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This post is an editorial, so no fancy pictures, just my thoughts. However, unlike most editorials that take a definite position, this one is filled with ambivalence.
When I tell people what I do for a living, their first question is always, “Oh, so do you watch the cake shows?” I know just what they’re referencing, of course: The Cake Boss, Ace of Cakes, the Food Network Challenge, Amazing Wedding Cakes, etc. The list seems to constantly grow with no end in sight.
Many cake artists, particularly those who began before the birth of the “cake shows”, hold them in a certain disdain, feeling that they trivialize the art, have caused a saturation in the market, and distort the amount of work involved in creating a cake.
And they’re right: Reality shows like The Cake Boss, Ace of Cakes, and even the Food Network Challenges edit many hours of work into 60 teeny tiny minutes (48 if you don’t count the commercials). In reality (or perhaps I should say real life), the cakes you see on television take many, many hours of work. Even for the Food Network Challenges, in which competitors are limited to eight hours of work time, the designers spend countless hours beforehand preparing for the competition. And anyone who’s ever even attempted to decorate a cake knows that 60 minutes flies by at light speed.
Since the birth of the cake shows, custom cakes have become commonplace if not mandatory. I have seen a definite increase in the number of custom cakes, not to mention sculpted cakes, ordered for events that used to require a sheetcake. What fans of the shows don’t often realize, however, is how much work a cake entails, so when they request a Prada shoe on top of a basketball held by an iguana, they are usually shocked by the cost.
As for the saturation of the market, many new cake design businesses have popped up since the preponderance of the shows, but this need not be seen as a negative. While some cake designers argue that competition is bad for business, I maintain that it actually forces us to raise the bar. Like any business, without competitors, we risk becoming complacent. Rather than being stagnant, competition forces us to better our skills and become better artists. Competition offers an incentive to innovate, too, so that new products are constantly introduced and are made more widely available, making us more efficient.
Although some cake artists resent that reality television has elevated a handful of cake designers to celebrity status, I’m glad our work is finally being recognized for the fine art that it is. The difference is that unlike a painting or a sculpture intended to endure for time immemorial, our work is designed to be temporary. For a lucky few, reality television has captured their art on film and will preserve their work, if only in the public’s consciousness, indefinitely.
Oh, and by the way, I’m way too busy to watch the cake shows.
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