Sure you can eat it, but how well does it screen test?

A few of you folks seemed to think I came down a little hard on the whole giant decorative cake concept (which I will henceforth call the “entertainment cake”) in my Friday post. I’ll dispute that, since what I think I was really doing was stating a preference. Some cakes are meant to be looked at (at least first and foremost), some are meant to be eaten. I’ll stick my fork in the latter variety, though I’ll admit that a great “eating cake” doesn’t necessarily make good television.

A fellow by the name of Warren Brown found that out during the short run of his Food Network TV show, Sugar Rush. Those readers who’ve been with me from the very early days of the blog may remember me commenting on that program, which I always considered a squandered opportunity. The show could never quite make up its mind what it wanted to be: a fussy technique show or a wham-bam entertainment-type vehicle. A few of its 25-or-so episodes have aired on the Food Network as recently as the fall of last year, though as far as I know no new episodes have been made since 2006. Indeed the program’s single enduring claim to fame seems to be that it “discovered” Duff Goldman and Charm City Cakes, the subjects of the Food Network reality show hit, Ace of Cakes. It was the producers of Sugar Rush that first put that colorful crew on TV, then, much to their own detriment, continued to return there, apparently in an effort to maintain a little flash and sizzle on their show.

They didn’t realize, evidently, that they were creating a monster. Soon, the Food Network simply decided to give Mr. Goldman and his operation their own show, one which quickly eclipsed Sugar Rush for its raw ability to entertain. Suddenly it seemed like Ace of Cakes promotional ads were all over the Food Network, and the show was quickly given a prime evening slot. As for Sugar Rush, well, I can only imagine a Food Network executive sitting at a desk, trying to decide which of his pastry-centric programs to keep. On the one hand he has the dreadlocked — though quite handsome, cordial and urbane — Warren Brown talking about chili pepper-inspired truffles and trompe l’oeil icing techniques. On the other a bald, manic, rock n’ roll head-banger from Baltimore, whipping dragées at his employees and building cakes that shoot fireworks. No contest.

I don’t much miss Sugar Rush, I have to say. It wasn’t good TV. However I have no doubt the kinds of cakes and pastries Warren Brown talked about on his show tasted a heck of a lot better than the stuff that’s made on Ace of Cakes (which happens to be great TV). Given the choice, I’d buy a cake from Mr. Brown’s D.C.-based Cake Love in a heartbeat over one from Charm City Cakes. Is there any place for an entertainment cake in the Joe Pastry universe? Sure, I can think of lots of them. Cakes that lean heavily on their crazy look over their flavor and texture are great for big parties, some weddings and especially big corporate and civic promotional events (which is where a lot of Charm City’s output seems to go). It’s a niche that somebody needs to fill. I’d just hate to see people start to think it’s what real layer cake is. Great cake and great entertainment are, after all, very different things.

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