I was first introduced to the work of Debbie Goard when a former client sent me a photo of a diaper bag and insisted I recreate it as a cake. When she told me the photo she sent was actually a cake in the shape of a diaper bag, I knew I had to learn more! Flash forward 3 years later, and I've finally gotten the chance to pick the brain of world renowned cake phenom Debbie Goard of Debbie Does Cakes! And FYI, these are all photos of actual cakes!!
How long have you been making cakes? 21 years! Hard to believe...
What did you do before you started making cakes? Crawled around in my crib, lol! Ok, it just feels like that =) I actually had been painting and drawing portraits commissions, and had flirted with fashion illustration and design.
How did you learn your techniques? I'm 100% self-taught. Basically, I worked at a bakery doing counter work, just for extra cash and the manager asked if I would be interested in taking over the job of the retiring decorator. I merely watched her for a week, then made my first cake which was then sold. I guess that means I have always done cakes professionally. Everything I have learned about cakes has been trial and error. Since then I have made it my personal goal to always strive to be better with each cake, try to learn from every mistake.
What are you dying to create that no one has ordered yet? I have a secret superpower, actually, that I can just say I'd like to make ___________ and a short time later I'll get an inquiry for that. Of all the superpowers one could have, I get that?? I would like to make an exchange, please. Two things that haven't materialized yet are a giant insect and a Sleestak cake from Land Of the Lost, but now that I have put those out there...?
What are you so sick of making? I am sick to death of baby shower cakes, purse cakes and most kid's cakes. Some designs should just be retired. Did anyone say "Thomas"???
What will you never get tired of making? I adore food and animal cakes. When I first started DDC I set myself this impossible business plan of just making dog cakes and food cakes, it didn't exactly pan out but those are two of my most requested themes.
What is your favorite flavor of cake? Save me a seat on the red velvet bandwagon.
What is the best part of your job? Hands down, the best part of my job is being my own boss.
What is the worst part of your job? The worst part(s) are a tie between dealing with the public, who have been woefully misled by TV cake shows, to think everything is possible, and in 30 minutes and on a budget and job insecurity. My work load seems to be a "feast or famine" situation......resulting in an unpredictable schedule of crazy work weeks and long nights to sitting around picking up the phone asking "is this thing on???"
If you weren’t a cake designer what would you be doing? Why? Years ago, I would have said fashion designer, but if I think that the cake world is full of competition, that's nothing compared to fashion. I regret there was no outlet for independent designers like ETSY, back in the day.
Your work clearly moves beyond the realm of normal cake design. What non-cake related skills do you bring to the kitchen with every creation? I often describe my style as "Frankensteining." Because I'm self taught, I think I tend to think outside the box . I'll often use non cake products for achieving certain effects. Much of this stems, too, from not having a lot of money while growing up. As a child I HAD to get creative , I simply didn't have access a lot of art supplies. I fear some "trained" cake person will one day tell me "that's not how that's done!”, meanwhile I'm doing it! Also my background in handbag design taught me a lot about how to think about construction.
What was your most gratifying experience with a cake? There are so many examples, but perhaps it was when I made a 3 foot tall replica of a bank for their 150th anniversary. The bank was an architectural wonder complete with Corinthian columns (Corinthian!) and I had never attempted anything at all like it before. In the end I was really proud of my piece. Architecture is definitely at the top of the skill level of cake.
What was your worst moment? The worst was probably my one of my first car cakes. Delivering in hilly San Francisco is an advanced sport in itself. One too many steep slopes was too much for this car and unveiling the cake in front of the customer was the WORST way to find out that the front end had fallen off. In away, though, it turned out to be a great experience too, though. My customer was lovely and gracious, and after I stopped sobbing a few days later, I was able to assess how I could improve my technique so that I'd never have such an experience again. Now I worry the least about delivering cars.
What are you most disenfranchised with in the cake design industry? I'm pretty disgusted with the whole reality TV cake aspect. There is nothing "real" about them and they send such erroneous messages to customers. In reality, people do not ask for 5 foot tall cakes, and surprise! You need a bit more than 8 hours to make a "masterpiece".
What advice would you give someone interested in becoming a cake designer? Don't do it! haha! Honestly, I would advise someone who loves making cakes for family and friends to continue that. Once you add the pressure of running a business, time constraints, demanding customers, it becomes far less fun. Understand that it's not just "playing with cake". It's a job, a real job and a very hard one.
What’s your favorite charity? Why? I love the SPCA. I worked for a time in an animal hospital and while it was the least paying job I have ever had, it was also the most rewarding. The cruelty that is inflicted on animals is incomprehensible to me, and ultimately why I could no longer continue the work. Thank goodness for those who speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
What was the first sculpted cake you ever made? How much did you charge for it? I have been making sculpted cakes since I have been making cakes, although, thankfully the photographic evidence has been either destroyed or locked away in an undisclosed location. I can't recall specifics, but I'm sure it was pretty cheap.
What do you see yourself doing in 5 years? I think about this a lot. Over the years I have developed a lovely condition called carpal tunnel as well as additional nerve damage. Right now, I'm in the process of expanding my business to include teaching and books, products, etc....I'd like to get to a point where I can do fewer cakes and focus more on those projects that interest me most.
What’s the one thing you wish your clients would consider before they requested a cake? Price. What most don't realize, is these cakes you consume in minutes can take weeks of planning and prep, even before I'm actually even touching cake. What you are buying is a one -off, unique sculpture, not something popped from a pan and finished on an assembly line.
What would you like the world to know about Debbie Goard? The one thing that I want people to know is that the most important thing to me is to do the best that I can, be the best me that I can be. I leave it up to the viewers to tell me if I've achieved that goal. You'll never hear me extolling my own virtues.
Word Association: Type the first word/phrase that comes to mind when you see these words
When Debbie isn't making one of a kind edible masterpieces in her San Francisco Bakery (no, she doesn't ship; so don't ask), she's blogging on Debbie Does Cake & Blogs & Teaching; catch her class on August 8th 2011 at Swank Cake Design in Raleigh NC.. She can also be found on flickr (kiss the next 3 hours of your life goodbye) & Facebook!