Debbie Goard’s hyper-real cake sculptures feed our appetite for both the delicious and the aesthetic. Question is, to eat or not to eat?
Debbie Goard makes cakes. They may look like dogs, frogs, birds and pizzas to you, but they are without dispute, deliciously edible cakes. It’s probably just as well that Debbie – a California-based cake sculptor has named her company ‘Debbie Does Cakes’ and removed any doubts about what she does for a living.
Earlier this year, Debbie was voted as one of the ‘Top Ten Cake Artists’ in North America by Dessert Professional magazine, marking an important achievement in the career of an artist who stepped into the world of cake decorating quite by accident.
“I’ve always been interested in art since childhood,” says Debbie revealing how she pursued her passion for art by creating murals and portraits for people despite missing out on a formal art education. Growing up, she even harboured dreams of a career in fashion designing.
Her turning point as an artist however arrived quite serendipitously in the form of a casual vacancy for a cake decorator at a bakery where she worked. Debbie’s transition from an ordinary counter salesgirl to star cake decorator at the bakery is the kind of story that Hollywood movies thrive on.
Debbie says, “I simply watched the departing decorator work for a week and then attempted my first effort. I’m happy to say I learned that I had a knack for doing this.”A few years later, following a stint at an erotic bakery, Debbie had an epiphany that made her decide to set up her own business – Debbie Does Cakes.
She says, “I have been incredibly fortunate to do what I’m good at and even gain worldwide recognition whilst doing so.” In 2012, Debbie’s first book – ‘Twisted Cakes: Deliciously Evil Designs for Every Occasion’ was published by Harper Collins establishing her as a name to reckon with.
When you consider the crumbly texture of cake or the way it disintegrates at the slightest pressure, one wonders if Debbie’s cakes are really nothing more than sculpted slabs of fondant. Debbie clarifies this misconception saying, “All my cakes start with basic flat sheet or slab cakes. I stack and carve these cakes into shape and cover them with a layer of buttercream. They are then covered with a thin layer of fondant or modelling chocolate.” She adds, “I try to limit the use of fondant .I strive to make the cakes taste as good as they look.”
Working with perishable materials too presents its own set of challenges: you have to work with speed and be constantly alert to temperature changes. “If I were creating a sculpture from inedible materials I could work on it for weeks, but that’s not an option when working with food products,” quips Debbie.
From creating cakes that look like real backpacks to those that look like well-cooked crabs, it does seem that there is little this cake sculptor cannot do. Debbie retorts with wistful candour, “I once made a 3ft-high replica of a bank that was way outside my comfort zone. My skills are definitely more suited to organic designs. Architecture requires so much precision with no room for creative interpretation.
I powered through and after nearly 60 hours of work the end result was a success, but to this day I have not accepted any similar work.”
Keen to distinguish herself from traditional cake decorators, Debbie points out, “Since I only make sculpted cakes I feel I can easily relate to other art fields. For me, a strong art background is more important than a culinary background. My exposure to many different types of art has made me a very versatile artist. My background is in fashion design, murals and commercial sign making.”
As a self-taught artist, Debbie has learned to improvise with the tools at her disposal. “I create masks and stencils for use with my airbrush, craft my own original clay pieces and then cast moulds of them for creating edible versions.”
With her fingers in many pies Debbie looks to the future saying, “Eventually, I will probably transition my business from bespoke cakes to education. I’m in the early stages of planning my next book.”
Text By Christabelle Athaide
Photographs Debbie Goard