All About Food: Cake baker's creations a visual treat

Christopher Russom is a serious artist who creates imaginative works every day with sugar, flour and butter. Put them all together with a bit of this and that and voilà … some of the most amazing wedding and novelty cakes imaginable or, perhaps we should say, beyond imagination.

We had the pleasure of viewing his one-of-a-kind masterpieces at his newly relocated bakery, Christopher Garren's Let Them Eat Cake in Costa Mesa.

You may have seen his work on Food Network cake competitions, where he won on both "Cake Boss" and "Ace of Cakes." He now appears on the WE network's "Amazing Wedding Cakes." Go to letthemeatcake.net for a mind-boggling visual treat. Better still, drop in to the bakery for a cup of coffee, a delicious pastry and an informal tour.

Ever since Russom was a child, he was always drawing, painting and entering art competitions. When he was 9 years old, he began baking.

"In the Midwest, where I grew up, everybody baked," he said.

He studied psychology and history in college but finding his true vocation took him a while. One of his first jobs was working in a factory, stamping out "widgets." That convinced him that he was not cut out for repetitive, boring work.

He always had a creative temperament. Russom got a bit closer to his calling, working for a caterer but, he said, "It was the most work you could possibly do with the exception of working for a moving company."

He and his manager, Marjie Chua, opened their first shop in Newport Beach in 2001 with a leap of faith and almost no capital. He did all the plumbing and electrical work as well as the décor. His concept was to stand out from the pack through meticulous attention to detail, using the highest quality ingredients, no preservatives or chemicals, nothing ever frozen and everything made from scratch.

His artistic nature led him to the decision that he would never repeat any cake twice. He wants to be continually challenged, so every design is unique. He feels that the bride gets a better product because his creativity is always being stimulated.

If a bride-to-be requests a cake of his that she has seen or that she wants him to copy, he will not do it. Every cake is new and based on the bride's "package" of information about her and her wedding, including such things as her dress, her invitations, flowers, reception site and anything else that reveals her tastes.

Together, they discuss her notes and pictures and then he and his team design the cake. The bride is presented with a sketch and then a signed and framed watercolor, before the final decision is made.

Although he was reluctant to say that he dealt with the occasional bridezilla, he did tactfully admit that some brides have a hard time relinquishing control.

We were given a tour of the kitchen that included a tasting of some mouth watering chocolate and orange buttercream frostings. Besides creating cakes there, it is also the site of weekend classes for anyone who is interested, no matter their skill level. The new semester of classes starts in September.

He says most of his students are not professionals. He teaches design and sculpting with white chocolate and fondant, as well as how to bake without recipes. We saw icing sculptures from simple Santa's to elaborate dragons and our favorite, a bouquet of exquisite flowers that we could hardly believe were not real. Kristin, a team member, has a degree from Cornell in botany so that every cake flower is authentic down to the last pistil.

Cakes this amazing and delicious are not cheap but are worth every penny. To give you an idea, you will pay about $7.50 per slice plus labor, which means design time, and that varies a lot. A cake for 100 guests usually runs somewhere between $1,500 and $3,500 and needs to be ordered three months in advance.

ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet foods and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at themarkos755@yahoo.com.

If You Go

What: Christopher Garren's Let Them Eat Cake

Where: 3321 Hyland Ave., Suites J-H, Costa Mesa

Call: (714) 445-0189

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