Tammy Elliot interviews Sylvia Weinstock in New York.
Photographs by Tommy Martin
Tammy Elliot, President of Perfect Wedding Guide, recently sat down for a conversation with Sylvia Weinstock. Sylvia, known as Queen of Cakes, has been creating cake masterpieces since the mid 70's. She has attracted a star-studded clientele that includes Donald Trump, Michael Douglas & Katherine Zeta-Jones and Mariah Carey, to name a few.
Below is Part II of the interview.
Tammy: After you decide the filling and match it with the cake…
Sylvia: Then we have the inside of the cake. We ask about the structure, such as whether you want it round or square, and we draw a sketch for you. Other wedding cakes pictures are also helpful. You may have a florist who is decorating the room and want the colors to match, so we call him and he may e-mail me pictures of the centerpieces and we take it from there.
T: You coordinate with some of the other vendors for the wedding?
S: Yes. Maybe it’s the fabric of a dress, or a design the bride is really wild for — we get lots of pictures, including wedding cakes pictures, in from brides. Sometimes the florist will even send me an example so I can get an idea of the true colors."...go to the baker and taste what you're buying... make sure they have a good reputation and [can] deliver..."T: So you have a good theme going.
S: Yes, we have an idea of what we are going to do with it. We then have to schedule deliveries. Those are always very critical. A cake might have to be flown in, for example.
T: How do you fly them so they don’t get damaged?
S: Continental is our airline of choice. They hand-carry it on and off. It goes into cargo and gets very special treatment.
T: But you first must pack it up.
S: Yes, it goes in a corrugated box. As long as the plane lands gently and they know about that. If I am with a cake, I will tell the pilot there’s a wedding cake in cargo, use the whole runaway and don’t brake hard. They are very good about it, they glide in.
S: Depends upon whether the client is willing to pay the extra fee for it. It also depends on the size of the cake. For small cakes, they don’t need me. We do have cakes that fly to Palm Beach because we are working with The Breakers, and we went down once or twice to show them what we do, how we put something together and what we do with it.
T: Do you normally fly a cake in pieces and then assemble it?
S: Yes, the airlines will not take a large cake so it has to go in sections.
T: Have you ever had one that didn’t make it?
S: We’ve had thunderstorms and delays on occasion. Small commuter planes are our problem. They’re too small and their luggage is not placed properly, and could just slam against the cake. A large plane like a 747 is good.
T: What is the furthest you have shipped a cake?
S: Well, we have gone to Saudi Arabia, Japan, Mexico, France, Italy, Ireland, so around the world a bit. We haven’t gone to South America yet, but we have great hopes. We would love to go everywhere around the world. It’s a matter of getting through customs. But when you have a party or wedding planner, they should be able to take care of all those details and arrange it.
T: What is the largest cake you have ever made?"...never borrow money for a wedding. Do it in your own style and don't be competitive..."S: I think the largest one was for 2,500-3,000 people at a wedding; it was in the Middle East. We have done some very tall, grand and elaborate cakes. But you know, the small ones are little jewels too, so size doesn’t always mean it is going to be so wonderful. You could have a big diamond that is not first-class quality or a tiny one that is a jewel. It just depends upon the people.
T: What are the three main tips you give to brides when it comes to their wedding cake?
S: Number one; go to the baker and taste what you are buying. Two; make sure they have a good reputation and deliver, because you don’t want to find out at the last minute they are not going to do it. Three; the baker should listen to you in terms of design, so you pretty much get what you want.
T: How have you built your reputation over the years? How do you think you have become so well-known to be able to work with both celebrities and non-celebrities?
S: Everyone who walks in that door is a celebrity or princess to our family; that’s the motto we go by. The girl who saves up her pennies to have one of our cakes is just as important to us as the wealthy girl who comes in and wants a wedding cake.
T: And in terms of planning a wedding, what advice do you have for brides?
S: Never borrow money for a wedding. Do it in your own style and don’t be competitive or feel you have to have what your neighbors had. Relax and enjoy it. It is a party, a celebration that is five hours out of your life. It is really about a marriage so that is the most important.
S: We have some for 2009 already. But I think the most important thing is the season. We’re not so busy in Winter, so two or three weeks is fine. This time of the year, Fall, we are full, and can’t take any more orders.
T: So you have a capacity?
S: Yes, we have a capacity. We strain it periodically, just because I feel for the bride. Like someone who has decided to have a last minute, small wedding because it is a second wedding and they have problems with in-laws, children, and whatnot. I try to fit them in within reason.
T: How many are on your team?
S: We have about 19 people. We have about ten flower ladies, two bakers, two that put on icing, two and a half decorators, front desk receptionist, and two that take orders and draw sketches, including myself.
T: And primarily people have heard about you from your reputation?
S: Word of mouth. I have never advertised, it has been word of mouth and wonderful press. I have known Martha Stewart for years, and have worked with the people at Conde Nast for many years. And the same with Town and Country. When you know all these people on a personal level, in terms of performance, that is your best advertisement. New York in the 80s was an affluent time. People were looking for something different, something unusual, and we were the new kids on the block with a great product. That has sustained us.
S: They did fondant. Some of them used real flowers, which we would never do because they are sprayed with insecticides. Sugar flowers are permanent; these flowers you can keep forever. We’re going to do a book and show a real flower and the sugar flower side by side. It’s going to amaze people how botanically correct these flowers can be. The book will also include different wedding cakes pictures.
T: Do you take the flowers apart to understand how they are formed?
S: Yes, I started that way. I would get a rose and pull off all the petals and line them up and try to duplicate them to see if I could make them look the same. There have been some cases where I have had extra flowers I didn’t need, such as tulips, and we put them into the centerpieces and you couldn’t tell unless you touched them.
T: Are they heavy?
S: No, they’re very light. They have to be. But if you pile them on, you make something heavier.