Tag Archives: cake

A piece of cake

Passion and professionalism.  Can the two be combined?   I am very fortunate to have employment that embodies my love of teaching, food and the culinary industry. Of the many classes that I instruct, the Introduction to Cakes course can be one of the most challenging.   Many students come to culinary school with industry experience, however for many others this may be their first time in a professional kitchen.  When faced with icing a cake, this may be a stressful event for some students.  On the last day of class, the students are asked to assemble and decorate a cake in less than ten minutes.  Here’s a video of my demonstration for the class.


Passion and professionalism.  The goal? Put your emotional energy into trying to do something well, not into your reaction if it doesn’t go as planned.  In other words, try not to cry if a cake disaster strikes!  Does this mean I have no passion for cakes?  No, I just try to put the whole process in proper perspective.  Really, it’s a piece of cake!

Another great cartoon by JWU student Rebecca Ramey

Another great cartoon by JWU student Rebecca Ramey

How do you feel about cake, cake decorating, and the emotions that go along with this skill?




Food for thought

We commonly use food metaphors without even thinking that we are talking about……food!

“You are the apple of my eye.”

You are the apple of my eye.

You are the apple of my eye.  I credit my daughter with this idea.  Great job Tink!

“A piece of cake.”

It's a piece of cake.

It’s a piece of cake….or a whole carrot cake.  Yum!


“Mind your P’s and Q’s.”

Mind your P's and Q's.

Mind your P’s and Q’s.  Preserve the harvest: take care of your pints and quarts. Thanks Nanny!

“That’s a real pickle.”

That's a pickle of a problem.

That’s a pickle of a problem.  “Oh, pickles!”

“Keep your eyes peeled.”

Keep your eyes peeled.

Keep your eyes peeled.  Potatoes have eyes…..are they watching you?


“That’s a recipe for disaster.”

A recipe for disaster.

A recipe for disaster.  Honestly, some of my test recipes ARE disasters!

“You are nuts!”

You are nuts!

You are nuts!  Thank you.  I love nuts!

“That’s as easy as pie.”

That's as easy as pie.

That’s as easy as pie.  Really, not so easy, but so worth the work!


What is the origin of these phrases?  Why do we use food as metaphors for what we really want to say?  Food has always been and will always be such an integral part of our lives.  Of course we depend on food for sustenance, but it has become so much more.  Around the globe, we celebrate with food, compete with food, and show love for each other with food.  Just in our country alone, we have  everything from pig-pickings to oyster roasts, fish fry’s to apple bobbing, watermelon seed spitting tournaments to blueberry festivals, and don’t forget the ever-present “Bake Sale.”  Those examples are just some of the tame food related activities we enjoy.  Of course, there are more food events everywhere, but now we have plenty of television shows to fulfill every inkling of food curiosity we may have.  Food is everywhere.  So it makes sense for us to use food in our spoken language as well.

What is your favorite food phrase?  Do you every want to eat your words?


Creativity: Food as Art, Art as Food

In food education, we name the programs of study:  Culinary Arts.   The two-year degree though is called an Associates of Applied Science.  So how do we make the connection between “art” and “science?”  Often, people say that cooking is an art, while baking is a science.  What makes this distinction?  Do the two overlap?  YES!!!

When cooking, measurements are not always crucial to the final product.  A recipe may have the following instructions:  a clove of garlic, a bunch of chives, two chicken breasts and “season to taste.”  The exact measurements are not indicated as it is up to the chef to determine the amounts, according to the desired result of the final creation.  An experienced chef can estimate the proper proportions and predict the outcomes.  Therein lies the art of taste!  How these creations are assembled on the plate then requires the art of presentation.

During one of the “chapters” in my professional career, I worked as the first mate and cook on a private yacht.  The owner of the boat, an attorney, and his wife, a classically trained chef, went out to different restaurants for dinner six nights of the week.  On the seventh night, I cooked for them on the boat.  Why did they eat out so much? They believed in the art and entertainment of the dining experience.  They would examine every component of the meal:  how the hostess greeted them, the décor of the restaurant, the eloquence of their waiter, the font of the menu, the feel of the cutlery and the design of the china, and oh yes, the meal itself!  The food, though an important part of the meal, was not the only creative medium in the art of dining.  The choreography of the entire evening involved many interdependent components.  When dining out, how often do we think the food was good, but the atmosphere made the meal less enjoyable?

In the baking and pastry world, we follow formulas.  We think of a recipe as a list of ingredients, whereas a formula determines the exact amount of each ingredient with a specific method of preparation (MOP).  As we “eat with our eyes first,” initial appreciation of a product relies upon the presentation.  We value wedding cakes for their beauty, birthday cakes for their whimsy and sometimes we create sculptures of food for their visual appeal alone.  Although the eating of the creation may be a secondary desire, taste completes the experience.  So although the ratio of ingredients and the method in which the product is prepared can be considered a science, the art depends on the visual appeal.

I find joy in trying a new recipe, or adapting an old recipe by using the ingredients at hand, making substitutions to accommodate the tastes of whom I am feeding.  For baking, I make a rule of following the initial formula as indicated.  Then, through my knowledge of baking science (more on that next week!), I may make adjustments to please my palate or alter the texture.  When making wedding or birthday cakes, I spend more time at the drawing board, then the actual production of the creation.  These are just some of the creative aspects of the food world.

The photos included in this post offer a variety of artistic views of food.  Food art can be everything from the natural beauty of fresh picked strawberries, to sugar and chocolate showpieces, to a sculpture of the world’s largest lobster. You can decide, is it art?

How do you “create art” in the culinary realm?

Fresh picked strawberriesFresh picked strawberries, nature’s pure art!  Very edible!

Chef Duke's Cake, Food as Art

Chef Ellen Duke’s Fruit and Vegetable Cake.  This is edible art!

Chocolate Sculpture

Chocolate sculpture.  Never intended to be eaten, but smells really good!

Sugar Sculptures

Sugar sculptures.  Again, never intended to be eaten.

The World's Largest Lobster

World’s largest lobster! (Sculpture and kids, not edible!)                                                                                  Shediac, New Brunswick, CANADA

Einstein, in Toast

Toast “painting” of Einstein.  Technically, edible.  (Ripley’s Believe It or Not Exhibit)

Fresh Fruit Tarts, Plated Desserts

Fresh fruit tarts, waiting to be served in our school dining room.  Delicious!

Themed Mini-Cakes

Themed Mini-Cakes from our Advanced Cake Decorating Class.

Cowboy Cake

Cowboy Cake.  Edible.  In fact, it fed 400 happy guests! 

Why do we eat?

Why do we eat?  The easy answers:  to satisfy our hunger, to nourish our bodies, to feed our souls.  But is that enough?  When I was a young woman, my mother used to say: “the way to a man’s heart is by way of his stomach.”  I figured that in order to have a man fall in love with me, I better be able to cook.  Chocolate chip cookies….the first gift for my first boyfriend.  Good enough?  Well, I needed more. That initial motivation, to find a man, soon morphed into a love of cooking.  So, I started learning from my grandmother and my mother.  Later on I learned from a chef for whom I worked and following her suggestion, I eventually I went to culinary school to become a pastry chef.  I am still learning and I hope that my desire to learn will continue.  Some people have a stack of novels on their bedside table.   For me, there are cookbooks.

Growing up in a household that never purchased any sort of sweet other than Girl Scout Cookies (bought only to satisfy the charitable need), my mother baked everything.  She found joy in pleasing others through her cooking.  She baked for our family, our church, our neighbors, and anyone else who looked like they needed something to eat. She would spend hours searching her cookbooks for the perfect recipe to make for a particular function.  Did my mother eat everything that she made?  She would taste it, but the real joy for her was in the sharing of her creations.  I share that joy now, and so often find more pleasure in the challenge of production than the taste of the final product.  But just like art, the sharing and mutual appreciation of the work gives the product more meaning.

What do we eat?  I believe that food should be a personal choice.  We select what we put into our own bodies. So, just like the clothes we wear or the hairstyle we choose, food is a choice.  Many people eat just to fill their bellies or satisfy the whims of their taste buds.  Does your life revolve around your next meal or do you eat whatever happens to be available when the hunger strikes? Your answer to that question may vary from the time of day to the day of the week, or with your mood.

This blog will explore topics related to food and pastry, the artistry involved in its creation, specialized diets, instructional videos and lots of photos.  I hope to create interest in food, not only as nourishment, but also as a vital connection between us.  So often, we celebrate with food, share time eating together, share recipes, memories and stories. I think we can all relate to this intriguing topic.

Why do you eat?

My son helping his grandfather blow out the candles, celebrating his 90th birthday.

My son helping his grandfather blow out the candles, celebrating his 90th birthday.