my business volume, but in truth I can't name more than a few cakes that were booked because of all of them combined!  I even did a free cake for The KC Chiefs ( long story) and I didn't receive a single order in return. If a little exposure is what you're looking for, try the next art faire! ( bring samples)

The Crypt (ic) Keeper:  This client is closely related to the "Clueless dreamer" in that they've got no idea what they want.  They may have all the specifics and be well researched, but as far as knowing what they actually want, they've not a clue...  They may call with random and pointless ideas or thoughts but have no concise plan for what the cake should look like.
solution:  These people aren't so bad as long as they're willing to give you control and won't second guess your decision.  I actually like this guy as normally they are just looking for guidance and as an "expert" ( notice the quotation marks!) in my field I'm happy to point them where I think they should go in terms of design.  It's our job as cake designers to know what looks best in cake and how to do it, it's nice to have a client that doesn't try to take on the designers role!  I've heard this is some decorators least favorite type of client because they feel like they need their direction, but think outside the cake box and you'll see this as a blessing!  They're usually more open to any input you got and some of my favorite cake have been done for them!

Last Minute shopper:  We've all been there...  This person needs a last minute cake for a myriad of possible reasons.  They expect that in no time you can create what ever their little procrastinating heart desires...  They will often appeal to your softer side as a "big fan" will, hoping you'll feel sorry for them and squeeze them in. 
solution:  It's a question of quality versus time.  if I can fit someone in I always will, but they need to understand that they're going to pay more and I've got to do it my way!  As they say a lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.

The baker in the family:    This person is the self proclaimed or "used to be" the  "family cake baker"  and for what ever reason they've decided to go to you instead.  They tend to think they know more than you do, or that they can manipulate you into cutting them a deal because of some sort of inside knowledge they think they have.  " I know how this is done so don't try to pull anything over on me"  or " I worked in a bakery for 20 years" (yeah from 60-80!)  They think you're obliged to owe them because they too did or do cake.  Humm...
solution:  I stay away from these all I can!  I know my product, I'm happy with what I produce, but doing a cake for someone who is letting you know in advance that they'll be critical of your work is a bad idea!  It's no different then taking your car straight from one repair shop down the street to another and letting the guy pick apart the others work.  It's bad practice and damaging for everyone!

I could go on and on with this and I encourage you to add your own in the comments section! 

What ever the perils of this industry be, there are those of us who are looking to understand them, explain them and share with each other our experiences.  We've got an often fun job that can be tricky to make a real living from!  So many of our peers like to post on facebook things like "Oh my how am I to finish all these dozens of cakes...  poor me?"  (earlier blog "fake it til you make it"...  look it up!)   Cake TV , or rather the possibility of being on it in the future is responsible for some of this, as many feel a need to "look" busy as they feel it makes them more appealing to producers.  ( busy apparently equates to great?) It may be true that this week they are that busy, but reality is dealing with our customers, and making a viable business out of cake is tough!  We don't need people to fake it and make the rest of us feel like we're the only ones struggling with it!  We need to unite and figure out a way to make it better for all of us!  THAT'S ALL OF US!!  I've been given a gift and I see it as such.  I have been lucky enough that people tend to look to me for guidance and insight...  Not that I feel like I'm worthy of it, but as it happens I have thought about it a bunch.  I could post pics of every cake I do and brag about being busy ( even though I'm not) I could put on the front that most everyone would believe.  I could swear to be doing more than I could stand and everyone would believe it and my own desires to be respected for being a "success" in this industry would be upheld.  But I choose to support the truth and realize that real understanding of this industry will come when we can all stand up and say, " yeah this is tough...  but working together and sharing the struggle is so much better than hiding from the truth!

There is only ever going to be one of you, and one of me...  the contribution you make to the world is determined by you and by your actions.  We have such a short time to make that impact and the sooner we chose to do something good and stand for something we believe in the better!  Don't waste your time comparing yourself or your work to someone else, be you, do your thing and an impact will have been made as only you could make it.

Peace N Love

Monday, October 29, 2012

Culpability... another life lesson from the cake world

(written in part during my latest travels)
As I sit in a cold hard international terminal chair waiting for a flight home, I can't help but think:  Life is beautiful...  Life is also a challenge and sometimes the things we love and believe in most, want most and dream of, are the things that seem to be hardest to grasp.  Sometimes circumstances stand in the way of all that life can be, to often I've forgotten just how much I have. (I'll get to the cake related part of this blog soon! I promise!)

I've lived a life that often surprises the people I meet.  I've done so many things, seen so much and experienced a wealth of visions, real, unreal,  pleasant and painful.  For so long I wondered around in a frantic attempt to please the people in my life that I held responsible for my happiness...  I believed the purpose of my life was to earn their respect, gratitude and approval.  My "job" was to make them happy.  My purpose was to some day feel worthy of their love, and not feel as though I had it because they had to, or because they needed me so badly that I got it by default.  It's one thing to be loved because you're needed, and a completely different thing to be loved...  through out it all I always felt misunderstood.

I have given up so much and been subjected to some of life's very dark side in my attempt to break this cycle and be happy.  I learned the hard way that I am extremely rugged...  I am able to subject myself to enormous strain and endure all sorts of pain and punishment and I even have the ability to rationalize to myself why it is all going to be worth it some day.  But the truth is life is short.  Waiting for the day when my family would approve of me,  the people I need would step up and carry their own weight, and I'd finally have earned what I thought I was working for, is not a very good use of my time.
Breaking the cycle, and being able to accept both my own bad habits and the short comings of myself and those around me cost me more than I ever expected, but in hind sight, the cost was equal to the degree of just how much of a mess my life had become.  The knowledge I feel I gained combined with the possibilities of a brighter and more loving future, more than justify the cost and in truth, we
are what we are because of what we've been through.  I am a product of the life I lived, and these
days I'm starting to feel like I might actually come to like this guy!

So how the hell does any of this matter to you?  " What's it got to do with cake mike? ". Well...  As I said I'm a product of my own life experiences and past.  We all are.  I've come to find myself in an industry that few people really understand, and one that many people paint a very unreal image of in an attempt to earn the respect of their peers.  (if you've read my fake it til you make it blog, you know what I mean).   I've been guilty of this too, as it's nice to be looked up to  and to have a persona of
success, even if the reality is that we're all struggling!  In general the idea behind what we do is great,
 but after all the emails I get about my blogs and comments from fellow cake people I find that I'm
not ever as alone in my thoughts and plight as I thought I was.  So many of my friends and fellow
artist feel and experience the same things I do, and many who do feel like its some sort of failure to
admit that they too struggle.  It's very liberating for me to share my experiences with others, and in
turn feel like we've shared our struggles together.  For me, the truth has been very rewarding.  

I've heard from many people who are like myself artistic  in nature.  For us things are perceived
differently.  Our industry in general is not at all like most out there. We have a very unique job and it is one in which we put a massive amount of time, energy and even emotion into our work and receive in return much stress, long hours and a great deal of unpredictability.  For many people who come 
from a corporate or other type of background our work is and will remain a mystery.  I've had so 
many people write me and tell me that their family doesn't understand them,  they think they 
should be "more businesslike". Hold regular hours and schedule work so that we can be like the rest 
of the world and have Saturdays off,  our evenings free and more money in our pocket.  
My partner Carey has gone through so much because of her dedication to what the people in her 
family consider a hobby.  The idea is that if it were a real business, she'd have posted hours that are strictly adhered to, and a Clear separation between home life and business.  I've heard the same scenario explained by many and I really believe that there is a distinct lack of ability of some people to see the value in something artistic, especially if the pursuit isn't exactly making a bunch of money. In her case( and many others) the only way I feel that she could prove herself in the eyes of her nay-sayers was if her business was so successful that  she needed to hire employees, the next step would be to open a custom cake making factory with share holders and an international marketing budget.  The lack of any of the obvious signs of success means to the people that criticize her (and many just like her) that she is unsuccessful.  Having your work perceived as a hobby and the long hours and time dedicated to what is hard work seen as a waste of time, or even a lack of good time management really can take its toll on a person.  Many people with regular jobs bring their work home at times.  Does this mean they're wasting time at work?   
Add to the already unpopular and misunderstood job choice the value or apparent lack of said value gained by doing charity work, and quickly  blame and anger directed at "cake" is the result.  

(continued on 10/27)
I've thought about things so much that my brain literally smokes from the friction inside.  The scenario Carey and so many like her experience is so common, yet no one inside our industry seems to talk about it openly ( and this is why I am!)  There are countless types of people, and countless pursuits or jobs (if you got to call it that) but in general for our industry most are pretty creative, some are very much so and it seems that as a creative type, we are easily mis-understood and even looked down upon for being "like we are". 
There seems there's a root to the problem:
For many of "US" in the cake industry, the "business" started out as a hobby.  Most of us decided to make a cake one day and decided we liked it and even found out that we had an aptitude for it...  Many of us did them more and more frequently, maybe for friends, neighbors or co-workers, and at some point in the scenario it happened and we began to charge for our work ( this isn't how I got started, but it's a definite trend, and true in Carey's case)   The problem is for many that family and even friends often continue to see it as a hobby, or something less then the hard work we all know it really is!  Cake is a bitch of a job!  I can't claim it any other way...  I love to create things, and to wow clients, but rarely do I ever get paid an amount that really justifies the time and talent involved.  If I have another customer claim they "would have paid much more had they known it was going to turn out like this" I'm going to go POSTAL!  It's tough ( yeah I said that already) the hours are long and the reality is it takes as long as it takes to do it, and when you very literally pour yourself into the work as most creative people do, it is very commonly not understood by those with a more 9 to 5 sort of personality.   They see it as a hobby or even an obsession in which we spend tons of time and endless heart into for little pay, and tons of stress.  We do what we do because we love the feeling of creation.  It is an art, and as artist, we are willing to suffer for our craft, even if the people we love and those who are sworn to support us fail to understand it.  It's just another added "perk" of the job, to have a spouse or family criticise you because "you're not done yet"  and in some cases point out how this isn't a "real business" because it's not practised like many are.  We can't just quit at 5:00 because it's closing time!    

Steve Jobs, started his empire by working in his garage with money he got from selling his VW with the intent of furthering a fledgling industry.  He worked round the clock, and often lost more than he made, until finally making perhaps the largest impact on the world possible for a single person.  We won't make billions on making cakes, but the drive behind it, the belief in one's self and the love of the creativity our job does include will continue to push us along.  It's a tough thing to do to realize that the people closest to us may never understand it.  I find myself trying to end with a suggestion or a technique good for straightening out the dilema, but again I'm as lost as you are...  The only thing I can say with certainty that I've learned through my lifes struggles and from hearing so many stories from friends and fellow cake artist is BE HAPPY...  Find out what it is (or who) that makes you happy and try like mad to do it.( what ever that is!)  I've been through the toughest times of my life in the past 3-4 years,  I've learned so much about myself, the people close to me and about life and happiness.  I'm still in the thick of it, but I've realized that you have to be honest with yourself, forgive others while accepting your own culpability, and most of all try to find the good in the situation.  I also suggest giving yourself a break!  I've blamed myself for so much and sadly blamed others for far to much as well and finally coming to terms with that is a real spiritual awakening!  Hoping that your family will some day "get" what it is that you do, may be a lost cause, forgiving them for it, talking to them about it and atleast trying to explain yourself is the first step to living with it.  I guess the moral of this story is acceptance....  accept yourself, accept others, even if you can't see eye to eye.    

Monday, September 24, 2012

for something greater than self... ideas, hopes and dreams.

  What a past few years this has been.  well, really I guess I could say "life" as it's taken me this long to have even the smallest grasp of what this is all about and why people (including myself) do what they do...  The past couple weeks have really focused my thoughts and perspectives about so much of what's happened in the past.  It's made me look even deeper inside myself and given me a new stronger sense of purpose than before, and I've been feeling the need to share some of what I've seen and learned from all the ...  I'll call it: "stuff" I've been through.  OK, so this isn't a cake blog once again, but it is one about life, love, anger, understanding and looking into ones' self.

I don't need to go into the exact specifics of what has happened, or tell my life story to get my point across.  I wont share too much about what specifically has been happening in the past few weeks or the time leading up to now, as it isn't all my story to tell.  I will tell you what I've seen and what I've learned (or maybe just think I have ) about human nature...

It seems to me that we all are born with a need to prove ourselves.  From the beginning we seek the approval of our parents.  In my case that crusade really only recently became understood by me, and I've found many others who like me, are grown adults still trying to gain the respect and even just basic approval of their parents.  I've learned that my own need to satisfy or prove my value to someone has dominated a very large percentage of my life.  I'm not sure we ever really stop trying to please our parents, but I never realized how much of my life was modeled on that same subject.   It seems no matter how bad I feel or how unrelenting the fight, I will try sometimes in vain to accomplish the task.   For my own part, I never felt like I even came close to being who I was supposed to be for my parents.  I never seemed to measure up, as to often when I thought I was doing the best ever, I found that she was the least impressed, or even worse, offended by me. This all to familiar course found it's way into many other parts of my life, and soon much of my life seemed to be a hopeless quest for happiness, where the prize seemed so far out of reach that only anger and sorrow could be found. 

I don't mean for it to sound like I'm blaming anyone for making me feel like I did, as I know the need was my own, and the actions I took were made by no-one else but me.  But for a long while, I was angry...  I blamed the people I felt I couldn't please for my own problems and my own feelings of failure and low self esteem.  I hate to admit even just how angry, and at times it really got the best of me.  Only recently have I been able to look deep inside of myself and realize the value of both the good and the dark inside,  the value of the experiences and wisdom gained even from the darkest and most painful times. I've even made friends with my need to satisfy and even to impress the people around me.  I've learned that I can make a difference in my own and the people around mes' life, just by choosing to take on a positive energy instead of a negative.  Does this mean no more worries, no more struggle?  UHH,  no...  but I wish...  I'm new to it though so maybe in time? 

For now I spend my energy in the attempt to reconcile at least some of the past and plan for a brighter future... I've weighed and measured the pain and the anger I've experienced in the past, trying to understand it's root.  I've found that there really is no value to the anger at all,  anger and pain leads to fear and fear is rarely a valuable thing for me...   Fear of dis-approval, of failure and of never measuring up, has cost me far too much. It cost us all to much.  so why do it?  Easy to say, not so easy to live, but I'm trying.  We should all be trying harder to do that!

Much of the recent events have had me feeling rather down about humanity in general.  I've lived through some very trying family issues associated with my mother, and recently with people closer to me, and I've seen and felt so much sorrow and pain, followed up by anger and even hate.   I've been sickened by some of it so much that I can't stand to sit by and stay quiet.  It makes me wonder:
why are people so fast to cover pain with anger?   I'm sure there are biological reasons for some of this, but as I put more faith in a persons power to reason this only works to a degree for me.  Maybe the next step of human evolution isn't telepathy or super smarts...  maybe it's a simple ability to control our anger...  Why can't we recognize that " i love you...  yes we have issues, yes things end, maybe we shouldn't be together, but because I love you let's do the right thing. "  If there was ever love between people, why can't they see through it and realize that causing more pain on top of the existing pain has only the result of even more pain!  I do believe that certain people have traits that don't mesh, and that some people will just by accident cause others to feel lessened, or just that they don't live well together.  When that happens it is best to recognize it and move on, but does it have to be driven by anger and hate?  I don't think so.  but it happens most often.
Why do people have a need to hate in groups?  My own family was deeply divided when things came to a head here...  I watched as well planned divisions were enacted that I sadly doubt will be overcome.  When my mother and I quit working together I received so much anger and even hostility from so many of her "friends" and every time it made me wonder why?   How is it OK for a grown woman, especially those who end their hateful emails with religious signature lines, to write a friends own son and tell him how much you hope bad things happen to him?  I got everything from threats to boycott cakefest, to a nicely written email from a TV cake show host, in which she told me I needed to do some soul searching, and straighten up.  This long time friend of my mother"s who had always greeted me with a hug and a smile, decided her best cause of action was now hate me because of the gossip she had heard, to a point where when she saw me next in a crowd of people, she grimaced, turned her back from me and ignored me when I cam to say hello.  Why??  In all of my soul searching ( and I've been doing it veraciously) I have never found a reason to take that path, but I have sure as hell thought about it!

Talk the talk, walk the walk?  I don't claim to have it figured out, but I do think I'm coming to some sort of an understanding with it.  (I hope)  I've seen way to many people jump to conclusions, point blame and even hate on a moments notice.   For what?  Many claim to be religious, yet act with complete contempt for people that they previously had loved...  Why?  I'm struggling more and more to control my own anger directed at people that don't think to stifle theirs!  Why can't we all, even in the darkness of what ever negative event is occurring, realize that adding more negativity and anger to an already painful and trying task leads to nowhere but more pain.  More negativity and more issues to resolve later?  I think about the friends of my mother who were so quick to write me and to shun me.  Where are you left, if my mother and I settle our differences?  on that day, you're left holding a bag of hatred and regret for a man that you never really should have hated.  You shouldn't have hated him firstly because it was not your place to do so.  Secondly because as your friends son, you should support and love him, even though he has issues with his mother, your friend, and finally because  hating him is just plain wrong! 

This is just a thousandth degree of the things and situations that I've experienced lately.  None of it seems to make sense to me anymore.  It doesn't make sense to me because there is no sense to it!
Divorces end with families placing blame, former spouses locked in battle over nothing really, hating each other with vigor and friends taking sides.  Why?  relationships fail because of what ever reason, and instead of moving on and supporting the people you once loved, you place blame, you point fingers and you say, this is your fault, while the people around them suffer.  I've heard so many people say that their focus is on the good and positive role they can take, yet spend all their energy chasing the tail of hatred and revenge.  I just don't get it...

Like I said I don't really have any answers...  I have ideas, I have hopes and yes even a few dreams...  My idea is that people should stop, look and listen before they jump to conclusions, and open the door to anger and hate.  I struggle with it too, we all do, but I Hope that someday I  and the people around me, and even that you will see that life is so much better when we say no to hatred.  Say no to causing or furthering anger and pain and instead stand beside those we've stood beside before and  to realize that they need you as much as you need them.  My dream is that someday, all this will be behind me.  That I'll get a bit more figured out and maybe the ones I love, my friends and family and myself will find happiness.  I hope you find it too...

peace n love


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

a busy couple days and a life changing experience

My head is full of thoughts and ideas today so forgive me if i come off of point in this blog!  In the past couple of weeks I've had some amazing experiences, been through some very painful moments and learned so much about my self and  those I love and at the risk of sounding cliche, I really feel I've learned a lot about life in general. 

It's actually sort of funny that the instant I wrote the last line about "life in general" i realized that though I feel  like I've learned so much, I feel like gaining that knowledge comes at the expense of far more questions and even a bit of confusion!  Let's start by talking about where I've been and why...

August 30th 2012:  I find myself sitting on a plane being asked to turn my cell phone off.  It was a brutal moment for me as there were some serious personal issues at home that, short of walking off the plane, I was helpless to do anything about.  I turned off the phone with a whirlwind of things on my mind.  I was scared, angry and feeling very helpless, as I was facing a long flight from KC to Lisbon, Portugal, cut off from the situation and powerless to help resolve it.  I wont go into the specifics of what was going on, but it was hard to leave, and even harder to imagine being gone for over a week with a job to do, all while things at home seemed so unstable.

Upon arrival I was greeted warmly by Francisco and Nelson, who were very happy to see me, and soon we were on our way to Obidos, a city within a ancient castle, and site of the event I was to take part in.  I tried to forget the troubles at home and focus on the job i was expected to do and it became much easier with ever person I met.  Teresa H is the head of  the Association Nationale Cake Design, or as I think of it, the Portuguese version of Ices. There are some very big differences between the two, and I much prefer their version!  I was blown away by the spirit and friendship that was shared with me.  So many talented and excited people, all just wanting to learn and share their energy with me.  I guess I was guilty of  the typical American ideology, believing that we in the USA have a patent on cakes and creativity, but I quickly learned otherwise!  I was very impressed and humbled by the quality and creativity of the people there, but even more so by the fact that there didn't seem to be the politics, the exclusivity and limitations I've frequently experienced at home.  So often in the US, i meet people that believe they hold the keys to different techniques, styles or even believe they have the power to make or break others within our industry. ( and by industry I mean the general creative world of cakes)  Way to often I have found people who claim to want to advance our craft, really stand for themselves and the perverse power trip they get from being admired.  I've struggled at times with my own security issues, doubts and concerns about someone coming along and doing it better than me too, but I've never tried to convince anyone, nor believed that I knew "the way".  I've found that there will always be someone better, and someone who does it differently than me, and in Portugal they seem to embrace this!  Maybe it was the language barrier, but of all the people, things and emotions I came to love about Portugal, that was my favorite.  The freedom to do what feels right, even if it differs from the instructed techniques or accepted "way" and the willingness of the people to so openly welcome outside ideas, even to embrace the difference was very refreshing!  In my 8 days in Portugal I heard far more people refer to what we do as an art form, than I may ever have.  That is how they seem to live their life.  It's an art form, and as much as we seem to think we live to the fullest, I find myself wondering if we even come close to getting it right. 

I was everyday in awe by how friendly and open Teresa, her family and the Portuguese people were with me.  I had friends at every turn, and a drink in hand every chance they got!  It made the mess my life seemed to be at home, much easier to stomach, and I feel changed by it.  I feel bettered by it, and that's a hard thing to come by these days.

Sept 9th  Honor Flight Meet n Greet
    Having only been home a day Carey and I gathered all of the donated supplies and food for our first real event with Honor Flight.  The luncheon was designed to be a meeting for all the veterans who were going on the flight and their families, as well as format to share information with Vets, families and guardians about the upcoming flight.  We stayed pretty busy serving food, but afterward I got to chat with several of the vets about their experiences and their excitement about going on the next flight.  As you may know, we are working with Honor Flight Network KC, to produce a series of short documentaries about their work, the experiences of these deserving veterans and the flights themselves.  Most of the footage will be used to promote HFN, but some will be included in the TV pilot we are now in production of.  It was a very emotional day as these men shared their excitement and very often stories about their experiences in combat during WWII.
It made us want to download all of their stories, from memory so that we could share them all with the world. We loose on average 1000, of these veterans a day, imagine the stories of lives lived, lost forever...

Sept 11th, Patriots Day and the 11year anniversary of 9-11.
What a day!  Sitting aboard the plane with my new friend Jack and 50 more of the nations greatest heroes, I was excited!  We had arrived at the airport at 4 am and in spite of the early hour the energy level of these men and women was outstanding!  I'm so used to traveling with a younger crowd, I didn't know what to expect, but as we taxied out to the runway these veterans were full of energy, the youngest was 84, the oldest 94 years old!  every window was filled with the face of a deserving veteran, excited to see the world outside,  many were so enthralled by the world outside they seldom took pause to look away from the world below as we flew to DC.  As I said, I'm so used to the more common crowd of modern travelers,  most often the shade is drawn and very regularly the traveler never lifts the shade to see the world outside!  It was fun to see these men and women enjoying something so simple that so many take so for granted today.  We've become so accustomed to the modern age, we don't stop to think about what we're missing right outside our window...

The reception at the airport had me in tears...  As we neared the terminal, the US Airways ground crews were poised to welcome these heroes.  Fire trucks used their cannons to form an archway that the jet taxied under, while baggage handlers sped along side with their baggage carts covered with welcome signs and flags!  instead of the normal orange cones, ground handlers held American flags and everyone on the tarmac, stopped and waved at the plane, smiling, waving and some cheering for these men.  My new friend Jack had been on a Sherman Tank crew in the European Theater during WWII, and as tears filled his eyes he explained that he had seen nothing like this in his life.  I was proud to accompany him on this pilgrimage.

After reaching the Jetway, Jack was greeted by several active duty uniformed veterans, soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen.  They greeted my friend Jack as only another veteran could.  Firm handshakes and solemn thank yous were presented, accompanied by some deeply meaningful salutes.  As we made our way up the Jetway, we found that US Airways crews had come from all over just to decorate and welcome them. 
The most moving moment was as we got nearer to the terminal, as we could hear music and people cheering!  My new friend grew several inches in his wheelchair as people shook his hand, cheered and thanked him for his service.  People hugged him, patted him on the back and a member of the Veterans guard, a group of motorcycle riders that dedicate themselves to protecting the rights of vets, stopped Jack, bent over and excitedly handed him a small US flag and exclaimed: " way to go sir,  way to show em!  you guys really kicked some ass over there!"  Jack burst into a sort of laugh, and tears filled his eyes.  I could barely stand to push him through the crowd, as I didn't want it to end for him!  We continued along as we were on a mission to meet our bus, but all the while people were stopping us, thanking him for his service and frequently giving him a well deserved and long overdue hug.  I was proud to be an American that day more than I think I have ever been.  Proud to be with so many deserving and sweet men and women, proud to have been allowed to share in the journey, proud to see the goodness and respect so many people showed to these veterans!  Throughout the day we visited the memorials dedicated to these men, and all of them seemed so full of youthful energy and zest that I couldn't believe their average age was more than twice that of mine!  many stories were shared and many memories brought back to the front of thought for these men and women.  In a word, amazing.

Finally after each veteran had received mail-call on the return flight, which consisted of letters from family, local school kids and even senators and fellow veterans  we landed in KC at nearly 10:00pm.  16 hours after we had embarked on our journey.  Most of the vets felt like it was over, but much like they had received in DC, the good hard working people of KC came to welcome them back.  I watched as once again the received cheers and handshakes, hugs and heartfelt thanks, and I couldn't help but notice the type of people who had taken the time to show these men the gratitude they so very much deserved.  There were no doctors, lawyers or men in suits.  Instead the halls were lined once again with even more of the veterans bikers groups each holding full sized flags, airport employees, and average everyday people.  It seems to me just as it was then that the greatness of this country does not and has never depended upon the upper class and wealthy.  It is founded on the everyday, hard working and sometimes down and dirty men and women, who often receive less of the "American dream", but seem to hold it closest to heart.  In 1941, our greatest generation gave up their lives, their families and their way of life to serve our nation and the world in it's hour of greatest despair and need.  Years spent from home under fire in strange lands, friends and family killed in action, lives changed forever and the freedom of the world preserved.  They gave up their "today" to ensure future generations "tomorrow"...  They have faded quietly into history.  Their stories lost, and forgotten.  The simple joy of looking out an airplane window, and a short trip to Washington DC their only real reward.  But never did I hear a single complaint.  These men and women know what price they paid, and the reward, though sometimes unseen, is the satisfaction they each share.  The knowledge of a job well done, a nation served, and a people saved.  WWII was won by the PFC.  not the general.  Most of the men on Honor Flight, were your everyday average "Joe"  average Joe's who shared a common trait; uncommon valor.

We can't wait to continue working with them and to hold Cakefest in their honor.  each flight is monumentally expensive, and even more important as time is now the enemy.  Since the previous flight 17 veterans passed.  17 veterans wont get to experience the gratitude so due to them. Join with us to help get as many of them as possible the respect and gratitude they have earned.
see you soon, at KC Cakefest...

peace n love

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"We Cant all be heros" (KC Cakefest 2013)

We've been so busy since the last KC Cakefest that we've seldom had the time to really get down and dirty with the 2013 event, though we have been working on it all the while.  We have been laying the ground work for the show and we finally have enough to really run with it!  We've talked with some great veterans groups including the Tuskegee Airmen, Commemorative Air force and our sponsored charity Honor Flight!  We're excited to work with all of them, and Honor Flight will be our Official charity, though we will do our best to help promote and further the work of all three in addition to simply trying to say thanks to veterans of all of our armed forces, with cake!

The 2013 show will be at the Exhibition hall of Kansas City's Municipal auditorium, in beautiful downtown Kansas City.  This venue is a huge step up from our last event and we go from having 1,804 sq ft of vendor space to having a staggering 18,000!  That's 10 times the space for vendors, family activities and cake related demonstrations!  Additionally the space for the "greatest show in cake" is nearly 4 times as large!  The Exhibition hall is an awesome example of art-deco architecture, and is perfect for our retro themed show! 

The entire 2013 Cakefest is intended not just as a great cake event, but also a great "Feel Good" event in which we, as a tightly knit group of cake peers, come together and do what it is that we do best!  We celebrate, and stand united in our continued quest to further the sugar arts!  What a better way to show our thankfulness for the freedoms we have, and opportunities available to us in the greatest of nations?  We owe our freedoms to the men and women who fought to provide those freedoms for us, and by doing what we do (cake) we can say thanks to the people who deserve it most! I think it's best summed up by the Will Rogers quote, Honor flight uses as their slogan...  "

"we can't all be heroes...  Some of us have to stand on the curb and clap as they go by" 

2013 KC Cakefest will include all that you saw last year, only done to an even higher standard!  We learned so much from the previous event and although it was met with high praises, those of us who designed and put together the show know it wasn't half of what it could have been!  This year, we promise to get it right!  we will settle for nothing less!

Some of the improvements will include, More vendors, and a better flow of traffic within the new hall.  More demonstrations with quality sound at each demo.  More cupcakes!  We'll do our best to not sell out as fast.  We went through many thousands of cupcakes last year and our amazing group of cupcakeries, led by Simonie Wilson did a great job trying to please our sweets seeking guest! 
The live competitions will have better lighting and sound, with a much improved video documentation service.  We want the experience for our guest in the crowd to be as close to the TV experience as possible, but LIVE!  We have a dedicated group of volunteers that will help ensure guest have a less stressful day, by providing knowledgeable information and support.  In a nut shell, we plan to streamline the event so that guest can make the most out of their experience, and not be left wondering where to go.  In addition to the weekends cake events, we'll be hosting some honored veterans, and sharing their story as well 

We were lucky to have such great support for this past show, but we are even more excited by the massive surge of support we've encountered since then!  KC Cakefest was un-like any other cake show, and this coming 2013 year it will surpass the mark and truly be what we dreamt it would be!  There is so much to do and see that we can't even begin to list it all!

Very soon you'll be able to go to and get all the info you need.  We will be taking registrations for the cake show, volunteers and much more!   We need your help and we'd love to see you at what's quickly become THE cake show of the year, and the best part is the meaning behind  the event!  Not only are we creating great cakes and having an unforgettable time, we're giving back to those who gave so much for us! 

I have been honored in my life to have known many truly great American Heros.  From Lyle Caspari, a customer of my fathers auto shop, who was a tail gunner on a B-24 on the missions to Ploieste, to a cake friend of my mothers who closed his bakery in 1939 when he was recruited to fly BF-109's for Germany, my sisters and I used to work for a very sweet man who served in WWI, WWII, and Korea.  Even my Band teacher in High School, who fought in the Vietnam Conflict, and Mr. Whitehead, a  US Marine/Vietnam Vet, who guided me through a tough time in my youth.  I can't begin to list them all,  as I've been blessed to know so many and even more blessed by the fact that so many of them took an interest in my life and helped to shape me into who I am today.
I was befriended, often as a little boy by so many and I will never forget any of them, for what they did and shared with me, and more so for the price they payed so that I could grow up with the freedoms we so often take for granted!  I plan to share some of the stories in future blogs, and we will have a place to share your story on the new 2013 KC Cakefest website!      

Remember to trek over to to learn more about their mission

Peace N Love

Friday, August 3, 2012

a sour taste in my mouth (cake taste vs sculpted design)

in just the past few days a grooms cake I did has received a ton of attention.  at last count nearly 700,000 people had viewed it and I got to reading some of the comments about it.  This can be hard if you don't have a tough skin as many people will bitch and complain about just about anything!  One of the most common comments was something to this end: " too bad cakes that look this cool taste so bad"  It got me to wondering , "why in the hell do people assume that because a cake is a work of art or more specifically sculpted, that it taste badly?" 

The answer is that for many decorators there is a trade off when it comes to doing sculpture cakes.  Somehow within our group, the folks who are known for doing sculpted cakes have propagated the idea that sculpture cakes have to be made from some other sort of cake, and often that means the flavor has to suffer.  I want to know who made up that rule! (I'd like to take them outside and beat them with a spatula)

We've all seen our TV counterparts ( ace and buddy) make cakes from pound and sponge cake.  I once saw buddy pick up a sheet of cake with 2 hands on each end of a cake that had to be at least 3 foot wide.  This cake didn't crack, tear or even so much as bend...  I can't imagine that a cake with this sort of properties could possibly taste good.  When we did our first Cake Off my mother got as recipe from an extremely well known cake personality for the cakes she uses on TV shoots.  It was more of a dense bread than a cake, but in her defense this is a what she uses on TV only, she doesn't serve it. 

This idea that cake must be "different" ( meaning more firm, harder and less moist i.e. more like a brick!) in order to be sculpted has even shown it's face just about every time I do cake classes and require my students to supply their own cake.  I've had well meaning students show up with obscure recipes for "sculpted cake only" variations of what I can only describe as "a cake substitute", believing that this is what is required to make a cake sculpture. 

The following paragraph is bound to rattle some cages as there is a huge rift within our industry between those who scratch bake and those who use a pre-made or "box mix".  scratch bakers market the practice as being better in many ways.  "Fresher", "more pure" and better tasting than the alternative.  Scratch bakers insist that their product is better because of the time and labor involved and people can be very addimate about it, but this isn't a debate about which is better!  We use a mix...  Not because I believe that scratch bakers are wrong, or that base mixes are better, but because it works for us!  I can't even begin to tell you how many times I've heard from clients that we have " the best cake they ever tasted"  all of them assume that we did it from scratch, but really we relied on the millions of dollars that the suppliers have spent perfecting their product and the fact that most of the public palate has become accustomed to the taste.  We juice it up a bit, but essentially it's the same "Betty Crocker" mix you buy from the grocery store! ( I'm so going to get emails from scratch bakers telling me theirs is better! and also from those who claim they don't like "box mix", but in all the years I've done cake I've never had a client complain about the taste, not ever!    Companies like "Betty Crocker" and Pilsbury spend millions of dollars, and do tons of research and focus group testing to determine the best and most marketable product.  I don't know any scratch bakers that can do that!  ( but of course yours must be better , right? LOL)

Getting back to our original topic, there is no difference in the type of cake that we use in sculptures then there is in any simple round or tiered cake, nor is there any justifiable reason for there to be!
If a decorator has to rely on a different mixture, whether scratch or box mixed to create a cake sculpture then there is something wrong with their technique! 

Cake is a terrible medium in which to make a sculpture.  This is because it's soft, gives over time and has very little strength in both the crush direction or in tensile strength.  The better the cake in taste even, the worse it is at "holding up" under the load of fondant and butter cream.  Gravity is the biggest adversary, and many a cake has failed because the Earth's pull was stronger than the structure inside the cake.  Perhaps this problem is why the false idea that cake must be firmer and by default yuckier (is that a word?) in order to be successful.  Let's work on changing this perception!

I live often hours away from most of my delivery locations.  To get from my bakery to the highway requires driving down my bumpy driveway to the often rutted and washboard filled county road.  From there I have an hour at least before I reach my closest deliveries, and I can tell you being in the car, bouncing and getting warm takes it's toll on even the best engineered cake designs, yet to date I have never lost a cake to our enemy, gravity.  This is because I understand that no matter the type of cake, it has limitations.  These limitations mean that I never go over 2 layers thick without support (unless the third layer is very small), I always over engineer my support and I refuse to rely on "rice crispies" as a structural element!    Additionally it's important to remember the slope and length of the surface your covering in fondant.  Fondant is heavy and it will only allow you to hang it so far before it will rip your design apart!  The more vertical the surface the more likely it is that the weight will become too great and the result is a cake that your client will not appreciate, or even worse as I saw first hand on a TV show, cause the cake to crumble and fail all together.   I don't have an exact formula for what constitutes "too much" of a slope or length, but if I feel any doubt about a cake holding up as I'm putting it together, I change the way I'm doing it! 

Seams are another place of likely failure.  Just as a sidewalk will crack and fail at the joints, so will your cake.  Sidewalks are designed with these stress relieving seams so that the larger area doesn't crack and fail.  Intentionally adding seams to fondant is essentially the same as adding relief joints to your cake.  It will crack there and you will be very unhappy!  If covering something tall (say a building) in fondant, I always make sure that I use a single sheet large enough to cover the entire piece including both sides.  It has to be done quickly and preferably with help.  The moistened butter cream cake ( meaning I misted it with a spray bottle of water) is covered with a single sheet of thin fondant.  My rule of thumb for fondant thickness on any design is "only as thick as it must be to cover the imperfections in the butter cream"...  When I'm using fondant on any design from round to crazy sculpted, I seldom smooth the cake entirely.  Often I have fondant structural elements under the final layer of fondant that serve as a sort of skeleton (covered in my DVDs).  These elements work just as a real skeleton or formers and give extra definition to the shape once covered.  The fondant covering must be thick enough to hide these, yet thin enough not to wipe them out and add extra weight.  It's something you learn by trial and error, but generally it's between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick.

Finally the biggest "trick" to creating sculpted cakes that look as good as they taste is to not let the cake do the work!  Many cake sculptures don't really require much structure to stand up, such as cars and such, but more complex designs should be thought of as miniature building projects.  I design my cakes so that the cake really is only a filler and the structure does 100% of the work.  Many of my structures look just like a building under construction.  They have a solid foundation, a main supporting pillar and several "floors" ( cake boards) and the cake only occupies the empty space in between levels.  I've done many competitions both on TV and off and I can tell you that I've had some strong comments from the people who dispose of them afterwards that they are flat out hard to destroy!   

The "foundation" support of the "Ultimate Cake off" swimwear fashion show cake

Note how the finished basic structure looks like a building under construction.  I only use PVC pipe as a spacer, never as a structural element!  It's been cut to 4" lengths to space each "floor" and to cover the iron pipe supports.  In this design Dawn foods sheet cakes were used and each level was essentially a large sgeet cake!( or several mated to gether anyway)
we used over 200 sheet cakes!

Here's the finished structure.  We were only asked to provide 200 servings of cake so the questionable elements such as the tall spires and front gate didn't justify being done in cake.  The potential for failure and the 9 hour time limit dictated that we do them in foam.  They spent several hours disposing of this cake after our Cake off Victory!  They tried to tip it over even to no avail!
The finished cake from our championship cake off episode! 

Another fun competition winning structure.  you can see in the left corners of the lover level the additional PVC spacers used to keep the corners from sagging.  This was repeated on all 4 corners.  The roof section was for the mock up of the design.  The castle was part of the competition element and started life as one that can be purchased.  I cut it up to suit my needs obviously!
The finished product.  We won with this design and we were the only design that had actual cake in the design!  We actually finished this one quite early as the design really is quite simple

Cake sculptures don't have to be tricky or a cause for worry.  It's all in the planning and pre-cake work done before you ever start carving cake.  Both of the designs above used essentially grocery store sheet cakes bought on location to avoid having to ship so much cake!  I could have used angel food cake or whipped cream to fill the spaces as the structure honestly does all the work!  Admittedly, it would be a chore to serve all of these cakes, as the structure causes some difficulty, but when a client pays you to create something of this magnitude I feel it better to peeve the caterer who cuts it than to show up on site with a cake that has disintegrated in the back of the delivery van!  I've seen it happen to others and it's a very sad sight indeed!

 We're working to finish a DVD that includes all the basics of structure building and even some fondant work too, and it will be out in the next couple weeks.  So, go build something already!
just make sure it taste as good or better than it looks!!!!

Peace N Love


Monday, July 23, 2012

sometimes from failure comes opportunity

Some of you may know that since my first few times on TLC, I'd been courted by a handful of production companies who work with various networks.  At one point things were very heated and I had a small army of people all of them focused on getting me on TV.  I had agents trying to recruit me, marketing professionals working for me and even ( and this was the dumbest thing I ever did) hired an overpriced "PR" firm.  The PR firms job seemed to me to be to hype things up and make up titles for me like "ultimate cake artist" and basically, bull shit their way through everything!  For a while it seemed like things were really going somewhere, but all the while I felt lost.  I felt like I was trying to do something that wasn't really me.  I don't mind putting on a show, look at Cakefest, but when the pressure leads you to consider being something you're not ( or at least pretending to be) it'll eat at you, and it really ate at me!  At one point I was straight out offered a show.  The network explained that they really wanted to work with me and all I had to do was take on the moniker of "king of chocolate"  and call the cakes I created, sugar art instead of cake, and use chocolate more often....  WHAT?  look at my work and if you find chocolate on any of my designs, it's because I was eating a Hershey's bar and got messy!  I would be lieing though if I didn't say that for at least a moment, I didn't considered it.  The opportunity to do something great, make an actual paycheck and pursue some of my own desires to create something good and positive, briefly overpowered my need to be honest.  But, hey... That's TV... and I've gotten smarter since then!

In the last couple weeks, I almost let myself do basically the same thing.  Things are heating up right now and if you've read any of my other blogs, you know that several TV shows are casting (or have already cast), and out of the blue, I was offered spots on 2 of them.  I hate to admit it, but I even briefly accepted one of them, only to get smart and later piss of the producers by backing out.  It wasn't a good fit for me.  I struggle to see how it could have been a good fit for anyone really, they offered very little, and by design they intend to make things very tough and drama filled.  The real kicker was that it was yet another re-hatched competition show.  Exactly what you've seen many times before, even with similar themes, but with a slightly different twist.  I've seen way to many people accept the prospect of TV without really considering the possible outcome.  In reality, I know way to many people that wish they hadn't let themselves become involved.  There really is a degree that you must settle and sell out to do these shows, and I hate that we are all so willing to do it for the 30 minutes we get to be on TV, and I'm included in that group!
I've bitched and moaned so much about TV that you would think I'd avoid it all together, but truth is I love shooting shows. (ok, so I'm a bit of a show off) I love what opportunities I've been given because of my silly little role on these silly little cake shows. I get to do what I love to do and that is to be around really great people!  To create things like Cakefest and to get to share my work with people at charity and educational events is one of the greatest gifts I've been given and I'm very thankful for that, but TV also has an after taste!  And it can be really bitter...

So as they say when one door closes, another opens, and here we are.  I've decided to stop complaining and give this idea of ours one final push!  We've been asked for ideas and pitches for the type of TV show you all know I've been saying needs to be done.  A show that is up-lifting, with as little negative or contrived drama as possible, and one that I'd be really happy to watch myself.  It's not that there aren't a few shows out there that are positive, but few celebrate the very core of what it is that we as HUMANS do, and what it is that I've become a sort of expert at...  Celebrating life!  We want to celebrate the celebrations,  the love between friends and families, the very core of what makes us human!  Even when things seem dark and cold there are bright flashes of genuine good out there that are too often over looked, and we need your help to find them! 

We are looking to you for help!  We need you and we want to hear about what you're doing for someone.  A friend recently told me of a older gentleman he met standing in tears outside of another friends restaurant.  He was standing next to a brand new Mustang convertible, and explained that he had just retired that day and had come there with his wife for dinner.  It seems he had always wanted a Mustang, but could never afford to buy one for himself, a story many could tell, but his family surprised him with it and I can't imagine the emotions stirred inside that deserving ol' guy!  Why wouldn't everyone want to share in that story?  What are we celebrating here?  A dude getting a new car?  NO!  It goes far deeper than that, by sharing his story we share the story and struggle of so many really good hard working people just like him.  Maybe we don't all end up with a sweet new "stang, but damn it we ought to!  Even deeper than that is what really drives us all internally as humans; Love...  In my line of work I get to see some really beautiful manifestations of love.  I'm there to deliver a cake usually, but sometimes a guy comes along that reminds you what the core of every celebration is really about. ( see my "when reality isn't real enough" blog)  Sometimes people love someone so much they buy them a car, or close off an entire neighborhood to surprise them on their birthday, but usually we just love em!  We all love somebody, and maybe just by watching a silly TV show about celebrations and love, we can be closer to them?  Maybe we can come to understand that we all have so much to celebrate even when it seems we don't?  There is already too much negativity and drama in the world today, lets find a way to change that, even if just 30 minutes at a time!

So, I'm asking for you're help.  If you're planning something, even something much more simple than giving someone a car, give me a call or email.  We're excited to hear about what you're doing and with any luck at all, we may just be able to share your story!  All I can promise for now is that we will have a chance to pitch the show to several networks, but we intend to keep a completely positive spin on it and even if the networks don't have the use for something good, we plan to do episodes as web cast.

A good thing is always worth doing, even if nobody ever knows you did it.  It feeds the soul, lifts the spirit, and gives us even more reason to celebrate!  Celebrate with us!

Peace N Love


Monday, July 9, 2012

What's the plan??

A friend of mine that I've worked with in the past recently found out that she can't continue doing cakes.  It's nothing terribly serious but it keeps her from doing what she's done for many years.  It got me to thinking, What's my plan? 

    You all know my stance on our industry...  It's tough, the money sucks and the time involved is ridiculous!, But since I'm still booked for a good chunk of the near future, I'll still be doing cakes on atleast a part time basis.  My clients come to me and expect me to help them choose the right cake for them.  They put their trust in me, and as my reputation is good they rely on me and have faith that I will deliver what I promised I would.  but what if I can't?

My friends medical issues got me to wondering.  A question I've never been asked by a client is "what happens if you can't make my cake?   I have on the bottom of my order form a disclaimer that states that I'm not responsible for things that are out of my control; weather, riots, power outages and etc.  ( I also limit my liability to the value of the cake, for what it's worth)  There is no mention of a plan, nor have I given much thought to the scenario of what happens if I become un-able to do your cake.  Some weekends it wouldn't be a huge problem, as birthday cakes are not such a big thing that the customer couldn't just order somewhere else, but weddings, and bigger corporate cakes?  And what happens if it's very short notice?  What if on friday morning something happens that keeps me from accomplishing the work at hand?  How would my clients even know their cake wasn't coming?  What's plan "B" 

Our industry is a very unforgiving one.  If you take your car to a mechanic, and a week later the repair fails, you have it towed back.  You go to your doctor and she can't quite figure out what's wrong with you, she prescribes a pill.  If you get well, great, if not you come right back and pay her to prescribe yet another pill, but cake clients are not so forgiving.  The nature of cakes is they are for an exact occasion and needed by a finite time, or they are good for nothing.  A wedding cake can't be delivered after the ceremony, nor can any cake be used for it's intended purpose, once the event it's for passes, so, in a sense there is no better late than never, late is as good as never.  In my day to day operations we plan ahead!  We start our deliveries early so as to allow time for problems.  If I have a flat tire, the extra hours I planned for deliveries allows for that.  I try to allow enough time before the absolute delivery deadline to allow me to make repairs, fix errors and on occasion find my way to a unfamiliar venue (not that I've ever been lost!)   Some of the other issues are out of my control; like a venue staff that in spite of the fact that they knew I'd be there needing to drop off a cake by 11:00 aren't ready with a covered table until after 1:00, or a traffic jam created when some guys Jetta burst into flames (true story)...  These are things I plan for and when the van is full of cakes, I worry about every saturday, but still I have no solid plan for an issue that keeps me from being physically able to make a clients cake. 

In my friends situation, she called me and asked if I would be willing to do them for her.  This seemed like a great plan until she tried to explain the facts to her clientel.  Besides that fact that brides are rightfully worried about finding out that the cake artist they had chosen, is passing the work on to someone else, there are other concerns as well.   In this case my price is higher per serving than hers, so I agree'd to honor her price as I hate the implications of trying to raise the price.  First it looks bad for her, and secondly it's really not fair for the client.   It also can be seen as though I'm just sticking it to them, because of something that is out of the clients control, adding insult to injury, so to speak.

My point to this blog is to point out a potential land mine for all of us.  It's nice to imagine that our clients would understand, even be greatful that we found an alternative decorator for them, but after dealing with the current situation, I've found we can't expect that.  What are the legal ramifications of not being able to or for some reason beyond our control failing to deliver the work we promised?  Imagine a bride who, having failed to recieve her cake, considers her entire wedding ruined because you had the nerve to have a heart attack as you strained to pipe the design on her cake the night before.  Can you even blame her for being upset?  Well, maybe but in truth her wedding was damaged because of something that you did have control over and if we fail to plan for the worst, we may find ourselves not only out the money lost because we didn't get to deliver the cakes, but being sued for damages as well.

Maybe I'm the only one who thinks about this stuff, but it would seem logical that no matter how small the business or how few cakes we do that somewhere there should be a "worst case scenario plan"in place.   Maybe in a metal cabinet that says "break glass in case of emergency" or tacked to the wall but we should have some sort of plan. 

I know conventional cake person wisdom says "do it no matter what", but I've had clients call in a panic, and explain that another decorator had taken their order, often many months before, only to call the week of and back out for some reason.  Relating it again to my former profession, cars, I can tell you that even as an individual, if you agree to a sale and back out, you're in big trouble if the buyer wants to push it.  What if you agree to sell a car that's worth $20,K, for 5 grand, shake hands or even take a deposit for it.  Then later that day a guy pops up and offers you 10K, twice what you already agree'd to!  do you screw the first guy and sell it?  I know of people who have successfully sued not for the 5K they were spending, but for the full value of the car,  You could end up owing the first buyer twice what you got paid because you wanted the extra cash.   can the same be true for cake?  Could you end up owing them, or at least being sued for the value of the party, ruined because you didn't do the cake? 
My friend contacted me well before the decision was made to have me actually do the cakes.  She went over the designs and I can rest asured that the clients will get a great cake, and i have no problem doing them, yet when she contacted her clients, many of them did freak out even though a plan was already in place to accomplish the goal of providing a great cake.  Some have calmed down after talking to me, while a few are still worried.  (if you're reading this and this is you, FORGIVE ME!  we've got you taken care of!)      

For now I'm off to tweak my contract a bit and include atleast a provision in it that covers my butt if the situation ever arises!

Peace n Love!