Let them Eat Cake

Rick Reichart of Kailua’s cakelava takes his highly decorated cakes to a Food Channel competition Sunday. These days bakers - excuse me, cake artists - are whipping up a whole new breed of confectionery masterpieces.

Sarah Pacheco
Wednesday - March 31, 2010
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Cake artist extraordinaire Rick Reichart puts the finishing touches on a wild birthday design

Double-layer sheet cakes topped with chocolate or vanilla frosting, plastic cartoon characters and colored icing to spell out “Happy Birthday” ... pff. Puh-leese.

These days bakers - excuse me, cake artists - are whipping up a whole new breed of confectionery masterpieces. Think 3D sculptures that can resemble your favorite pet, vacation destination or collectible in lifelike detail. Then there’s multi-layer wedding cakes that look too good to eat - that is, until you cut into it and reveal flavor combinations only thought up by a mad scientist, or 6-year-old with a killer sweet tooth.

The world of this dessert staple has exploded in the past few years in large part thanks to television shows on Food Network, TLC, Bravo and Travel Channel that showcase local bake shops across the country and the jaw-dropping, mouth-watering creations that can be made out of flour, sugar, butter and a little imagination.

And this Sunday, Hawaii will show what it can dish out as Rick Reichart of Kailua’s cakelava (yes, lower-case “c”) goes up against three veteran competitors on the hit Food Network Challenge.


While Reichart and wife/business partner Sasha have been sworn to secrecy as to the outcome of the throw down, they can divulge that, for being the only newcomer on set and the first to come out of the 808 state, Reichart held his own.

“He did really, really well,” says Sasha. “I’m not saying the outcome, but we were told that for a newbie, he was one of the best they’ve ever had.”

The Reicharts got the call for the national competition back in November, giving them approximately one month to prepare for the December taping at the network’s Denver, Colo., studios.

Though they had been approached by Food Network several times before, Reichart says that the timing wasn’t right for the couple: The first opportunity came three years ago, right at the start of their two person-run business; a few more would require the pair to be off-island the week a big wedding or birthday order needed to go out.

cakelava owners Sasha and Rick Reichart with a few of their most-recent creations

Another TV network with a similar cake-competition show also had expressed interest in featuring Reichart as a contestant, but the local cake artist declined because “our philosophies are different. Our cakes don’t just look the way they do - they have to taste good, too.”

So when Food Network rang again last year, they made sure to answer. What sweetened the deal even more, says Reichart, was the theme of the competition.

“It was a SpongeBob-theme cake for a kid’s birthday party. I used to watch it (SpongeBob Squarepants) religiously when it first came on. Honestly, I could-n’t have been able to turn this one down,” he says, reclining as if preparing to watch choice episodes of the popular Nickelodeon cartoon.

“This one was so perfect because it’s the pineapple,” adds Sasha, referring to the fruit that is synonymous with the Islands and happens to serve as SpongeBob’s under-sea home.

“It really was, for us,” she says, “as much about him and our company as it was about representing Hawaii.”

But of course, as an old adage goes, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong when you’re doing the challenge, I found out,” Reichart says. “You have to practice your cake, you have to figure out how you’re going to do everything in advance, try to predict as many things that can go wrong as possible, and still things go wrong.”

One big snafu that almost brought his cake dreams to an early end was when the package containing his cake - pre-baked at home a few days prior to ensure freshness - didn’t show up at the hotel.

“FedEx had run out of room on the plane, and so they put it on a truck in the middle of winter and shipped it over the Rockies to make it to Denver,” he recounts. “Sasha worked her magic and basically talked to them and told them what it was for. When they found out it was for Food Network, they scrambled and did a special dig for the boxes and brought

it to us right that night.”

Other hiccups included lack of sleep, an airbrush machine malfunction because of the altitude change - and having to smile for the hero shot.

“That was the hardest part of the challenge for me,” he says. “You have to smile big and stand there - and, by the way, it’s not a quick shot. You have to stand there with a plastered smile on your face for a long time. I think they were messing with me or something; I couldn’t hold a smile!”

Adds Sasha: “When you’re there, it’s three never-ending days of interviews and tapings, and then the challenge and the post-challenge. It’s very draining, but it’s also very exciting to watch it unfold.”

“Once you get to the challenge and they say ‘go,’ it’s all downhill from there,” Reichart says.

“It’s also sort of surreal because what you see on TV is edited to 40 or whatever minutes, but when you’re there it’s eight hours,” adds Sasha, who watched dutifully from the sidelines with other contestants’ family and friends. “It’s really exciting, but after a while you’re going, oh my gosh, there’s still four more hours!”

In addition to Reichart, cakelava and a few Hawaiian pronunciations - “(The host) kept saying ‘Kahlua,’ like the liquor,” Honolulu native and Punahou grad Sasha says with a laugh - Sunday’s episode also will introduce viewers to a new host, Claire Robinson of 5 Ingredient Fix, new set and new set of rules, the most important of which is that the cakes taste just as good as they look.

“Usually people would just slap together a cake and no one’s really eating it, but things have changed,” Reichart says. “This challenge had a tasting component - whoever won the challenge would then get to go to the kid’s party, their cake would be there and it was for a real kid to eat.”

That decision will remain unknown until the show airs at 2 p.m. April 4 (check local listings for channels), but Sasha reports that they have already been invited back - twice.

“They were very, very impressed with him and immediately called him back,” she says.

“Anytime they’ve called me since it’s been about character cakes and stuff, and I think that’s ultimately what they want me to do,” adds Reichart, who honed his craft under the tutelage of industry bigwigs such as Elin Katz of Rosebud Cakes in Beverly Hills, Annie Welch of Annie’s Cake-o-Rama in Port Townsend, Wash., and Joan Spitler of Cake Divas in L.A.

Among his favorite creations over his 15 plus-year career?

“I try to improve on all my work, and I usually have new favorites all the time,” he says, listing a Jack Russell terrier, University of North Carolina Tarheels mascot and birthday cake pictured above as a few of the more-memorable creations to come out of the kitchen in the last month.

And who would his ultimate client be (a hard task considering he has worked on cakes for Barbra Streisand, Cher, and Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne, among others)? “The LOST final episode cake. Or Johnny Depp! I would like to be able to do a cake for Johnny Depp and have it be Pirates of the Caribbean-themed.”

“Or the Obamas,” adds Sasha.

“I’d like to do a bust of Obama,” Reichart agrees. “I think that’d be fun.”

Those craving an anything-but-ordinary cake can visit www.cakelava.com or call 263-2868 (consultations and tasting by appointment only).

“I try to come up with something new and interesting for each person as much as possible,” Reichart says. “I get to be the artist I’ve always wanted to be.”

To learn more about “Food Network Challenge: SpongeBob Birthday Cakesand rebroadcast dates and times, visit www.foodnetwork.com.

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