|« Bigger Breakfast||Chicago Chef Battle »|
Feature Sun Sep 27 2009
If you've ever been to a wedding, graduation, or an awkward send-off for a coworker, a cake was likely involved. The symbol of celebration sits in the center of the party for all to admire -- and when I say that, I don't mean the expectant mother or happy new couple -- I mean the lump of cake covered in frosting. Sometimes the writing on it spells out a polite, measured phrase of goodwill, or a mention of a weary inside joke among friends. Either way, the cake makes the event. And if it's tacky, in poor taste, or -- even better -- incorrectly spells a name or leaves off a word or two, your guests will remember. And pull out their camera.
Jen Yates knows this fact. As the creator of CakeWrecks.com, her site catalogs the best and the worst of cake designs--from misspelled words and unintentional slurs to grand works of art. What started as a single emailed picture of a flowered sheet cake that read "Best Wishes Suzanne Under Neat that We Will Miss You" has turned into a successful website and newly released book, Cake Wrecks: When Professional Cakes Go Horribly Wrong. Fans of her site have gone to extreme lengths to contribute pictures of questionable or funny cakes (which she calls "Wrecks") -- a woman was escorted out of a WalMart with her young son after trying to photograph a cake in the store's bakery. In front of the manager, her son loudly asked "Mommy, are we going to buy that ugly cake?" as the two were walked out the doors.
Yates is flattered by and grateful for the positive response to CakeWrecks. Before her rise to internet stardom, she and her husband ran a custom painting business in Orlando, which has taken a backseat to managing the site. Her job now consists of poring through the 50+ entries she receives daily, editing and updating the site, and talking with her massive fan base (her site has the rare novelty of being fun to adults and kids). Her favorite types of Wrecks are the products of misunderstandings between the cake maker and customer -- for example, a flash drive cake that was not supposed to be. Yates and I also discussed her apparent dislike of the cupcake cake, which gets few points with the CakeWrecks crew for their messiness and illusion of artful convenience. As someone who despises that level of portion control when it comes to cake, I understand her position.
Currently Yates is on a nationwide tour in support of the recently released book, and will be making a stop in Chicago this Thursday (7:30pm) at the Old Orchard Barnes and Noble. And rather than being a dry Q and A, Yates is making it a party: a slideshow of new and old Wrecks will be shown, along with a cupcake-decorating competition where guests will be asked to recreate their favorite Wrecks (or make all new ones!). And of course, there will be cake for all to enjoy.