Published on November 2nd, 2012 | by Alicia Coombes2
Interview with Cake Artist Michelle Cockle-Persoff
Cockle-Persoff’s creations range from large wedding-style cakes to small birthday cakes and everywhere in between. Raised in a tiny town in Colorado, she received a BA in Music at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado before moving to California and finding her passion for cake making.
After her husband decided to go to the California Culinary Academy, Cockle-Persoff decided to attend as well. She went through the program with a small cohort, learning basics like knife skills and sanitation before delving into bread-making, plated desserts, chocolate and candy, as well as nutrition and business management. She received her certificate in Baking and Pastry with honors in Cakes in 2004 and has since developed her own unique art form.
Art Animal had a chance to talk to Cockle-Persoff about her delicious creations and their unique artistry.
Art Animal: Can you tell me a bit about your journey into cake decorating? How did you start?
Michelle Cockle-Persoff: I started baking and decorating at a young age, sitting on the counter of my grandmother’s kitchen watching her make cakes. As I got older, she let me start helping with certain parts of the process. When I decided to go back to school to get my culinary degree, it seemed natural to go into baking and pastry arts. I quickly fell in love with my Cakes class and excelled. I took honors for my work in cakes when I graduated in 2004. I knew that’s what I wanted to focus on.
AA: Tell me about a cake design you’re particularly proud of.
MCP: My favorite cakes so far are the most recent wedding cakes I did, [one of] which was for a dear friend whom I used to babysit for long ago. She had her wedding back in the town I grew up in and begged me to do her cake. I drove out to Colorado with all my gear in the back of the car, took over my dad’s small condo kitchen for two days and made a cake that resembled a fall aspen tree. I created the bark part of the cake by piping brown colored buttercream onto the side in the streaks and then smoothing them out slightly with a spatula. The leaves were gum paste formed into leaves, dried completely, and then colored with an airbrush. I attached them to the cake with a little buttercream on the back. [My friend’s] smile was worth the trip alone.
The second was a steam punk cake influenced slightly by the web comic, Girl Genius by The Foglios. I made it as a trade for a person who did some head shots for me at one point. The occasion was a Halloween ball, Steam Punk themed. It took me quite a while to make — the top two layers were done with Styrofoam to give the effect of a tiered cake, but they didn’t want that many servings. The roses were made of gum paste — it dries completely hard so you can make the delicate petals of flowers and they keep their shape. The lace on the side was made by piping buttercream out of a very tiny tip. The leather look was just gel food color painted on with a paintbrush. The gears were also made with gum paste and then painted with what is called Luster Dust, an edible sugar decoration that shimmers.
AA: How would you like to see your cake decorating evolve?
MCP: I would love to one day find a way to own my own cake shop. Not your typical, popular cupcake shop that are popping up everywhere, but a unique and different specialty cake shop.
The thing about cake shops these days is that with the boom of the popularity of the Food Network, you really need to have something unique about your own style that draws people in. Something that isn’t the same old buttercream or fondant designs. (Fondant is a sugar Playdough-like material that is used to drape cakes with.) But you also need to be able to do those traditional styles too. There will always be a customer who wants something like that.
Being that I’m a geek of sorts (I like science fiction, fantasy, role playing, etc.), I think I’d like to feature cakes that appeal to “geek” culture. Video game and fantasy representations, internet memes, cakes based on books and iconic characters. [Along the lines of] the Steampunk cake I did. Stuff that appeals to the subcultures that you tend to find in the Bay Area.
AA: Do you have other artistic endeavors? What are they, and do they inform each other?
MCP: I am an extremely artistic person, passed down genetically from my mother who was a painter/crafter. I have the soul of a wood fairy that is currently stuck in the cement and smog, longing to be back among the trees. But I work with what I have and try to “bloom were I’m planted.” I’m constantly evolving/changing into who/what I feel I really am. Getting a little closer each day but always searching for the next part of “me.”
AA: Any baking disaster stories?
MCP: So far, none worth reporting. Knock on wood!
Hungry for more? Contact Michelle Cockle-Persoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.