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The Cake Divas

interview by Douglas Eby 

"There is always room in the market for talented people."

 Leigh Grode and Joan Spitler became business partners, combining their creative talents to form their own company, Cake Divas. Spitler had been decorating cakes for many years (even designing a birthday cake for Julia Child), and was studying in art school, while Grode had a background as a filmmaker. 

Deciding to form their own enterprise, they started out making wedding cakes, and located in Los Angeles to supply creations for movies and television shows. 

Their elaborate cake designs can take up to three days to prepare, may cost up to $1,800, and are usually too delicate to be shipped out of state. The image above is "Garden Tableau" - a sample from their website.

For one film, they crafted a portrait torte of Johnny Depp, and for another, a three-tiered cake with wild jungle flowers. 

But their commissions for movies often have more to do with visuals than with flavor. For the film "Hanging Up" they made an oversized pumpkin cake with extra frothy frosting for splattering when star Walter Mathau hit a pinata into it. 

Grode notes they build a lot of diorama styled cakes. "One of our specialties is our individual motif cakes where we sit down with a loved one and they tell us all these intimate (but appropriate) details about the individual, and we make art out of the subjects," she explains. 

"A family was moving from LA to Arkansas so we made a map cake of their move. The family and doggy in an airplane flying from LA, with landmarks, and an oversized Arkansas. 

"We put particular people waiving as they flew overhead, with a moving van driving their possessions down below. All of it was specific for them. 

"It's art. We are artists and we bring all of us to our work. As a film maker I know how to frame an image, and I do the same with cake. The same interests and experiences continue to motivate all my creative endeavors." 

Spitler feels her art school training is valuable. "Painting and sculpture help me in terms of the aesthetics, and the practical means of making cakes that are structurally sound and beautiful," she says. 

"I get a lot of my inspiration from the visual arts, and the art training that I had helps me to think creatively and look at things from different perspectives." 

She also thinks that art is not learned: "We are all born with the ability to create. Sometimes schools and classes can be a forum and environment to nurture what already is inside of us." 

Promoting themselves as artist designers who "have an attitude with cake" required making a lot of "cold calls" to caterers and food stylists. 

"We introduced ourselves and our product. The cake sells itself. With our film and television clients, we initially speak on the phone and assess what their cake needs are, in terms of style, motif, etc. We draw sketches and make flavor and other stylistic suggestions. 

"We then usually go to the set and confirm the cake drawings and flavors, and sometimes we make a mini version in cake and present it to the prop master and/or the director for approval. There are some stylists that know just what they want, and they will ask for a 'fondant icing' or a 'royal icing.' This helps under the hot lights of a movie set. When it is just used as a background prop we can make fake cakes." 

The partners feel there are several aspects that make their business creatively satisfying: "Understanding that cake is about celebration and joy. And making someone's cake dreams come true: many people don't think they have cake dreams, but they do and our job is to bring it out of them. 

"And wedding cake is very sacred; it is about two souls standing before God, family and friends, and committing to move forward in life together. And the cake symbolizes the sweetness and unique beauty of these two individuals in making their vows to one another. It is truly an honor to be part of this amazing process." 

In terms of suggestions to a woman who has some flair for culinary decoration, and wondering how much market there may be for these creative talents, the partners note, "It takes practical training and experience to become a professional cake decorator. 

"But there is always room in the market for talented people. We do encourage those who are truly dedicated to pursue a career in this genre. If you simply like to create beautiful food for your own personal parties, we would suggest getting a cake decorating kit and experimenting with your own personal style." 

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Cake Divas

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