Mike McCarey joins Craftsy as a cake decorating instructor in Advanced Cake Sculpting: Bobbleheads, and with his arrival comes lots and lots of fun. Mike’s cakes are all about inventiveness and decorating cakes in all kinds of fantastic and whimsical unexpected ways. Since he’s made so many beautiful and unique cakes we were curious how he got his start, what some of his favorite cakes are, and what kind of advice he has for new, eager, ambitious cake decorators. So we sat down with him (with our cameras rolling) and asked him all of that and more. Check out the video below!
I got my start in cake decorating really as a pastry chef back in high school I had to decide- do I go to art school or do I go to culinary school? And I decided that culinary school seemed a lot more practical. So as part of that I decided to become a pastry chef because that seemed to be the more artistic route to take. Basically while being a pastry chef and working all the different places, more and more I got my hands on cake. And I got to the point where that’s what I loved, more than anything else. I have to tell you, you know a morning call at 5 am making pastries for 600 shriners really wasn’t answering my artistic views very well, so on I moved to cake.
The first cake I ever made was actually a sculpted cake and the lady came into the retail spot where I had been working and she needed a cow-themed cake and I said, “Well what if we sculpted it?” And she said well what do you mean by that. And I said let’s do the head of a cow and I’ll sculpt it into a shape and she had no idea what I meant, and neither did I but I ended up making this cartoonish cow head. It was off to the races, I’ve been sculpting them ever since.
My favorite cake’s that I make are always for my daughter’s birthday. And let me tell you, she’s not spoiled in anything else, but when it comes to birthday cakes she’s highly, highly spoiled. Some of my favorites have been…I did a 20 inch tall seahorse that was all out of modeling chocolate and the tail curled up and came around and a single serving of cake was finished off like a pearl. That was a good one, but my latest, my favorite is the standing zebra in a hula skirt playing the ukelele. It’s all about my daughter. We got her a ukelele that year and of course she loves zebras so it was a great win-win for me.
People ask me all the time do you do any interactive cakes or cakes that do things, and I like the ones where I create what I call gravity flow pockets. I’ll give you an example. We did a, picture a sunny-side up egg, with the yoke in the center and the whites going out- the white was fondant and then the yoke was the cake in the center. It was about 12 inches in diameter. We actually built the cake up at an angle because we used all natural buttercream and it got really hard and I could actually create a pocket or a chamber that we iced, so that we could pour liquid into it. We made a dessert sauce out of cream and sugar and we colored it the exact same color as the yellow as the fondant we used to cover the cake, poured that in there, sealed it off with buttercream, and it got cold. We set it down, we covered it with a fondant and then we showed the bride where to prick it or cut it so at the reception they both went up there to cut the cake and when they cut it it oozed out like a sunny-side up egg so that was so that was great. And the joke was “Hey buddy you’ve got cake on your face now that we’re married.”
The best advice I can give any new, hopeful cake decorator is try not to go take whole programs about being a pastry chef because if you’re not looking to make danish and plated desserts and torted cakes that are for restaurants, don’t waste your time with that. There are a lot of new programs that are just based on cake decorating or places like if you go to ICES Conventions or different cake conventions where people are teaching individual techniques and then online there are really great places to learn, like Craftsy. Craftsy is more and more adding classes about specific techniques and things that you’re actually going to need when you decorate cakes, as opposed to how to make danish at 5 in the morning like I did.
The industry has changed a lot because when I started, you know, there was no internet- nothing. The only new wedding cakes or new cake ideas you could get were anybody putting out a book like Colette Peters pretty groundbreaking at the time, or things you saw in bridal magazines because you couldn’t check out anybody’s websites, there was nobody posting anything on Facebook, so you didn’t know what was going on across the country. Now everything’s so interconnected, influences are happening quick, sculpting is becoming a big deal– but that can also be a challenge because you get a good idea, you put it up there and then maybe 50 other people have good ideas too, so, it’s kind of a double-edged sword I guess, or a double-edged cake server.
People ask me what are some of the more unusual cakes I do and it really is when I’m asked to do a human being as a cake. Because when that request comes in, and my office manager says “Mike, somebody wants a person.” I start worrying about “God I hope they’re old” or I hope they’re really hairy or I hope they have an unusual hat that they wear or glasses or some kind of unique feature that I can key on to really succeed in making them. Angelina Jolie is much harder to make because she’s so perfect and doesn’t have a flaw, as opposed to Betty White who has a wonderful face that’s all textured and wrinkled and I’d much rather sculpt her than Ms. Jolie.
I love cake, as long as it has a giant scoop of ice cream right next to it I’ll eat anything!
If you enjoyed getting to know Mike, be sure to come back to the Craftsy blog on Wednesday for a great cake decorating tip on successfully supporting your cakes.