Wednesday, September 17, 2008
cakelava Interviews: Rebecca Sutterby of Sugar Creations, Pt. 1
All photos courtesy of Sugar Creations
If cake designer Rebecca Sutterby’s cakes look familiar to you, it’s probably because they show up everywhere. You may have seen Rebecca, who owns Sugar Creations, in Savonburg, Kansas, competing on a Food Network Cake Challenge. Maybe you witnessed one of her spectacular cakes at the prestigious National Wedding Cake Competition in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Perhaps you were a student in one of her well-attended cake decorating classes, or if you live in Kansas, happened to catch her doing an instructional cake demo on a morning news show, which, by the way, you can find the videos archived on her myspace page . Regardless of how you’ve encountered Rebecca’s cakes, chances are they left an impression that makes her design style instantly recognizable, and if you don’t know Rebecca’s work, then you should.
This past week I had the opportunity to interview Rebecca Sutterby. Bless her heart, the same week I interview her she is frantically preparing for her upcoming competition in Tulsa next week. She was such a great sport to answer all my questions with the amount of detail given, and something about our exchanges told me she is a Really Nice Person. Rick and I would like to thank Rebecca for all her time and allowing us in to the sweet, sweet world of Sugar Creations. We hope she takes the top prize at the fair!
Sasha Reichart: Let’s talk about the beginning of your career in cake design. When did it start and what led you to focus on cakes specifically?
Rebecca Sutterby: Well, I’ve always been a baker. I started baking cookies by myself when I was 11. I was Student Council president of my high school my senior year, and at Easter, I got the bright idea that I should bake cookies for StuCo to pass out to everyone after lunch. So I did – 12 dozen iced sugar cookies – ducks and bunnies and eggs – and yes, that was enough for the whole school. In February 1998, I decided to take the Wilton I class at a local craft store so that I could make a nice cake for my oldest son’s first birthday. In May 1998, my husband’s sister got married. She figured since I took the class, I was an expert, right? LOL – well, she had to ask me 4 times, but I finally agreed to make her wedding cake. So then I started getting a few other requests from friends and relatives getting married. After about 4 wedding cakes, I started getting requests from people whom I didn’t know and quickly realized that if people were going to keep asking, I better learn how to do it correctly. I had 2 infant/toddler sons by then, so taking classes wasn’t an option. I started buying cake decorating books and absorbing anything I could learn from the internet. In 2001, I taught myself how to make gumpaste flowers and entered the Oklahoma Sugar Art show for the first time. Of course, that was a big wake-up call for how much more there was to learn, and I’ve been tackling that challenge ever since.
Sasha Reichart: Wow! You are obviously extremely driven. It’s no wonder you’ve been so successful. Is there a type of cake that Sugar Creations specializes in, like a signature style you have become known for?
Rebecca Sutterby: No, not really. People say they can recognize my cakes anywhere, so I guess I have a certain distinguishable “style”, but I rarely make the same cake twice.
SR: What are some of your most popular cake flavors?
RS: I’m in a really rural area and folks around here aren’t all that adventurous when it comes to flavor. Sour cream white is what I bake most often and chocolate fudge cake with caramel-nut filling is really popular. My personal favorite is Italian Cream. Yum!
SR: Yum is right! Ooh, caramel-nut, you are speaking my language. I know you have a background in graphic design. Can you share some of the ways being a graphic designer has assisted you in making cakes?
RS: I think an overall artistic vein is a definite must for cake decorators. During college and for a while afterwards, I worked for a couple printing companies in their art departments and became proficient with several types of design software. So although they weren’t teaching web design at my university in the early 90’s, knowing those types of software really well made it easier to make my own website. Also, part of my college curriculum included photography classes, so that comes in pretty handy with cakes. And I guess, most importantly, being able to visualize a design and draw it out in 3D before I start baking is a huge help.
SR: Yes, being able to visualize the design in 3D would be a huge advantage. We completely agree about the necessity of having an artistic background for cake design. Let’s talk about the cake competitions you participate in, including the Grand National Wedding Cake Competition and the Food Network Challenges. The National Wedding Cake Competition is the most prestigious in the country, and you’ve been a 1st place winner in the past. Congratulations! What is it like to compete in such an important show?
RS: Ha! Not the best time to ask me that question! This year’s show is on the 27th and I’m not anywhere near finished with my cake. The show is awesome and I wouldn’t miss it for the world, but good grief, it’s stressful! Like I mentioned, 2001 was the first year that I entered and I haven’t missed one since. I’ve always used it to teach myself new techniques and push myself beyond the familiar. I nearly always have to do everything on my entry twice – once to figure out what I’m doing and again to get it correct. But really, if anyone out there is thinking of entering, you don’t have to come out on top to be a “winner”. Don’t worry about what other people might be entering, just concentrate on making a cake that you’re proud of and everything else will fall into place. Kerry Vincent does a phenomenal PR job with the show and gets the cake photos out to more food magazines than you can imagine even existed. She sends all the photos not just the top winners, so each magazine can pick their favorites and anyone with a unique design has a great chance of getting published.
SR: How far in advance do you begin the preparations on the cake you are entering into the competition?
RS: I start looking for ideas shortly after the previous year’s show ends. Well, right after that little phase where I say, “I think I’ll sit out next year” which lasts about 2 weeks. I like to have a firm plan in mind by January or February. By April/May, I want to have a detailed sketch and have usually ordered the dummies and a tablecloth. Then I always say I’ll start on it in my free time and get a jump on things, but you know how that goes! With Summer weddings, baseball games and swim lessons, there ain’t a whole lot of free time. So I always try to cut way back on orders in August and September to give myself time to work on the entry.
SR: We saw you compete in the “Celebration Cakes” challenge on the Food Network. That was a fun and pretty cake! This was a difficult challenge because you hadn’t met your working partner until minutes before the competition. What was it like working in such a high-pressure environment with someone you didn’t know?
RS: Ack! I hated that cake! You know how marathon runners just want to finish the race without walking? LOL – well, I just wanted to finish this race without making a fool of myself! Gawd, I was so nervous. I even put some of that Rescue Remedy stuff in my bottled water – you know, that stuff that they give to jittery puppies. Seriously, I was sick-to-my-stomach nervous. The FN crew were awesome, though, and Mike McCarey and Nic Lodge were fantastic to have as judges.
SR: Did you have any idea prior to the competition what kind of cake you would be making?
RS: I had sketched out several ideas. I wasn’t about to walk in there empty-handed. I had decided what sizes of cakes I would bake, then sat down and drew out like 10 different ideas using those sizes of cakes. The one we ended up making was a variation of the baby shower cake idea I had drawn.
SR: You won your challenge! It must be absolutely magical to receive a check for $10,000 from the Food Network as Grand prize winner for all your hard work. Did you notice a change in your business after you started competing and how so?
RR: The cash prize definitely made the trip worthwhile! I had to split the $ with Julie, of course, but I still have the giant check sitting here. LOL – I sent my husband to saddle-maker’s school with part of the money, bought a new dishwasher, and put the rest in the bank. Change in business? Well, I’ve been gradually bumping up my prices all along and each competition win sort of helps to validate that. I noticed a big jump in the number of other decorators e-mailing me to ask questions since I started competing, though. Most people are super polite and I always try to help, but some people are awfully blunt. Like the lady who e-mailed and said, “I would like all of your recipes, please.” Uhhhh . . . okay??
SR: We get emails like that as well. What are people thinking asking for your recipes?? Your cake chosen by BRIDE'S magazine as one of “America’s 50 Most Beautiful Cakes” is absolutely gorgeous! Can you tell us about the inspiration for that design?
RR: I have a box under my desk. It’s full of crap – pages torn from magazines, party invitations, party plates, buttons with unusual designs, greeting cards, gift bags, and who knows what else. Anytime I spot a unique pattern or design and can “see” a cake in it, I throw it in the box. When BRIDE’S magazine e-mailed and said, “we want you to submit design sketches”, I pulled out the box and started sketching. I submitted 8 different designs and they chose one. The one they picked was inspired by a chair slipcover I’d torn from a bridal magazine.
END PT. 1
Come back tomorrow for Pt. 2 of my interview with Rebecca Sutterby. Get to know her beautiful cakes by visiting Sugar Creations.
Labels: cakelava, cakelava Interviews, cakelava Interviews Rebecca Sutterby of Sugar Creations, Sugar Creations