Monday, May 14, 2012

Guest Post: Wendy Kromer-Schell & Giveaway!

My fifth-year wedding anniversary is this month, and it makes me nostalgic.  Thinking back and looking at the photos of that day, I find so much joy in the details we planned.  It was an intimate garden wedding on a day that could not decide whether to rain or shine.  Every bride wants things to be perfect, so I, like all brides, sought perfection.

Photo: Farro Photographers

You know where I'm going with this, don't you?  We aren't going to talk about the dress or the rings or the venue.

We're going to talk about THE CAKE.  The ultimate perfection in cake.  Wedding cake, that is.  Grab a cup of coffee and get cozy.  Warning:  This is a very long post, but you are going to adore my guest today!  Do stick around for the giveaway, too!

Photo: Martha Stewart Weddings
Please meet the amazingly talented Wendy Kromer-Schell, whose resume snapshot would go something like this:  
Contributing Editor, Martha Stewart Living
Co-Author of Martha Stewart Wedding Cakes (Clarkson Potter, 2007)
Owner, WK Cafe, Sandusky, OH
Pastry & Baking Program graduate, Peter Krump School of Culinary Art (now The Institute of Culinary Education)
Countless publications and television features
Paris-based Fashion Model 

When I was thinking about what I wanted for my wedding cake, I continued being drawn to a style of cake that none of our local bakeries could provide.  The kind that I was seeing in magazines, to be specific.  You know, like Martha Stewart Weddings magazine.  I wanted to find out who was making these beautiful works of art, and found out about Wendy.  She was just about an hour north of me in Sandusky, Ohio.  This was destiny. 

Long story short, my husband-to-be and I made a great road trip to visit Wendy for a consultation.  I brought along a few ideas from my wedding planner including some fabric swatches, venue information, and some Italian Florentine paper I was using in my invitations.  At that point, there was a twinkle in Wendy's eye...

I cannot say what vision she had in her head, but I'm pretty sure she saw the paper and her wheels were spinning.  She asked to keep a few samples of paper and fabric and would work on a sketch for us.  When she offered us tastes of a variety of cakes and fillings, we were tickled with her "Hummingbird Cake" - perfect for a garden wedding!  She even gilded the lily and offered orange liqueur to keep the cake moist with a delicately flavored orange Swiss meringue buttercream. 

From paper to fairy tale:

Family Photos

A truly 3-D version of our Florentine paper, made modern with vibrant aqua vines the exact color of my maid of honor's dress.

Photo: Farro Photographers

Our cake was enrobed so perfectly, so delicately in fondant, I was speechless.  The flowers sprang to life on the cake.  She drove the cake two hours from Sandusky to our venue personally, and made certain it remained perfect.

I will never forget seeing Wendy at the drop off, feeling like a beam of light had dropped her there with this unforgettable representation of our special day.  She totally nailed it.  She made me feel like a queen.  I may have been her thousanth bride, but that day I felt like there had never been a wedding before mine.  No one has had or will have a cake just like mine...

How does one woman become the Angel of Wedding Cake?  I reached out to her and asked, and this is what she said:


ST:  What happened between the 10 years in Paris on the runways and your enrollment in a New York City pastry and baking program?  Was it all those French patisseries?

WKS:  There was a lot of “living” & “maturing” going on in the 10 yrs between graduating from college (Cleveland, OH) and enrolling in a Pastry Arts program (NYC). 

I graduated with a degree in Fashion Merchandising, hoping to eventually become a Buyer.  A few months after graduating I was invited to spend 2 weeks in Paris w/family who were living there.  While there, I fell in love with the country, the history, the food, the fashion.  My Aunt could see that I loved it, and bless-her-heart, she told me I could stay longer, if I wanted.  She knew I had done some modeling during College and suggested I give it a try in Paris.  I did, and after a year I signed with one of the top agencies for runway models.  My career as a model is what enabled me to travel the world, exposing me to different cultures & cuisines.  As I had always had a love for pastries, I would especially take note of them in the countries I’d visit.  Over those 10 years I had to be very disciplined when it came to diet/health (in order to keep “model” thin), so, I think when it came time to leave modeling, my inner-pendulum swung to food!

ST:  It seems like your time spent with Colette Peters in NYC was a catalyst into the next level of your career.  Is this where your sugar-as-art got everyone’s attention?

WKS:  Working with Colette Peters was a great opportunity, and indeed I found her and her work inspiring.  Colette exposed me to working with rolled fondant, modeling chocolate, and gum paste.  Those were mediums not yet taught in the Pastry Arts programs, and were mediums I found I had the “knack” for.  After a year with Colette, I was still not certain that the path of Cake Decorating was for me.   I had a brief stint in part-time catering (a schedule I found was not to my taste) and as an assistant to a few Food Stylists in the NY area. 

ST:  Your background in fashion & design obviously lends itself to the decorating part of the confection business.  What else about baking gives you the “I love my job” feeling?

WKS:  I love “creating” in the kitchen as much as I love the decorating process; but Baking is a “discipline” and I guess I’m drawn to that.  I’m very different when I’m “cooking”…when I cook I just make dishes up; but in Baking, you have to understand the “why’s & how’s”, or you’ve wasted time & ingredients.  I like that challenge.

ST:  Martha Stewart Living shined the spotlight on your talent with wedding cakes over the years.  Is this your favorite category of pastry and baking? 

WKS:  I would have to say yes.  Both Baking & Decorating are my strengths, and I thank Martha & the MSO Editors for 17 yrs of work on inspiring, challenging, beautiful stories!

ST:  Your work is known for its delicacy and intricacy (as well as beauty).  What influences have driven your details over the years?

WKS:  Fashion, fabrics, china patterns, wall paper, calligraphy, color, architecture, quality ingredients, master painters, other pastry chefs, my clients, my Aunt Evelyn (an amazing cake decorator from the ‘50’s – ‘80’s), and my Mom who always encouraged me to “stretch-my-wings”…

ST:  You have personally flown your cakes some pretty impressive distances for your clients.  Was this always a part of your plan to share your craft or did it come from the exposure from MSL?

WKS:  Honestly, up until about 9 yrs ago, I had no “plan”.  I was just focused on doing what I loved, and thrilled to go wherever it took me.  (This was easy to do for about 10 years, as I was single & had no children.)  Once I realized this was a bona fide “business”, I started work on a “business plan”.

ST:  Everyone thinks Martha must be difficult to work with, but the quality and professionalism you brought to the table made it easy, RIGHT?

WKS:  If “difficult” means expecting one’s “best” effort 100% of the time, then I guess she & I are “difficult”.  The beauty of working for MSO is that everyone works as a team, to produce timeless/inspiring/gorgeous stories… 100% of the time.  In many a “creative” business, there’s no “off” position for those involved …unfortunately!  ;-) 

ST:  As a contributing editor for MSL, you must find yourself in NYC quite a bit.  Why did you stick to your Sandusky, Ohio roots?

WKS:  You can take the girl out of the Midwest, but you can’t take the Midwest out of the girl.  My Ohio roots never left me.  After traveling & living in major metropolitan areas for 20 years, I learned the world is pretty easy to get around.  Also, thanks to the Internet, one can live pretty much anywhere, as long as they can find a way to get their product where it needs to go.  When my Father called to say he was going to sell our family home (an 1890’s Victorian “gal w/good bones”), I realized the only place I had ever called “home” was in Sandusky.  I told him he had a “buyer”. 

ST:  Despite the petite scale of the wedding cake you created for us, you treated Brian and I as though we were not only high profile, but also friends.  How have you kept yourself accessible to even the smaller scale customer?

WKS:  Oh, I’m so happy to hear this!  I enjoy meeting potential clients, most of them newly-engaged couples.  I love to hear the stories of how they met/got engaged; and I find that each couple has a unique, personal vision of their Wedding Day.  It is an honor to be asked to participate in what I believe is one of life’s most precious gifts … the day 2 people purposefully set out on life’s journey together.  Sorry, this sounds incredibly hoakie, but I’m a Romantic.

ST:  From the bride’s gown, china patterns, to color themes, can you give some examples of how you draw inspiration from a client and translate it into a cake design?

WKS:  Sometimes it is “literal” translation…

-Calico & other fabrics/fashion
Photos:  Martha Stewart Weddings
 Sometimes I am simply inspired by something, creating my own “take” on a theme… 

-Wedgwood china
Photo: Martha Stewart Weddings
-French pastry shop boxes

Photos: Martha Stewart Weddings
ST:  Beauty aside, let’s talk flavor.  Your cakes are far more than a base for a lovely design.  Are your clients surprised at how spectacular TASTING a wedding cake can be?  Why do you think other bakers put less effort into the quality of the cake itself?

WKS:  We put as much effort into the interior of the Wedding Cake, as the exterior. When couples come for their Tasting Appointment, they are given the opportunity taste all of our cake layers, fillings, and potential cake coverings (buttercream, marzipan, rolled fondant, or chocolate).  They are then encouraged to create their own wedding dessert. Yes, it would be easier for us to simply give them slices of cakes with fillings & frostings “we” think are delicious, but where’s the “couple” in that?  We aim to let the couple create their own Dessert for their guests.  Yes, this costs us more to do (in both time & materials), but we’ve found our clients love the process… as do I!  Most of my Tasting appointments with clients last about 2 hours.  During this time they not only “work” through a few platters of cake layers & fillings; we also discuss the design details for their Wedding Day, giving me a jump start on the design process for their Wedding Cake.

ST:  Fondant has been supremely popular in the past decade.  Yours is the only one I have experienced that didn’t taste like a thick sheet of plastic.  What is everyone else doing wrong or what can they do right?

WKS:  Oftentimes, I’ve found that folks have either experienced Fondant that was either rolled to thick, or was “old”.  If Fondant is not rolled thin enough, it results in a thick, chewy texture … an unpleasant surprise to most guests.  If “taste” is a problem, I more-often-than-not think they’ve experienced Fondant that was past its prime.  When Fondant reaches its expiration, it gets rancid, and can taste like dish soap. 

It’s important to work with Fondant with thoroughly-cleansed hands on a sterile work surface.  Some other tips to consider:

-use as little corn starch or confectioners’ sugar as possible when rolling out

-rolling scraps is fine, once any residual frosting/cake crumbs/fillings etc. have been trimmed away.

-as a general rule-of-thumb, if the fondant starts to feel a little dry, save that fondant for other “decorative” uses.  Soft, fresh fondant will yield the best results when covering tiers.

ST:  Enough about cakes.  You’ve evolved your bakery in Sandusky and now have WK Café. Tell us what’s changed and what has stayed the same?

WKS:  What has changed is that on top of my Wedding Cake and Teaching/Consulting work, I also have a retail business that has had to speculate on what people might want (in our area), and what I enjoy making.  Sadly enough, the 2 don’t meet often enough for my liking.  When I first moved to the area, I was given advice by 2 local business consultants that I should “give the people what they want”.  How sad, dull & unfulfilling it was going to be for me to give people “more of the same”.  Needless to say, this advice only encouraged me.  I was going to do whatever it took to get folks to try “new” things.  It’s been a struggle, but I think we’re getting there!

If anything has stayed the same … I still believe where there’s a will, there’s a way.

ST:  Your favorite pastry or baked good to eat is:

WKS:  Not fair Heather!  That’s like asking a parent “which of your children do you love most?”  ;-)

My favorite desserts are:

-tarte tatin (warm w/fromage blanc)
-chocolate pots de crème  
-sour cherry pie
-anything with dulce de leche
-green tea ice cream

ST:  Do you still teach classes for the home baker?  What is rewarding for you about sharing your experience with others?

WKS:  Scheduling more opportunities to teach the home baker, as well as the pastry chef who’d like to expand their decorating skills, is an on-going effort.  If we’re talking “plans”, this has been on my to-do list for the last few years.  I look forward to spending more time teaching and writing books that will inspire.  As in modeling, I realize there will come a time when I won’t physically be able to do this craft.  My Aunt Evelyn (now 92), to this day is still a great sounding board, and inspiration for me in terms of how to mature in a career. I hope to channel her grace and love for the craft into inspiring/guiding others.

ST:  I talk about my “satisfaction meter” with regard to what I’ve made in the kitchen.  On a scale of 1-5, where is yours today?

WKS:  This is a toughy… if you’d asked me this 9 yrs ago, I’d say “5”. 

Now, I’d say I’m at a “3” or “3.5”, mainly because I’m not yet where I want to be.  This career is not for the faint-of-heart…especially in these recent, difficult economic times.  Moving my craft from my little apartment in thriving NYC to a commercial space, w/staff, in a depressed, small town in Ohio came with its set-backs.  In addition to this, as I may have shared with you when we first met, one of my goals in returning to the area is to be a part of something “larger”.  My town, like many small towns in the Midwest is in dire need of revitalization.   By bringing my small/artisanal business to the area, I’ve seen more artisanal businesses open, and some building owners are now taking the initiative to fix-up their properties.  The more this happens, the quicker my satisfaction meter will register a 5.

I will say, this though, every day I unlock the doors at Wendy Kromer Confections/WK Café I feel exhilarated.

This was a fantastic interview, Wendy!  Thank you a baker's dozen times over for entertaining us and giving us a look inside!  We also owe Wendy a round of applause for her giveaway....

One lucky winner will receive a signed copy of Wendy's book with Martha, Martha Stewart's Wedding Cakes!


Here are the rules:


1.  Leave a comment ON THIS POST with a brief description of the most amazing wedding cake you have ever experienced.  No duplicate comments.
2.  Want an extra chance to win?  Head over to Wendy's WK Cafe Facebook page, hit that "like" button (EDIT  and leave her a comment including the words "SWEET TEETH" in it after the update.)
3.  Contest will close on May 26th, 2012 at 8pm (my wedding day!)
4.  This giveaway is open to U.S. Residents age 18 or older. Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by email. You have 72 hours to get back to me, otherwise a new winner will be selected.
   
Good luck to all!

CONTEST CLOSED.  Winner will be notified on May 30th, 2012.  Thank you for entering.
Congratulations, Jess Kuharik!  We'll be in touch to get your prize sent off to you!  Happy cake planning!

9 comments:

  1. i once saw a wedding cake that was shaped like the White House. the bride and groom were fans of the show 'The West Wing'

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  2. Planning a wedding i am realizing how important the little things are, and the cake isn't such a little thing! We have a lot of things going oon the next few months, with family things, graduations and welcoming babies to our families as well! (not our babies!) So once we get a breath of fresh air from all of that, i will be right back on to my serious planning! I don't know if you have seen my pinterest at all, i have posted quite a few ides on things we will be doing. We're trying to keep everything as cheap as possible, which is more of a challenge! So we have to get rather creative! Especially with our theme, which is a midnight/starry night theme. So lots of stars, moons & trees! So this post helps me a little on my cake choices/options, i still have not found one i've fallen in love with!

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  3. This is a fantastic interview! What a talent- wow! Your wedding cake was perfection.

    Love!

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  4. Heather, thank you! I loved your questions, and look forward to sharing my (& Martha's) Wedding Cakes book with one of your followers! Happy up-coming Anniversary!

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  5. My most amazing wedding cake thus far was my very first attempt when my daughter got married. I have so many role models in the world of cake decorating, but I did purchase three of Colette Peters' books before ever attempting a wedding cake.

    I loved this interview and am looking forward to lots of inspiration from Wendy via Facebook.

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  6. Loved the interview. The cakes are amazing and I appreciate that she moved back to her hometown to help revitalize it. I enjoyed seeing Wendy's Facebook page also. Sorry I don't have a comment about the most amazing wedding cake I've seen.

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  7. I venture to the WK Cafe facebook page each day to see what is happening in the world of Wendy and her team! Great article. Learn something new each time I journey with this amazing woman and her love of art--aka cake, pastries, cookies etc. Thanks for sharing and for letting all of us in on your own personal wedding journey.

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  8. What a great post! Wendy really is a wonderful person with tremendous talent. She created my wedding cake 11 years ago and it will always be my favorite cake. It's an honor to have her here in our small town.

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  9. Great post-just found this blog! I so admire great bakers who can make beautiful works of art and can make them taste great. I wish I could say I've tasted lots of great wedding cakes, but I haven't. But the best has to have been an anniversary cake made with guava filling that was served at my parent's 50th anniversary.

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Play nice in the sandbox, please!