COURTESY OF REVE
Rick and Sasha Reichart designed what they call "The Packages Cake." It is topped with a strand of pearls, wine glasses, shopping bags and other whimsical hand-crafted items.
Artists take the cake
Edible works of art bring beauty and whimsy to special events
IT'S NERVE-wracking to watch pastry chef Abi Langlas lift the top tier of a wedding cake, ease it onto the dowels rising from the larger base, and slip her fingers out of the way just before it falls into place. She manages this task without even smudging the rolled fondant sugar dough, which gives the cake a smooth porcelain finish. But for Langlas, who owns Cakes by Abi and also crafts the inventive pastries for the Honolulu Coffee Company's shops in Ala Moana Shopping Center and the Moana Surfrider, it's all part of the artistic process.
On this day she is preparing a cake for 60 people attending a wedding at the Willows. The bride wanted an ocean theme, and Langlas made note of the nuptial colors so she could incorporate them into the decor. Langlas gained local attention with her edible recreation of a Fendi bag so realistic that some guests at the fashion-themed party last month almost tried to pick it up.
She is one of several chefs in Honolulu who design custom cakes. Prices for these works of art that disappear, but live forever in photographs, start at $250 to $350 and go up into the thousands, depending on the size of the cake and the intricacy of the design. That's an average of $4 to $7, or more, per serving. Yet nothing about these cakes is average.
COURTESY OF CAKES BY ABI
Abi Langlas' ocean-themed wedding cake includes sea shells and pearls brushed with edible luster dust.
COURTESY OF CAKELAVA
Rick and Sasha Reichart recreated the moment a couple got engaged and added their wedding vows to the side of the cake.
COURTESY OF CAKE COUTURE
Carmen Emerson-Bass creates elegant wedding cakes, such as this one resembling mosaic tile.
With an expert spin of the piping bag, Langlas squeezes royal icing into pearls all around the base of the top layer, then brushes on edible luster dust, making the pearls shimmer in the light. Next she harvests white chocolate molds of shells and seahorses, and gently peels random drippings from parchment paper, which somehow look exactly like coral. She colors those as well, then begins the intricate process of placement. She will spend about eight hours making this cake; the Fendi bag took 20 hours.
RICK AND Sasha Reichart, owners of cakelava, meet with brides or parents -- sculpted cakes in the shape of race cars or Winnie the Pooh or soccer balls are popular for children's birthdays -- before Rick sketches the design he envisions. No matter what his clients want, he listens to his artistic instincts. "If I don't think it will look or taste good," he said, "I won't do it."
All decorations on Rick's cakes are made from scratch, including figurines that are based on photographs of the people getting married or celebrating an anniversary. He won't reveal the techniques he uses to create the flowers, bamboo trimmings, tikis, slippers and shells. There are some faux components, but everything is hand-crafted.
"He has a strong artistic background," Sasha said of her husband. "He feels it's really necessary for cake design at this level. I think that's one reason why we really stand out; we're constantly making these really elaborate tropical designs."
Writing in varying type styles all over the cake is another unusual technique Rick has mastered. He recently inscribed a family matriarch's cake with her children's and grandchildren's Hawaiian names in raised letters all around, creating a refined and personalized look.
Before starting cakelava with Sasha, Rick worked at Cake Divas, a Los Angeles-based company that caters to celebrities. There, where money was of no concern to his clients, he learned the art of extravagance and imagination. His tallest cake rose nearly 6 feet, and his longest stretched about 12 feet, and required seven people to deliver.
Another element that sets him apart, he feels, is his ability to maintain flavors and use fillings that tend to be "unstable" in complex structures. One signature flavor is "Rainbowlicious" -- layer upon layer of tastes and colors that "make for an amazing cake-cutting."
Rick also makes small cakes that look exactly like sushi, designed for two people.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Abi Langlas of Cakes by Abi, who also is the pastry chef at the Honolulu Coffee Co., decorates a birthday cake with a construction-site theme.
CARMEN Emerson-Bass has designed elegant wedding cakes through her company, Cake Couture, since 1998. She prefers to work only with rolled fondant because of its versatility; the surface is easier to decorate or crimp, and it's more durable in Hawaii's hot, humid weather.
She, too, starts with a consultation, where she and the bride discuss style and theme, and "designs something around that," creating her own sugar decorations along the way. Like the other cake chefs, Emerson-Bass knows what will work in terms of scale and structure, and will gently educate clients who want the impossible. Her favorite design involves white on white because it's "clean, simple, pretty," and her most popular flavor request is passion fruit.
In addition to weddings, Emerson-Bass gets many requests for corporate gift cupcakes, often with the company logo incorporated into the design.
All of the chefs work in industrial kitchens, make their cakes from scratch, and are constantly experimenting with new techniques to set themselves apart.
"I try to make sure my cakes taste as good as they look," said Langlas, echoing the sentiments of Rick Reichart and Carmen Emerson-Bass. "You can always make a dense, dry cake that will hold up, but then it's no fun to eat."
Her ocean-themed creation was lemon and lilikoi. The top layer incorporated fresh strawberries -- excluded from the foundation to avoid potential structural problems.
Tricks of the trade, she admits, are often learned the hard way. Langlas makes a special effort to move her car into the shade before transporting a cake, to minimize the temperature change and potential condensation.
Even if a client doesn't know what she wants, Langlas can show pictures, ask about favorite colors and interests, and "create something unique for her." At one wedding, for instance, the bride wore an Anne Namba dress. To reflect this theme, Langlas wrapped an "obi" matching the bride's dress around three hexagonal tiers. On top sat a hand-made Japanese fan.
"It really works much better if they give me a little freedom," she said. "Sometimes you get a great idea as you go along."
Contact cakelava, 277-7594; Cake Couture, 373-9750; or Cakes by Abi, 381-6641 or firstname.lastname@example.org