Interview with Master Cake Artist, Elisa Strauss
When you meet renowned cake artist Elisa Strauss for the first time, you may be surprised to discover she is a petite woman with a cute little, tiny voice. But, make no mistake; Elisa is a powerhouse when it comes to teaching and speaking to a crowd. She can effortlessly captivate her audience with her talent and the creative ways she facilitates them in successfully replicating her techniques, despite their level of artistic ability.
Elisa has possessed a love for baking since a very young age when she assisted her grandmother in the kitchen. Today, she is the owner of Confetti Cakes; author of two books, The Confetti Cakes Cookbook: Spectacular Cookies, Cakes and Cupcakes from New York City's Famed Bakery and Confetti Cakes for Kids; Craftsy instructor, and Marvelous Molds collaborator. Elisa graduated from Vassar College and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago to pursue a career in art and later attained a degree in Pastry and Baking Arts from The Institute of Culinary Education.
When asked what she originally planned to do with her college degree, Elisa responded, “I thought I wanted to be an art teacher and teach kids, but I realized that I preferred playing with kids and creating my own art. But, then I found textile design, so I went into design.”
Heading in the design direction while in college, Elisa interned for Polo Ralph Lauren. When she graduated, she interviewed for a permanent position. “I showed my portfolio to the head of the print and scarf department. She asked me what brand I wore and I said “Gap.” I was a college kid,” Elisa explains. Luckily, Elisa’s talent had more than compensated for her fashion sense and she was hired.
Yet, it was the encouragement she received after making a cake for Ralph Lauren that propelled her into the cake industry. Elisa’s cake decorating style is very realistic, so realistic, in fact, you’d never think her creations were cake. “I love looking at a piece of food and being able to replicate it. I’m a puzzle person. I love figuring out how to get the perfect sheen on a hamburger cake. I enjoy the challenge of trying to get fondant to look as real as possible,” she says.
Pizza Burger Cake
While working at Polo Ralph Lauren, Elisa began attending pastry school. Within the next year or so, she opened her first commercial space. In 1999, she graduated pastry school and was incorporated by 2000.
“Once I took the leap of faith, I knew I could do it. I knew it was difficult and stressful, but I felt like the career chose me,” Elisa explains.
Since its inception, Elisa’s business has gained international recognition. She has taught in her studio, culinary schools, a cruise ship and across the country. She taught a three-day class in Canada for Icing Inspirations and continues to receive requests from all over the world. Cake decorators have flown in from Japan, Europe, South America and the Mediterranean to learn from the globally recognized artist.
Her many accolades include appearances on the Today show, Sex and the City, Rachael Ray and Martha Stewart. Elisa has also been featured on The View and starred numerous times on Food Network, including the "Extreme Cake Challenge" where she won the grand prize. Confetti Cakes has also been featured in In Style, Martha Stewart Weddings, Marie Claire, Seventeen, Elle, Vogue, Modern Bride, New York magazine, Brides, Elegant Bride, The Knot and in 2008 was selected as one of America's Top Ten Pastry Chef’s in Pastry Art and Design.
Elisa’s most exciting cake projects were a six-foot tall sock monkey on a Food Network competition and a Victorian house at the Jeremiah Hawkins house in Jamesport. “The cakes I do for my kids are special because they help me design them,” she explains.
Jeremiah Hawkins House Cake
Sock Monkey Cake
Elisa recently helped design a new line of fashion accessory molds for Marvelous Molds™. Although most of Elisa’s work is done painstakingly by hand, when she became a mom she realized how difficult it was to manage time when making cakes at home with children. “Molds make it easier for people making cakes from home. Especially when it comes to shoes. It’s like model cars you have to put together; there are so many parts to assemble. I wanted to make all the details of the shoes perfect, easy for people and accessible so it was a no brainer. I had already worked with Dominic [Palazzolo] and his crew of artists. I was constantly learning because I can say “make this in a mold” and I quickly learned the chain has to be flat, because it’s hard to stick to the cake. It was a melding of all these worlds. The collaboration went from an alligator mat to another impression mat. We went shopping for exotic skins – stingray became Goosebumps – one of the best impression mats. It can be the skin of a fruit or football or parts of an animal. The ideas evolved to shoes and when I couldn’t find existing molds that I could use I created them with Marvelous Molds. Chain molds didn’t have perforations so you’d have to cut out all the holes yourself. I started buying objects I liked and some things I made by hand and [Marvelous Molds] made them into molds,” said Elisa.
Lizard Skin Handbag Cake
Gum Paste Goth Shoe
Elisa’s fashion accessory line includes three different sizes of chains, a zipper and pull set, a spike strap, Bird with Blossoms Silicone Onlay™, Lizard Impression mat, pearl brooch designs, a skull cameo, two different size buckles, a diamond studded buckle and two different bows. All of the designs work well with any fashion themed cake application such as shoes, handbags, jewelry or other clothing items.
Looking back, Elisa’s most difficult challenge was changing with the times, “You start a business not knowing what you’re doing. You want to make people happy and put out a good product. It’s your own brand. Building and maintaining of the business is so much work. When I started my business it was just me. The challenge is to keep up with the times. Social media is time consuming. I answer questions on Craftsy, YouTube, my website and all the social media networks.”
What does the future hold for Elisa? “I’m working towards making more products, which I love, and more teaching. I may do another book. In the olden days, you’d want to have a TV show to further your brand but it isn’t really necessary today. I love being both a businesswoman and a mom, but it’s definitely a juggling act,” she ponders.
As accomplished as she is, Elisa still expresses modesty, “I love other cake designers but I think of them as experts and I feel like I’m still learning. Once you think you know everything, then what’s the point. I’m always still learning.”
“Colette Peters’ book was one of my first. I made her fish cake before I made anything using grocery store food colors. It took off from there. I’ve always been interested in realism. I started being influenced by Colette Peters and it evolved by reading and taking courses. I still wish I could be more Kate Sullivan, I love how she thinks out of the box,” she adds.
Elisa provides cake decorators with many tips and tricks including a free Craftsy class, “The Basics of Fondant Techniques.” When not immersed in teaching, Elisa enjoys yoga and spending time with her husband and their two, beautiful young children. You can see more of Elisa Strauss’ cakes at ConfettiCakes.com or watch her tutorials on her YouTube channel.
More Articles Like This