Kaysie Lackey was recently featured in the Bangalore Mirror while she was in India teaching classes on her famous sculpted character cakes. You can read the full text of the article below the image.
Shivani Kagti mybangaloremirror @timesgroup.com
At a cake decorating class that American pastry chef Kaysie Lackey was conducting at Lavonne Academy of Baking Science & Pastry Arts recently, the students were quite bemused when their instructor stuffed a cushion under her chef’s coat and strutted around with her fake belly protruding out. They were in the middle of constructing one of Lackey’s famous sculpted cakes – a Tim Burton- esque character called Higgins who was standing, quite miraculously, on one fondant covered leg while balancing a three-tiered mini cake on a platter. The grey-faced Higgins, incidentally one of Lackey’s favourite cake characters, was a pot-bellied chef and Lackey wanted her students to carve the creases around his tightly-buttoned chef coat as realistically as possible. Lackey was using her stuffed cushion belly as a model.
A self-taught pastry chef, who has proved her mettle on reality shows such as Cake Wars and Last Cake Standing, Lackey was named one of Martha Stewart’s top 63 pastry professionals in 2014. In 2015, she made it to Dessert Professional magazine’s Top 10 Cake Decorators in North America.
But allude to her celebrity status and Lackey laughs it off with “I am cake-famous...only cake nerds know me”. Nonetheless, it’s truly surprising that Lackey never attended culinary school. Other than a handful of basic baking classes, the 36-year-old went through dozens of recipes and picked up her skills through trial and error. “There were no YouTube videos or online tutorials back when I started out (about 10 years ago) so you just had to just figure it out yourself.”
What did help her out though was her background in fine arts and sculpture. Before she found her calling as a cake artist, Lackey had completed a four-year Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts at Belmont University, Nashville, which gave her grounding in studio art, art history and painting. However, realising that she couldn’t hack it as a “starving artist”, Lackey decided to switch gears and moved to New York to work as a make-up artist in the fashion industry. Four years later, she found herself getting fed up of her routine and was looking for a change. “I remember watching these cake shows on the Food Network channel, and I just got it into my head to try and make one for my older sister’s birthday (with whom she was living in NY). From that point I started doing cakes for friends. And I realised that I enjoyed it.” The turning point, however, came when Lackey made a Chanel bag cake for a friend which went to a posh restaurant in NY. “I left about 15 business cards at the restaurant just in case anyone was interested and I got some 30 enquiries after that,” recalls Lackey, who then realised that she had a chance at a new career. She moved back to Nashville to start her business and her mother, who she describes as an “old-fashioned Southern cook”, became her apprentice. This was about nine years ago. Today, of course, Lackey is known for her gravity-defying cakes. She also established her bakery The People’s Cake in Seattle, where she’s currently based, but lately, her focus has been solely on conducting classes. “Now, I only take about 5-6 wedding cake orders on a special case basis. I usually travel about six months in a year taking classes.”
Having travelled to 31 countries, including India this year, Lackey enjoys this part of her job tremendously – despite having to lug up to 230kg of pastry equipment. Pointing to an open black suitcase piled high with Sugar Shapers, colour dust, pastry knives and innumerable odds and ends that look like they came out of a hardware store, Lackey tells us how she’s often pulled up at airport security for her bottles of powdered food colours (“they probably think I am trying to smuggle drugs”). She also shares a list of ingredients with the organisers from the host institute that, more often than not, runs into five pages. “In different countries the raw ingredients vary greatly so part of the challenge is to figure out the right quantities and recipes. In India, for instance, there’s compound chocolate which is very different from the modelling chocolate that I work with.”
At Lavonne, where Lackey conducted three cake decorating classes – one for Higgins, another one where they made a cute Koala bear sitting on a branch and a three-hour demo class on the A-Z of cake modelling – about 33 people attended. Right from making the metal frame or the “skeleton” for the cake to the “flesh” or vanilla sponge cake and chocolate ganache filling and the “skin” or fondant covering – students had to make everything from scratch. While Higgins was a three-day class (students spent an entire day on the face – “getting proportions right is a challenge,” as Lackey explains), Koala was a two-day class. With her years of experience though, Lackey can finish a Higgins cake in eight hours.
"I am lucky that I came about this organically. I have taught myself and learnt through mistakes which meant that I was never rigid about how to do things." –Kaysie Lackey
When she’s not away conducting classes, Lackey is busy sketching new ideas for her cake characters. From a green alien creature to Alice in Wonderland-themed cakes and tattoo-inspired cakes, Lackey loves to experiment with unconventional ideas. “I love my characters to have a sense of humour. Otherwise, after a decade of doing this, I would suffer from cake burnout,” says the vivacious pastry chef with a laugh.
Reminiscing how at age 11 she broke her mother’s cake mixer when she botched up a cookie dough recipe, Lackey’s story is truly inspirational. Calling her career as a pastry chef, “a hobby run amok”, she adds, “I am really lucky that I came about this so organically. I have taught myself and learnt through mistakes which meant that I was never rigid about how to do things.” In fact, in many of her classes, Lackey would show students pictures of the first cake she made for her sister as an example of how everyone has to make a start somewhere! “I love it when a student in my class makes a mistake – it allows everyone to learn something valuable.” Heartening words, indeed, for amateur bakers who are learning the ropes the hard way.
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