VIDEO: Icing on the cake: Local cake decorators share their skills, win awards
BEMIDJI -- Their artwork is being consumed on a daily basis. Literally.
Teresa Sorby and Holli Fogelquist, the two cake decorators with Lueken's Village Foods, spend their workdays creating intricate cake designs, from those adorning tiered wedding cakes to birthday cakes to cupcakes. They can finish a standard fourth-sheet cake in under seven minutes, but extensively detailed orders can take upward of several hours, even days.
"I think the hardest part is actually knowing that the things that we pour our hearts and souls into, people are just going to eat it," Fogelquist said.
Except when they don't.
"One gal wanted a stand-up slot machine," recalled Sorby. "It turned out really cool. We got it slanted the way it was supposed to, the coins coming out the bottom, and we came up with ... a handle on the side. It was really neat when it was done, and actually, the gal we did it for, she wouldn't let them cut it."
Sorby and Fogelquist both laughed, imaging how the partygoers must have felt, being told they weren't going to get cake after all, but Sorby said it was quite sweet to hear, that the customer loved what they created so much she simply couldn't bear to see it ruined.
"She actually called us a year later, asking if we wanted it back," Fogelquist said. "It had been in her freezer the whole time."
The pair has been working together for more than three years. Sorby, who has been a cake decorator for more than 30 years, has spent the last nine-and-a-half with Lueken's while Fogelquist, who has been cake-decorating about six years, has been with Lueken's three-plus years.
"It's a good job; we get a lot of happy people," Sorby said. "You can't beat it."
Both Sorby and Fogelquist recently took part in competitions, where they won awards for their cake-decorating skills.
Fogelquist, at the SpartanNash food show in Minneapolis, won the grand prize for best overall decorating, having been tasked with decorating three cakes in a 1950s/rock and roll/soda shop theme, one for spring, and one for graduation.
Sorby, in the Upper Midwest Bakery Association conference in Red Wing, won bronze for her spring-themed fondant wedding cake, competing among 70-some entries. She created a tiered cake featuring hundreds of miniature flowers and several miniature, multicolored butterflies using Isomalt, crystals that can be melted and manipulated in forms to create edible designs.
Together, the duo, who handle the cakes for both of Bemidji's Lueken's locations, estimate they decorate about 200 cakes a month.
But one particular time of the year is the busiest.
"We put a skull and crossbones on our calendar for the day of graduation," Fogelquist noted.
"We know we will be doing nothing but sheet cakes," Sorby said.
One nice thing about graduation is that the two largest local ceremonies -- the ones for Bemidji State University and Bemidji High School -- don't fall on the same weekend, so the women can work ahead, mixing a lot of green and blue frosting in advance of each school's ceremony.
'We'll also have a couple of blank half-sheets all done up, ready to go," Fogelquist said. "It never fails that someone, somewhere forgot to order the cake."
Especially for BSU, when out-of-town parents might not plan to have a real party, but after seeing everyone gathered together, they decide to throw together a mini-celebration, with cake, of course.
The pair have done countless cakes over the years, but when asked for their favorites, they remembered quite a few, most of them just odd enough to stick out.
For Fogelquist, it was a zombie face she'd made for Halloween that first came to mind.
"I had gummy worms hanging out of the nose," she said. "I used Chiclets for teeth and they were all crooked and yellow. And just ooze all over. It was so great."
But her favorites to create, Fogelquist said, are "what-is-it cakes."
"When somebody's having a baby and they're finding out whether it's a boy or a girl," she explained. "They do a reveal party, and we'll make either a pink cake or a blue cake. So we know what they're having before the parents know."
The cake itself is either blue or pink. Fogelquist and/or Sorby will then decorate it neutrally, decking it out in perhaps yellows and greens, with generic baby booties, rattles, maybe duckies. No one else will know the gender until they actually cut into the cake.
"Those are my favorite," Fogelquist said.
Sorby remembered a roadkill cake she'd made for a men's wild game feed. She created a skunk that had been run over. The cake itself was red velvet so it was bright red when you cut into it.
"That was fun," Sorby said. "They loved it."
But her favorite, she said, are children's cakes.
"You can do cool things with them," Sorby said. "You can get into the characters and they can just be so much fun."
While there isn't one specific theme they don't like, both agreed fads can come in streaks.
"We can do five SpongeBob cakes in one week and then we won't get another one for five months," Fogelquist said.
Duck Dynasty was wildly popular, but it only lasted about two weeks, Sorby added.
Locally, they see a lot of orders for fishing, cabins, hunting, anything related to nature.
"The big thing right now is animal print," Sorby said. "Bright colors and animal prints."
"Zebra stripes," Fogelquist agreed. "Zebra stripes like you would not believe."
Both agreed that working with someone is preferable to being alone because they can bounce ideas off one another and also take turns doing specific skills and orders.
"We all try to do a little bit of everything because we want to be skilled in everything," Sorby said. "There's always somebody who's a little more skilled or enjoys doing something better. We tend to pass out certain projects to that person, but really, in the day to day, it's who is in the mood to do what. And it always works."