Click on photos to enlarge.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Cake Art

An authentic birth day cake by Michelle Wibowo--save a piece for the baby.
There seems to be some kind of inextricable link between art and food. Whether it's gourmet food presentations, or food still-lifes, or food used as a sculptural medium, or that which is associated with a pastry chef. In the past, I've dealt with all these permutations of gastronomic art. Today, however, it's the latter that has come to intrigue me. We've all marveled at the delicate, tasty art of the cake decorator, everything from a crude "Happy Birthday" in a barely legible scrawl across a homemade surface of butter-cream icing, to towering, over decorated, architectonic, wedding confections made possible by the modern-day miracle of marzipan. Pretty, but one might not want to venture near them, especially in earthquake prone zones.

For those Italians about to travel abroad, a confection emulating the
Vittorio Emmanuel Monument in Rome.
In discussing "cake art" I want to set the bar quite high. I'm not interested in cake decorating (or overdecorating, as the case may be). Anyone, with a little practice and a reasonable case of eye-hand coordination can do that. Years ago, in teaching high school art, I had an optional project which encouraged students to design in class, then bring from home, a piece of edible sculpture. Usually this meant cakes, but veggies, breads, even the creative use of cookies sometimes appeared. Students were to first draw three full-size views (west, north, and top), indicating materials to be used and color choices. There were, of course, disasters--poor engineering, transportation problems, structural failure of materials, or often simply poor planning. Nevertheless, each was accompanied by a "learning moment." There were also some surprising successes. One student even "invented" a new sculptural media--Rice Krispies (aided and abetted by marshmallow creme). The classes loved it. In each case, I photographed the results for the archives. Then, after a suitable period of discussion led by the artist (usually quite brief). we all gathered about to "evalueat" it.
For the photo enthusiast, by Patricio Domenech--no camera bugs I hope 
What I want to emphasize here, as then, is that I'm talking about cakes that don't look like cakes. My students were amateurs, of course, but at a professional level, I would expect to hear the words: "That's a CAKE?!" Such creations must, of course, be totally edible and presumably taste good (and in good taste). Even the best examples of most cake artists' endeavors have a tendency to, well...just lie there awaiting oos and ahhs and, flash photos, and finally, ingestion. Cake sculpture, should stand up and demand respect, even beyond the words, "it's too pretty to eat." There should be gasps of disbelief that all but eliminate even the thought of mastication. As with all great art, there should be consummate skill. That goes without saying, but it's the creative element of pastry art which matters most--not how did she (or he) DO that, but the WOW! factor.
For the seafood lover, Karen Portaleo's Octopus.
Karen Portaleo's Dog in a Bag.
Karen Portaleo's Pug. Wouldn't you hate
to slice into anything so cute?

 Winbeckler's Elvis cake.
At or near the top of the professional cake sculpture world are two artists. Karen Portaleo and her team at the Highland Bakery in Atlanta, Georgia, have created cake sculptures (above) for the likes of Demi Moore and Sir Elton John among other celebrity clients. They specialize particularly in animal-inspired creations. Karen is self-taught. Roland A. Winbeckler is not. He began decorating cakes in 1971, working in retail bakeries. After 10 years, he started his own company, A-J Winbeckler Enterprises. Working out of Redding, California, he and his wife, Marsha, produce and sell instruction books, offer professional cake decorating classes, and market specialty cake decorating supplies through their web site. Winbeckler may be the most astounding of all cake sculptors. His specialty is life-sized cake sculptures of famous personalities such as Cher, Elvis (left), Marilyn Monroe, Wayne Gretzky, Colonel Sanders (bottom), Princess Diana, and others--for those who look "good enough to eat."

 Roland A. Winbeckler's Colonel cake. But is it "finger lickin'" good?

No comments:

Post a Comment