Thursday, October 23, 2008

cakelava Interviews: Joan Spitler of Cake Divas, Pt. 1


All photos courtesy of Cake Divas

Rick and I have known L.A. cake designer Joan Spitler of Cake Divas and her partner Leigh Grode for 6 years. Joan was the last person Rick and I saw before moving to Hawaii to open cakelava -- she drove us and our dog Mikey to the L.A. airport. Cake Divas was only 4 years old at the time Rick started working there and had already made a huge name for itself in L.A. Thousands of cakes and countless magazines, celebrity functions, television shows and public appearances later, they are practically a household name and will be celebrating their 10-year anniversary this month.

I’ve been looking forward to interviewing Joan ever since our series began. I knew with her fun, outrageous, design-without-limits approach to cake design that she would make a perfect interviewee, full of interesting stories and experiences. On a personal level, Joan is an absolute sweetheart and we love her to death. She is warm and genuine, she would do just about anything for you and she has a great energy. She and Leigh and the rest of the Cake Divas team finished filming “Amazing Wedding Cakes” which recently aired on We TV, and they are already off on their next big adventure!

Sasha Reichart: Tell us about your earliest experiences with cake design. How did you get into the field and where was your first job?

Joan Spitler: My mom was really into home crafts in the 70’s (macrame, decoupage, tile ashtrays, and of course, cake decorating!) I was inspired by the Wilton style cakes she used to make for our birthdays, and entered cake decorating classes at my elementary school. I won 3 years in a row, and I still have the trophies! My first job cake decorating was at a grocery store. I was working the bakery counter and one night all of the decorators were sick, so I just jumped in and improvised and they promoted me.

Sasha Reichart: When did you and Leigh Grode open Cake Divas? How has it changed since the beginning?

Joan Spitler: Leigh Grode and I started Cake Divas in 1998. Leigh kept a full time job to pay the bills, while I made cakes. We literally owned a small mixer and a table and rented space part time in a catering kitchen. Every cake we sold bought the pan we needed to bake it in. Our business grew one cake at a time. We just celebrated 10 years in business this month. We now have our own kitchen, 2 offices, a large staff, and lots of equipment!


SR: Congratulations on making 10 years! Your artistic style of cake design is one the main reasons Rick seeked out Cake Divas when we moved to Los Angeles. Do you have a background in fine arts?

JS: Both of my parents are artists. I have been an artist my whole life, and went to college at UC San Diego, where I received a BA in fine arts. I am a self-trained cake decorator, so most of my skill set originated from my art background. I look at cake as another art medium.


SR: How would you describe the Cake Divas style of cake design?

JS: Our Cakes are Delicious on the inside, enchanting on the outside. Our cakes are filled with love.


SR: What a perfect description! Rick and I see a difference between a cake decorator and a cake designer, just as there is a difference between a cook and a chef. What is your opinion on this, and at what point in your cake career do you think you crossed over from a cake decorator to a designer?

JS: I think all people have a creative side. Some of the most amazing cakes I’ve seen have been done by people with no experience whatsoever. I think I crossed over the line when my art life and cake life began to merge.

SR: I agree, that artistic ability is far more important than being classically trained. Due to the volume of orders at Cake Divas, it is essential as the lead designer that you delegate cakes to your staff. How do you feel about relinquishing some control over your designs?

JR: I am always in the kitchen, and have my hand in everything. At first, it was really hard to let go. Now I actually enjoy seeing the creativity and collaborations that come out of working in a team environment. It has been my great joy to see other designers find their own style while working at Cake Divas!


SR: Congratulations on your recent marriage to Leigh! (Grode)! I have two questions. Did you and Leigh celebrate with a wedding cake at your nuptials and have you noticed an increase in same-sex couples coming to you for wedding cakes since California legalized gay marriage?

JR: Leigh and I did not have wedding cake at our legal nuptials. We had pie. We have been making a lot of cakes for same-sex weddings since California legalized gay marriage, and it has been just fantastic. The majority of couples getting married now have been together for many years, so there is a wonderful peace and satisfaction in celebrating a commitment that has already stood the test of time.

SR: You’ve made countless celebrity cakes and are in high-demand in Los Angeles. We loved the wedding cake you designed for Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore. What are some recent celebrity cakes you’ve made that you are particularly proud of?

JS: We love all our cakes, and clients!


SR: That was a very classy answer. We saw you on a televised wedding in Turks and Caicos with “Mr. Fabulous”, Preston Bailey. Tell us about that wedding and any other exotic locations you have flown your cakes to. How is it for you and Leigh to travel with your cakes?

JS: Traveling with cakes is always an adventure. You never know what might happen, and you always need to be flexible. Total focus is devoted to the cake at all times. Besides going to Turks and Caicos, we have been to Costa Rica, and other destinations nationally.

SR: We recently did some traveling with a cake and can definitely relate to your perspective. Let’s talk about Amazing Wedding Cakes, your show on We TV. How did Cake Divas become involved with Amazing Wedding Cakes? Did you know who the other designers would be?

JS: We were asked to be part of the show, along with the other designers. We didn’t know the other designers beforehand. It’s been so much fun watching everyone work.


SR: [other questions I asked regarding production of the show have been omitted from this interview. To respect the confidentiality of the show’s production, Joan is not at liberty to discuss this publicly]

SR: I understand Leigh has a background in film and TV production in addition to running Cake Divas?

JS: Leigh has a background in film and TV, so it has been very helpful when we are working on television or doing movie or industry work. She keeps us on task, and knows how to handle things really well.

** END, Pt. 1. Join us back here tomorrow for Pt. 2 of our interview. In the meantime, get to know more of Cake Divas work on cakedivas.com.


1 comment:

Gabrielle said...

Oh, how I miss them! They sure do get a lot of exposure. I can't wait to see what happens next for them.

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