Yep, you got it. I’m one of those tattooed food workers. Despite my having been initially inked over 20 years ago, the fact that I have turned parts of my body into artists’ canvases and work in a commercial kitchen has shoved me into a category of “stereotypes.” I hate stereotypes, don’t you? Yeah, yeah, they all stem from some semblance of reality, but really, are they any more than a way to label someone without really getting to know them?
But I digress…
Folks often ask what happens to the treats I make while experimenting and creating. Well, if the results are edible (believe me…some are not), the treats often go to friends, neighbors and my laundry lady who thankfully keeps me in clean clothes. But, there are those rare times that I am inspired to really stretch my wings and do something special, and I always have a recipient in mind.
I so wish our fabulous Blog Editor, Linda Roy, were writing this as my brain works in crazy spirals and tangents. Please forgive the following crazy mess of a blog entry as I hope you will agree it was worth it.
Some months back I decided to take a few condensed courses in sugar paste flowers. The craft combined many worlds about which I’m quite passionate so I took naturally to the techniques taught. However, due to my full work schedule and limited personal funds, I decided to invest in some basic supplies and continue my education on my own. Through much success and failure, I learned what worked best for me.
Returning home exhausted after long, hot days in the Alecia Bakery NYC kitchen, I would have normally collapsed onto my bed with my pug, Lenny, and the tv remote. But learning something new, that I had admired since I was a teen, gave me a second wind every night. With Lenny laying at my feet, I molded and painted a field of flowers. Roses, orchids, lilies, peonies and hydrangeas, filled and brightened my apartment. Another perk of my new found creative outlet was that my brain felt less “fuzzy.” Stresses of the day dissolved into the background as I made stamens and petals.
It was inevitable, of course, that I would feel the need to challenge myself further and create a miniature pug. The perfect size to top a very special cupcake or peeking out from a bouquet of flowers on a much larger dessert, the little fella proved more challenging than one would think. But, my determination trumped my need for photorealism. Soon, I had an ever-growing grumble of cartoon-like sugar paste pugs.
It was one of those little pugs that pushed me in the direction of edible lace. My bridal pug needed a veil and therefore, I needed to learn a new technique. Not one to just dip my toes into the shallow end of the pool, I jumped into the deep end with no intention of drowning. I made sheets of beautiful lace in all manner of patterns and delicateness. Amidst the ocean of white, stood one tray of midnight black. That tray was destined for a group of very special friends.
You see, as I was learning to model these amazing pieces meant to adorn cakes destined for momentous occasions such as weddings, anniversaries and notable birthdays, it struck me how similar my new creations were to the beautiful ink that adorned my body. Both tattoo and special event cake artists regularly face the same challenges and questions from clients:
- “How much do you charge?”
- “Why are you so expensive?”
- “I want a tattoo/cake exactly like this one!” (Just don’t do this. Just. Don’t.)
- “Why does it take so long?” (aka “If I order my cake today, why can’t I pick it up tomorrow?”)
The list goes on and on, but I believe the #1 question asked is “How much does it cost?” If you are one of the millions of people who have asked a tattoo and/or cake artist that question, you know there is no simple answer. There are a myriad of things that must be taken into consideration and it was that myriad that brought me to the realization of how two seemingly different industries are actually incredibly similar.
You know the old adage, “You get what you pay for?” Well, it is supremely true when it comes to tattoos and special event cakes. Both can initially seem pricey until you really consider for what you’re paying. There is a world of difference between a $20 tattoo from a flash sheet and a $2000 tattoo that is an original piece of art drawn specifically for you. Just as the vast differences are obvious between a $20 sheet cake that serves 50 from the local supermarket and a $2000 tiered special event cake that includes multiple fillings and handmade sugar flowers painted to match your bridal bouquet that also serves 50.
Now don’t go jumping to conclusions that I am some sort of snob. I am not, by any means. You can ask my friends! Yes, I did nearly give my mum a heart attack when I told her my exquisite Sylvia Weinstock wedding cake (served 125) was going to cost nearly $4000 (in 1999). But, I can also get down with a box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese with the best of ‘em and have a handful of 20 year old flash tattoos! What I am is a person who carefully takes into consideration what truly goes into creating something and thus its perceived value.
All of that crazy, tangential thinking brings us to today. I could have taken anything to my friends at Sacred Tattoo NYC. They never ask. They never expect. They are always appreciative. They are the kind of friends for whom you want to do things. But my brain wouldn’t turn off (it never does) and I had to create something that utilized my recently honed creative outlet as well as aspects specific to my friends and the tattooing industry.
For two weeks, I kept my secret. As my friend and website designer tweeted last week, “I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but I get too excited when I [buy] something for someone! It’s like I’m 5, and I just can’t resist spilling the beans!” Let’s just say that it has taken every ounce of self control for me not to tell anyone about my plan.
So, I present you with my latest special event cake. Comprised of four layers of vanilla bean cake covered in honey buttercream; the strawberry buttercream filling was specifically chosen for the one Sacred Tattoo family member who is somewhat fussy about flavors and has a love affair with strawberry Poptarts. Handmade roses and sugar skull elements are classic images which are regularly paired in tattoos and flowed perfectly in my mind and on this cake.
Oh and hey! If you’re in the market for some extraordinary, original body art, my friends may be perceived as “expensive,” but they’re worth it! Be sure to check them out and if you’d rather your art adorn your walls rather than your body, you won’t want to miss Sacred Gallery NYC which is adjacent to the studio.
This is the breakdown of today’s cake. What is the perceived value to you?
Size: 8” round
Weight: 7 lbs. 10 oz.
Cake: vanilla bean
Filling: strawberry mousseline buttercream (contains house made roasted strawberry puree)
Icing: honey buttercream (contains local honey from the Union Square Greenmarket)
Decoration: edible black sugar skull elements, 35 red gumpaste roses, 24 gumpaste leaves
Time investment: 7 days to complete