Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mold Making Fun - Online Store Review - Decorate The Cake!

It's been a while since my last post - but hey, Lauren Kitchens is a tough one to follow!  Today, I thought it's time for a new Online store review.  It's no surprise that Decorate the Cake is one of my favourite online stores.  If you are a faithful reader of my blog, you also know that I have recently joined forces with DTC as one of their product testers and guest bloggers - a job I take very seriously (especially since it is ALOT of fun!).

The owner, Melissa, makes all of the molds and veiners to order!  Her floral veiners and molds are the most realistic I have ever seen and used - probably because she uses real flowers and leaves to cast her originals!  Her customer service and response time are out of this world!  I have never been disappointed with anything I've ever received from DTC, and they often offer free shipping on orders over $100!  DTC works with many sugar artists to bring you molds and veiners that they use in their instruction.  Whenever possible, DTC is the place I go to ensure my students get good quality tools!  In fact, students that will be taking my upcoming high heel class, will not be going home with just their creation, but with a DTC heel mold as well so that they can make more shoes!
That's it for today.  I'm off to work on macaroons.  There are also more interviews and contests on the way.  I like getting feedback from you guys, so keep the comments coming!

Until next time, Happy Caking!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Another Guest Tutorial at Decorate The Cake's Blog by Yours Truly!

Hello fellow cakers!  As divulged last week, I have been working on another guest tutorial for one of my favourite online shops - DTC!  A special thank-you to Brian of FoamStudio for the ultra fast shipping of the former so that I could complete this project!  Check out the tutorial here:

Until Next Time
Happy Caking!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

You asked for her, and here she is......Baker's Dozen with Lauren Kitchens!

Hello cake boys and girls!  At the end of my last post, I asked you who you'd like to see interviewed.  One of those names that received many votes was the beautiful, the talented....Lauren Kitchens!  Within hours of putting the idea out there, Lauren replied and we got the train moving!  She is amazingly talented and we are so lucky to get to pick her brain!

Morsels By Mark: Lauren, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer these questions. You are amazingly talented. Where did you learn the trade?

Lauren Kitchens: Thanks so much, Mark. I’m not from the pastry world. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Film and Art History. Throughout college,  I was making cakes and trying to find direction and inspiration beyond the Wilton world. Don’t get me wrong, Wilton has brought cake decorating to the mainstream by making tools and classes available in every city for decades, but I was looking for challenging work to push me. This was about the time when the Internet was starting to boom. But there was still no cake on-line, and certainly no cake-TV.   I was able to get my hands on Colette Peters’ first book. That book was breathing with inspiration and imagination. For a lot of us, she guided cake instruction and decoration into the next generation.

MBM: Who are your inspirations in the cake world?

LK: I am inspired by any cake artist who is able to blaze their own path. Whether it’s Ron Ben Israel with his consistently mind-blowing perfection, Mary and Brenda Maher and their strong artistic presence, or Anne Heap with her delightful style and brilliant mass-marketing…. The list goes on and on.  I continue to be inspired and impressed with cake sculptors. These are the ones who excited me and make me want to be a better artist. Karen Portaleo, Debbie Goard, Roland Winbeckler…. Love them all. Mike McCarey has been the most influential for me as far as setting the bar. His work has changed the way I look at cake decorating and what is possible. He continues to influence the cake world and keep the bar raised to untouchable heights.

MBM: If you were to describe yourself as a cake, what kind of cake would you be and why?

LK: Hmmmmm. Not topsy turvy, not a traditional tiered cake either. Geez, Mark, it’s always hard for me to be introspective. Ok… I will throw the question back at you. If you were to describe me as a cake, what kind of cake would I be?

MBM: You would be a Ron Ben Israel wedding cake - beautiful, yet classic and elegant.  Well structured and awe inspiring!  (Yeah, it wasn't a hard question ;) )
MBM: You are well known for competing on the Food Network. How do you prepare for such a competition?

LK: That’s a difficult, energy sucking, expensive stress machine that I take very seriously, maybe too seriously. Challenge is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Giving birth was easier for me!  In order to succeed it’s vital to have an acute knowledge of the techniques you are bringing to the show, but you have to be organized! If you don’t know how to organize your plan of action, or your kitchen set-up, your timeline or your assistant’s duties,  then you can’t succeed well on that show no matter how talented you are. The show is set up for you to fail because that’s good TV.

     The one thing that is most valuable for me in preparing for a Challenge is to do a timed run-through at my shop. My assistants and I get everything ready, we even arrange our worktables into the layout they have on set. We start the clock and give ourselves 8 hours. I never finish the cake in 8 hours the first time, but at least I know how to tighten up the timeline before we leave for the actual competition.

MBM: What is your favourite flavour of cake?

LK: Any chocolate cake with sea salt caramel and toffee. A little ganache won’t hurt either. I like ‘em dark and a little satly!

MBM: I have to say, I have a small cake crush in you. Do you have any cake crushes?

LK: Mark, you’re such a dork! (MBM: sounds like I'm interviewing my wife!)  That’s sweet.  I have a huge crush on Kate Sullivan in New York. Each of her cakes are precious pieces of art.  Paris Cutler of Planet Cake in Australia. I love her style. And she has managed to turn her cake boutique into a successful school as well.  Wayne and Chuck at Swank Cake…I will look through their Facebook cake portfolio every week to see if they’ve posted new cakes.

MBM: What is the one cake toy you can't live without?

LK: The Ateco round cutter set and my I-wata airbrush.

MBM: You are one of the most popular celebrity instructors out there, especially for your "muppet" cake class - do you have any plans on releasing an instructional DVD on Muppetizing to reach a broader audience?

LK:  My plan for 2012 is to release my first cake instructional DVD. I know I want to focus on cake structure and sculpting because that’s what most decorators ask me about.  The Muppet class is such a fun class to teach, but the interaction that I have with the students would be lost with a DVD. Each student Muppetizes someone they know, so all of the Muppets at the end of the day are different. It’s just as much a caricature class as a modeling chocolate/sculpting class. The students wouldn’t be able to get their specifics needs met with instruction from a DVD. This class requires an intimate setting.  (MBM:  Note to self - try and get LK to Montreal :) )

MBM: What is your favourite thing about our industry?

LK: Facebook. It has become a strong avenue of communication and exposure. It is quickly building up our cake community. I have met many cake decorators and formed important business relationships and friendships through Facebook. It also allows all of us to post pictures of our work and, as well, ask for help. It is invaluable to our industry.

MBM: What is your least favourite thing about the industry?

LK: Yeah right, Mark. Like I’m gonna answer that one.

MBM: What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

LK: “Challenge is either won or lost by the time you leave your shop.” – Mike McCarey

MBM: Who would you love to design a cake for?

LK: I would love to make for Andy Warhol. Just a stack of random sculpted cakes like a bike wheel, a cup of soda, a trashcan, and a bowl of cereal.  He would probably stand back and give a quite, “Cool.” He wouldn’t be picky, especially since he defined art as anything and everything around us. Even if the cake had some seams and dings he would say it’s art. Easy customer!

MBM: Do you have any advice for budding cake artists out there?

LK: Yeah. Keep making cakes. Make a cake for any one or any reason. Make a cake just to take a picture of it. And photograph all of your work. Nothing will help you more in your craft than practice. And there are so many resources out there for beginning cake artists. The Internet, books, DVDs, cake shows and competitions, cake TV…. It’s a good time to be a beginner!

Again, I want to really thank you Lauren for taking the time to deliver such a fun interview!  Even in written word your bubbling personality comes through!!!

Keep the requests coming guys!  I will try my best to get you the interviews you want to see!  Have something you want asked, let me know in the comments section and I will build it into that interview!  I have a few more projects in the works for other sites including Decorate The Cake and The Foam Studio.  Keep checking back here for updates as to when they are posted!

Until next time,
Happy Caking!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Baker's Dozen with a legend - Ron Ben Israel!!!!!!!

Hello cake boys and girls!

As many of you know, last November, I was extremely fortunate to learn from the Maestro of sugarflowers, Ron Ben Israel.  Not only is Ron a great mentor, but he is genuinely warm and friendly.  Ron was gracious enough to take time out of his VERY BUSY schedule to sit and answer a few questions, I hope you all enjoy the outcome!

Morsels by Mark:  Hi Ron. Thank-you for taking time out of your hectic schedule to answer these questions. I was stunned in class to learn that you had read the blog!  What drove you to a career in cake?

Ron Ben Israel: It was good to have you in class Mark, and to know that you scheduled your first teaching experience right afterwards.  It was all a chain of events that I never planned on. I started baking professionally in Toronto, ON, while I was taking classes on scholarship with Toronto Dance Theater.

When I moved to France to apprentice with another dance company, I continued supplementing my income baking "Les Brownies" that I learned in Canada. Eventually I ended up in NYC, and by "accident" met Colette Peters while shopping for cake pans. Soon after I took a class with Betty Van Norstrand who became my mentor and friend.  I was in a transitional period in my life, having to retire from dancing, and was able to use my previous art training and discipline in a new exciting way.

MBM: You have background in dance and are accustomed to performing for crowds. Do you get nervous before teaching a new set of students?

RBI: I don't get nervous in front of crowds at all; teaching is delightful for me, as I get to re-asses the materials and improve my methods. The self-doubt and anxiety is kept hidden from the public, and is reserved for uncharted styles and techniques.

MBM: What is your favourite piece of cake decorating equipment?

RBI: A sheeter. We currently have three - a large one for rolling fondant in the kitchen, and mid-sized one for long sugar ribbons, and a small one for sugar flowers.

MBM: You have designed cakes for some pretty high-end customers. Who would you like to design for that you haven't yet?

RBI: I would love to design and deliver a cake in person to the Queen of England.

MBM: Please explain your design process. Where do you go for inspiration?

RBI: Inspiration is everywhere - I talk to the clients about their event so that the cake design will be relevant to them. I start with the cultural background, and end up with the location and the time of the year.

MBM: What is your favourite aspect of the industry?

RBI: Making people happy!

MBM: What is your least favourite aspect?

RBI: When I can't make people happy...

MBM: What is your preferred type of cake to work on (ie Wedding, celebration,...)?

RBI: I am devoted to pretty, romantic, and chic cakes. I would probably never produce funky cakes if I didn't have a crew with such a twisted sense of humor.

Ron teaching how to make a fondant bow
MBM: Do you feel that the influx of cake based tv shows brings positive attention to our craft, or do they just provide our customers with unrealistic expectations (regarding price for size)?

RBI: I am so glad our profession is getting so much exposure on TV; I actually find that prospective clients appreciate more the time, effort, and talent that goes into making cakes.

MBM: Which is your favourite flower to create?

RBI: Roses and Cattleya Orchids. And hyacinth.

Ron and I in class
MBM: Seeing as your classes are so popular, would you ever consider coming out with an instructional DVD?

RBI: I would love to, I just need to find the time.

MBM: What is your favourite flavour of cake?

RBI: Candied Ginger. It's my own recipe, and so far nobody but myself like it.

MBM: What one piece of advice can you give the readers about the world of cake?

RBI: Practice at lot, and get exposure to teachers and professionals who can guide you

Ron has been one of my heros for a long time, and I am so fortunate to have met him and learned from him.  I cannot wait to take more classes from him in the future.  He continues to be a driving force in our indutry and truly is an inspiration! 

Stay tuned for our next Baker's Dozen.....Sharon Zambito.  Sharon and I will discuss her new DVD, and who knows - maybe there'll be something for one of my lucky readers!  I also want to know if there is anyone in particular you'd like interviewd and what you'd like me to ask them!

Until next time
Happy Caking!