Ace of Cakes

I missed the first episode or two of the new Food Network series Ace of Cakes, and to be honest, wasn’t really looking forward to catching up with the third one. Most of what I’d seen of Duff Goldman (his fireworks-shooting cannon cake and other exploding delights featured on Sugar Rush) left me feeling pretty unenthusiastic about his new show. Come yesterday morning, it had been sitting on my Tivo hard drive for almost four days. Well, better get this over with I thought to myself, and hit the red button.

Honestly, I was surprised. It wasn’t half bad. Instead of the gonzo cake-baking calamity I was expecting, it turned out to be a very watchable workshop reality show, a sort of cake-oriented American Chopper. Granted, they didn’t make it easy for me. The first few minutes of the episode were entirely devoted to a spilled bag of gold dragées. The commentary ran: “Someone may have put the bag away open, or maybe it was a faulty bag with a hole in it, we really don’t know what happened”.

Um…got anything else guys?

As it happened they did, fortunately. Turns out Goldman’s Charm City Cakes is a pretty interesting place. It’s a cake-only baking operation, really a sort of cake studio, populated by an elite group of very talented young designers and sculptors. And I guess bakers, but then the camera never showed either an oven, a mixer or a 3-bay sink. In fact the whole interior of the place exuded the air of a boutique marketing firm rather than a churn-and-burn cake kitchen. Charm City Cakes had obviously undergone quite a makeover, a la MTV’s Real World, in preparation for the show. Instead of stark white surfaces and the glare of fluorescent tubes were deep green and maroon walls, spotlighted by dramatic track lighting. I guess health codes are a little more relaxed in Baltimore, at least in the decorating room.

The personalities are sort of interesting, but what I really like about the show was that it truly seemed to capture the feeling of what it’s like to own a boutique food operation. The staff problems, the supply issues, and of course the frenetic pace that comes with the food business and its relentless parade of inflexible deadlines (the camera in the back of the rushing delivery van, with it’s quivering, teetering cargo of tier cakes was an especially nice touch). The customer satisfaction aspect was, I think, presented realistically, as a nice but all-too-fleeting pleasure amid a 6-or-7-day-a-week grind.

Of course the true stars of Ace of Cakes are the cakes, as it ought to be. They are nothing short of amazing. What else would one expect from a team of artists and designers, I suppose, but I was impressed. Even the simplest single-layer starter models were great looking, to say nothing of their high-end sculptural pieces. One signature cake, designed to look like a German shepherd sitting at attention, had an interior armature that was truly ingenious. What these things must cost I can scarcely imagine, but if Goldman is supporting a crew of ten on top of rent, a van, supplies and utilities, they must be very dear indeed.

So I guess for all my skepticism, Ace of Cakes proved me wrong. Though not really a baking show, it’s as interesting an angle on special occasion cake making as I’ve yet seen. With this in the lineup, I can’t imagine Sugar Rush is very long for this world (if it hasn’t been canceled already). Warren Brown, we hardly knew ye.

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