Wednesday, November 18, 2009

30 years Later, I'm vindicated by the Cake Boss

Many people enjoy complaining about reality shows, because, like griping about there being no good Chinese food in town, it can really help you feel superior to those around you. Personally, I finished High School, and I love some reality shows, so the complaining-about-reality-shows magic doesn't work on me.

A recent favorite is the show Cake Boss, which is about a guy in Hoboken named Buddy Valastro, who has the classic New Jersey accent (which most people from New Jersey claim does not exist). He and his employees at Carlo's City Hall Bake Shop make the most incredibly inventive and artistic cakes imaginable, which are then eaten. This makes them like Tibetan Sand Paintings, only delicious.

In one episode there is a meeting of two highly creative cultures where Buddy and his crew make a robot cake for a hackerspace party. It's not some lame sheet cake with a computer generated robot decal on top, nor a flat cake cut in the shape of a robot. It was a 3-D motorized robot, driven by Buddy using remote control.

Another episode reminded me of my own brief experience with creative cake design. It was 1977 and I was in the Cub Scouts, which is pretty much the extent of my military experience. Anyhow, our pack was going to auction off some cakes to make some money, and there would be prizes for the best cakes.

I was very interested in airplanes, particularly airplanes from World War I, so I decided to make a Red Baron plane as a cake. This presented a couple of challenges. One was that mixing red food coloring in with vanilla icing resulted in pink icing, no matter how much food coloring I used. Another was the whole business of how to hold up the top wing of a biplane. I had already given up the idea of making the Fokker Dr. I triplane that people associate with the Red Baron, which was fine really, because earlier in his career he flew the Albatross DIII, a biplane. There were some monoplanes used in WWI, the Fokker EIII being a good example, but biplanes are just cooler.

I did not know what great building materials rice crispy treats and fondant, (used extensively by Buddy's team) are. I didn't even know what fondant was. My Dad and I did come up with the idea of using cardboard 'struts' to hold up the upper wing, and that worked quite well.

Needless to say, the biplane stood out among the cakes in the shape of race cars, and the cakes in the shape of cakes, but with a picture of a race car on top. I ended up winning 1st prize, but as is always the case, haters gotta hate, and when they found out there was cardboard in the cake it caused a minor controversy and some comments about 'oh no what if I accidentally eat the cardboard?'. I ended up getting my picture in the paper, but in the caption they described it as a 'pink airplane', which pissed me off, because as mentioned earlier I was not exactly thrilled that the red hadn't worked out.

30 years later I'm watching Cake Boss, and Buddy gets a job designing a cake for an Air Force event. Of course there has to be a an airplane as part of the tableau, and guess what, Buddy uses a wood scaffolding and builds the plane around it using rice crispy treats and fondant. Next to that airplane, my airplane looked like the Wright Brothers plane, or even that plane with a hundred wings that folds up like a lawn chair in that funny clip. Still, I was glad to see that using cardboard was perfectly fine, as even a cake genius like Buddy needed to use something non-edible but sufficiently rigid to hold the airplane up. The Air Force airmen didn't whine about 'oh noes, there is wood in there!' They loved the cake, and as always the episode ended with everybody happy and agreeing that life is wonderful, especially when you're doing something you love.

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