Just a typical week in January …

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Words to remember …

This time of year is always a little bit challenging for me, as it’s a notoriously quiet season for cakes. As a business owner, I’d be lying through my teeth if I told you I was throughly enjoying the break from the studio, because even though there’s little coming in – there are still bills to pay! Fortunately, very similarly to many of my friends who are teachers and have to budget for summers without paychecks, I’ve learned how to budget for a few quiet winter months before things start picking up in the spring. And since time is incredibly valuable, now is the perfect time to 1) finally catch up on all the non-kitchen tasks that involve a lot of paperwork and computer time, 2) make a few coffee dates to catch up with other cake making friends & wedding professionals, 3) work on a few designs from my own idea sketchbook, and 4) fill the “inspiration-well” by taking in many other forms of art. And so, that’s exactly what I found myself doing for the first full week of January.

Here’s a few of the highlights from the week of January 6th:

chai_TeaI had a number of coffee dates this week with fellow entrepreneurs in the wedding industry – including a very long coffee date with two other fabulous NJ cake designers. It’s always interesting to chat with people in the industry, as each of us comes to our craft from different backgrounds. During our conversation, I realized that my strength as a cake designer comes from art & design first. Creating unique and modern designs, as well as realistic 3D cakes is definitely my passion. It’s a tricky balance between keeping one’s artistic integrity and making the all-mighty $. Even though a lot of people would consider it “easy money” to replicate designs, I never like replicating other designers’ or even my own work! It seems like the ever-present challenge for me over the past few years has been figuring out ways to translate über-expensive designs into more budget-friendly designs without losing the overall aesthetic.

Adding emphasis to how important the design process is in my cake creation, I was totally surprised to discover during our cake chat that it’s not a mandatory step for my fellow cake designers to create cake sketches. Almost every cake I create (with the exception of 3D cake replicas of objects), is sketched first – and in many cases – revised a few times too! I think a future post on my design process is definitely in store for this year …

theknotbook_sweetelementcakeOne *big* highlight to my week was finding one of my wedding cakes in the 2012 edition of The Knot’s Complete Guide to Weddings book!

sneak_peekOf course, I couldn’t stay completely away from the studio! I started out 2013 with a cake design for the upcoming spring/summer issue of NY Weddings. The photo above shows an in-process photo of a zillion little hand-cut gum paste pieces and a sneak-peek of the finished cake in the bottom right hand corner.

moma_jan2013Mr. Sweet Element & I also had a chance to enjoy our favorite city after the cake delivery to NY Weddings last Wednesday, which meant a long overdue trip to MoMA and a fabulous re-do birthday dinner for Mr. Sweet Element at Empellon. If you’re ever looking for insanely good Mexican – look no further than this gem in the West Village.

2013_01_11_nycwalkAlso in the “filling of my inspiration-well” – I finally got to watch The Black Swan (loved), almost finished Molly Wizenberg’s “A Homemade Life” (highly recommended), and got to snap some photographs in NYC on Friday before I met up with a few friends. While I live in the land of instagram & cell-phone photos 90% of the time, I am on a mission this year to improve my photography skills with my “real” camera. I think it’s sad that so many people have DSLR cameras and only shoot in the automatic setting! The pics in the collage above will give you a glimpse into what caught my eye during a 3 mile morning walk from midtown to the west village.

2012 – A Year in Review …

Happy New Year everyone! I’m hoping this is one of the last looooong round-up posts I’ll have, as one of my many resolutions for 2013 is to be more present here in the blogosphere!

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Before I begin the round-up of sweets, I thought I’d let everyone know why the blog was a bit quiet this year. I know I’ve broken probably every rule of a successful blogger, and was barely present blog-wise in 2012. For starters, I blame the ever addictive Facebook. Before the ease of being able to churn out quick posts on Facebook (mostly photos & mostly with my iPhone), I always felt the need to get blog posts together for every project to update everyone on what was going on in the world of Sweet Element Cakes. Then add in twitter (also slacked there in 2012 …), pinterest (still figuring it out),  flickr (almost up to-date), managing my own website (something I think I may finally give up this year), figuring out that having an intern isn’t neccesarily a good thing, getting audited (we survived & owe nothing – thank you to awesome accountants & my OCD about keeping all receipts!), getting into a minor car accident, dealing with a few not-so-happy clients for the first time ever, and oh, the million and one other things that I needed to do – like actually MAKE the cakes and deliver them (many times unexpectedly solo – more on that in future posts) – and I just got overwhelmed.

I’ve debated about how personal to be here on this lil’ cake blog, and I’ve been inspired this year by reading some very honest posts from cake designers I admire about the reality of our profession. None has struck home more than Mike Elder‘s blog, which I’ve found incredibly bold, very personal and almost therapeutic to read. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in a lot of the craziness that we cake makers & other creative types endure! It’s a catch-22 for me, because I think it’s important to put a positive front out there – especially in such a “sweet” business – but I do think that at times, especially when the going is rougher than expected, that trying to put on a super positive front on-line as well as here on the blog was just impossible. So, starting with this first not-so little post of 2013 – you’ll notice that things will be a bit different here on the blog! I’ll still post all the sweet stories behind my cakes & keep everyone updated on my latest projects, but I’ll also be opening up about the reality of running a one woman cake studio in the NYC metro area. So, buckle up – if 2012 was any indication of what 2013 holds in store – it’s gonna be a hell of a ride!

And now … onto the 2012 round-up!

I was extremely happy to have Sweet Element Cakes featured in the bridal press this year in The Knot, Brides, New York Weddings, both the NY & NJ editions of Contemporary Bride, and numerous blogs.
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And then there were the events … here’s a snapshot of the highs & lows of each.

sweetelement_nyc_glbt_expo2GLBT Expo High: Mr. Sweet Element & I were smart enough to bring along a few extra pairs of hands to help pass out over 6,000 mini cupcake samples over the two-day event.
GLBT Expo Low: My iPhone got STOLEN on the second day. :(

jen_ramiBrides/bebe event High: Getting to design one of my favorite wedding cakes of the year inspired by a dress design by Rami Kashou.
Brides/bebe event Low: I think I said everything I could in this previous post.

sweetelement_table_jay_inbliss_mamIn Bliss Launch High: Getting to meet some awesome fellow cake designers & NJ wedding pros & also see the Montclair Art Museum for the first time!
In Bliss Launch Low: Getting to meet some not-so-friendly competition. (Unfortunately, the cake world isn’t all sweet y’all.)

thecreamThe Cream High: Having Mr. Sweet Element back from Belgium in time to go with me.
The Cream Low: Me being too totally wiped out from an all-night cake session & him from a crazy business trip and trans-atlantic flight to really enjoy ourselves. (We left with unused drink tickets – for shame!)

bridesstyleshopBrides Style Shop High: Finally getting to meet & have dinner with another cake designer & her husband. Always great to be able to talk to people that get it!
Brides Style Shop Low: Finding out that the cake stands for the cakes were too small to put my extremely fragile cake on which meant leaving it on it’s ugly “transport-only” cardboard board. Ugh.

sweetelement_openhouse_setupIt was also nice to be able to open the studio for a few events this year as well. We had a fabulous turn out for The Sweet Element studio’s 2nd anniversary party in May & our holiday open house in December. Hopefully I’ll be able to plan a few more open studio events for 2013!

A few firsts for 2012:

1st Logo Re-Design! As with many other businesses, after a few years in the trenches, I’ve found that my old logo wasn’t really cutting it anymore and wanted to come up with a new design with more emphasis on cakes. My friend and fellow wedding pro, Meridith Desmond introduced me to 99designs.com – and I had a blast working on-line with a number of designers to come up with the perfect new logo!
Cherry1st delivery of a cake to a wedding reception on a boat! I was super happy to have Mr. Sweet Element with me on the delivery for this one as he had to literally leap from the dock/stairs to the boat with the cake. All along he thought driving the cake for deliveries was the most stressful part – HA! Luckily, everything went swimingly, and both bride & groom loved their groom’s cake! ;D
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1st wedding where the catering staff ate ALL the extra cake – including the TOP TIER! To add insult to injury, the catering staff also THREW OUT the custom acrylic topper that Mr. Sweet Element had painstakingly hand cut. Fortunately, the catering staff paid for a replacement top tier and topper, so there was a happy ending.
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1st Icing Smiles Cake for a special little girl in Newark, NJ. It was a pleasure to come up with a fun Yo Gabba Gabba design for her. Personally one of my favorite kid’s cakes of 2012!
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1st Open Air Market in downtown NYC at the Fulton Stall Market for the holidays. As the colder months are notoriously more quiet in the world of cakes, I switched gears yet again during the holiday season of 2012 and switched gears to creating artisan chocolates, cookies & other confections. After some thought about how to market those items – I thought that it would be a nice idea to bring a little bit of sweetness down to to the seaport in NYC, which was hit rather terribly by Hurricane Sandy earlier in 2012. Mr. Sweet Element & I braved the cold (& rain!) every Sunday before Christmas in December and got to meet a number of other really awesome vendors, a few tourists and many locals (& their pups!).
Sweet Element Fulton Stall Market

One of my goals for 2012 was to meet other solopreneurs & small business entrepreneurs in the wedding industry, and I’m happy to say that is one goal I definitely accomplished! It’s been nice to be able to grab coffee or lunch with other people in similar shoes in the crazy world of weddings & beyond. I was also lucky enough to be able to personally work with a few of the fabulous wedding pros that I met when Mr. Sweet Element & I celebrated our 11th anniversary in October with a weekend in NYC.  We kicked off the festivities with a super fun photoshoot in the meatpacking district with Meridith Desmond. And if you’re wondering why I look like I have a more flawless face than normal – I had my make-up professionally done for the very first time (yes, EVER – I did my own make up at my wedding!) by the fabulous Sharon Becker of SB Beauty.

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And lastly, here are some of my favorite cakes from this year:

Favorite 2012 Wedding Cake : Lichtenstein Inspired Wedding Cake
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Favorite 2012 Wedding Cake for the Media : Art Nouveau Peacock Wedding Cake
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Favorite 2012 Super Last Minute Cake : G-Shock Birthday Cake
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Favorite 2012 Sculpted Cake : Coca Cola Groom’s Cake
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Favorite 2012 Decorated Cupcakes : Boss & Minion Cupcakes for Bosses’ Day
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Post-Sandy

Photo courtesy of Julian Ribinik Photography

It’s been quite a while since I checked in here on the ‘ol Sweet Element blog. Life got busy this summer & fall, and while there were plenty of cakes made (future catch up posts to come!), there were many non-cake related events that had me busy in and out of the kitchen, leaving little time to put together updates beyond a quick tweet or Facebook post.

Life however, has an interesting way of slowing things down & making us re-evaluate and re-prioritize things sometimes, and that’s exactly what happened as a result of Hurricane Sandy, which caused my studio to lose power and left me with plenty of downtime to think about what’s next for both me & Sweet Element. The studio is still out of power, but unlike many of our neighbors, Mr. Sweet Element & I were super lucky to have never lost power at home. So, since I’ve been ousted from kitchen work for the past week, I’ve been playing serious catch up with the business side of my business, which includes a lot of time spent in front of a computer.

Here’s a few photos of what we found when we checked out the studio after the storm.

Downed Transformer Pole Behind the Studio

Giant uprooted tree on power lines behind the studio.

No power = not a good temperature reading for a refrigerator = goodbye perishables.

Damaged house across the street from the studio.

As a small business owner, I am well aware at how events like hurricanes and other can truly break a business, especially those in food service, where margins are tight to begin with. My heart truly goes out to my fellow entrepreneurs & their clients, as well as the thousands of others who were adversely affected by Sandy. Fortunately, unlike many other small businesses in the area, my space didn’t get damaged. Unfortunately, I did have to cancel a few orders and tastings that were booked last week, as my studio was cold & dark. So while I took a hit in the perishable items in my fridge and a few smaller orders, I could not be more grateful that this storm hit when it did, because a month earlier and the loss of business for me would have been devastating, as September is one of my busiest month of the year (*the* busiest this year), especially with weddings.

My fingers are crossed that power is restored to my studio soon, as I have been receiving inquiries for last minute orders that I would love to take, especially for weddings that have been affected by the storm. In the interim however, I decided to go and check in on NYC and support some of my favorite small, independent downtown eateries and businesses yesterday, and I urge everyone else to do the same. It was eerie to see the streets a lot quieter than normal and a lot of shuttered shops.

I’d like to close by thanking many industry friends, former clients, and many friends and family members who were quick to check in on both me & Sweet Element in the aftermath of the storm. As soon as we’re back up & powered, I’ll be sharing our holiday schedule of events, which I hope to see many of you at!

Stay strong my fellow NJ & NYC friends!

Masquerade Wedding Cake & Coca Cola Bottle Groom’s Cake

It’s always a pleasure working with a couple where I have the opportunity to work with them on both their wedding & groom’s cakes.  This couple’s wedding theme was especially close to my heart, as it was the same as mine – masquerade!

The delivery for these two cakes was a bit interesting, as both cakes needed to be finished onsite and the groom’s cake had to be hidden from the groom until the reception started.  With the ceremony, cocktail hour and reception all happening in the same place on the rooftop at the Ravel Hotel in Long Island City, NY , it was a bit of a challenge to keep the cake hidden!  Luckily, the staff was able to get us a screen to work behind, and while there were a few close calls where we had to hide the groom’s cake in the kitchen hallway, the groom’s cake remained a secret until it’s unveiling later in the evening.

Here’s a photo of the two cakes together in their hiding spot on the bar.

During the couple’s tasting & design consultation, I got the distinct impression that while this couple wanted a traditional tiered wedding cake, they were also open to something a little bit different.  In the end, the wedding cake design was definitely a collaboration between the bride & groom and me.  The monogram on the top tier (which is one of my favorites!) was designed by the groom, and was also used on their wedding invitation.  Also, while not too overly dramatic once the decorations put on, this cake was quite unique with offset tiers, two in royal purple for a jolt of color.  The sugar anemones were a request from the bride, as she was also having the same flowers in her bridal bouquet.  The white tiers with silver decor were inspired by the view of the 59th Street bridge from the venue.

The wedding cake was comprised of alternating tiers of devil’s food cake with peanut butter mousse filling, and red velvet cake, filled with cream cheese frosting.  All tiers were frosted in vanilla buttercream, and decorated in fondant & gum paste.

The surprise Coca Cola bottle groom’s cake was extremely fun to make.  As you might imagine, the groom is an a huge fan of Coke, so there was no mistaking what the overall theme of his cake would be!  To make it a little more personal than just a bottle of Coke, I incorporated a few wedding rings on the top, a lasso around the base of the bottle (to tie in the groom’s love of all things country), and a few custom labels on the sides.  The groom’s cake was comprised of pistachio cake, filled with pistachio buttercream and frosted in vanilla buttercream.

Here’s a few detail shots I took during delivery of the custom labels.  As you’ll notice, The top was left off the cake until we got to the venue, as this was another cake that I sat with in the back, and I needed a spot to hold in case of any sharp turns or unexpected short stops during the drive from the studio to the venue. Luckily, we had a fairly smooth ride and the cake construction held up just fine!
And lastly, here’s a shot of me finishing up decorations on-site. (This was our first cake delivery with our new DSLR camera … so Jay went a little camera happy :D)  You can see the offsetting of the tiers a lot more here.

Stacked Books Birthday Cake

I had the pleasure of working with Encore Catering on this stacked books cake for a very special 60th birthday celebration at the Newark Museum in Newark, NJ last month.

The client had very specific requests on the book titles and stacking order, and wanted a classic book feel to the overall look.  I thought a marbled board would be a nice accent as well.  I have to say I’m pretty happy with the end result!

All the books were vanilla pound cake, filled with lemon curd, frosted in vanilla moussaline buttercream, and decorated in fondant.

It was wonderful to hear that the cake went over well, as I received the following note in an email from Encore Catering the following week:

“Awesome job on the book cake. The client was thrilled!”

 

Birds of Paradise Wedding Cupcake Tower

Whew … the busy season has officially begun at Sweet Element Cakes!  It looks like it’s going to be a doozy of a summer, and I’m going to do my best to keep up to date here this year!


Last weekend I finally had the opportunity to use this sweet custom cupcake tower designed & built by the ever infamous Mr. Sweet Element.  We delivered this tower to The Casino building in Silas County State Park in Kinnelon, NJ last Saturday.

This birds of paradise themed spiral wedding cupcake tower was designed for a super sweet couple, Daniel & Erik.  These grooms had the unfortunate experience of having their wedding postponed from last summer to this spring because of the hurricane weather we experienced last August, which caused all state parks to close the day before their wedding!  I’m happy to report that they had gorgeous weather for “Wedding Day Take 2″ though!

During our initial consultation, I was told that while they definitely wanted a cupcake tower for their wedding, they didn’t want a traditional stacked “wedding-cake-like” tower.  Since I knew they wanted a non-traditional tower and they also wanted to use birds of paradise in the design somehow, I came up with the concept of a tower that would incorporate a vase for the floral arrangement and a set of spiral steps for the cupcakes.

In these shots taken from beneath and the side, you can really appreciate the 3D spiral-ness of the design.

The stunning floral arrangement in the vase of the tower was artistically crafted by Larry from Floral Expressions.  It’s always a pleasure to see another creative mind at work, and when Larry saw that the vase was slightly bigger than he had expected, he instantly thought of filling in the space with branches that perfectly matched the custom stained wood “steps” of the tower!

And lastly, here’s a close up of the cupcakes themselves.  There was a combination of red velvet, devil’s food and vanilla cupcakes, all filled with dark chocolate ganache and frosted with vanilla moussaline buttercream colored to compliment the birds of paradise.

Congrats Daniel & Erik!

Happy 1st Anniversary Chris & Aet!

I know I’m a few days late, but I wanted to wish a very sweet couple, Chris & Aet a very happy 1st anniversary!  I had the pleasure of working with them on their wedding cake last year – a modern buttercream cake wrapped in cherry blossom branches and decorated with love birds.

As many in the wedding industry can attest – even the nicest person can turn a little bridezilla with the stress on their wedding day.  So you can imagine my surprise when I received a personal call from the bride – on the morning of her wedding day, just to confirm that I knew that there was free parking for vendors in the garage across the street from the venue and telling me how to get a voucher, etc.  I don’t know if Aet knows how much it meant that on her big day she took a few minutes to personally reach out to her vendors – but I was extremely touched.  How sweet is that?!  Aet, all of us in the wedding industry wish all of our brides were a little more like you!

A few weeks later, in this day of all things digital, it was a welcome surprise to receive a handwritten thank you card from the happy newlyweds along with a few photos, including the one above, of them cutting the cake.

Here’s to many, many more sweet years together! :D

Modern Marie Antoinette Wedding Cakes

It’s always a pleasure to work with clients that have a fun & interesting theme for their wedding.  And when I received an email from a bride planning a modern Marie Antoinette themed event (think of Sofia Coppola’s rendition) at the historical Loews theater in Jersey City, I just knew we’d get along smashingly! :D

I ♥ ‘The Love Story” marque.

As the bride was also in the industry (she is a fab makeup artist, and you can find out all about her work here), she was very wise to the fact that the more advance notice you can provide to a boutique vendor like me – the better everything seems to work out!

During our initial design consultation, the bride mentioned that she was interested in the possibility of multiple wedding cakes, as the table the venue provided was 14′ long, and she was afraid that just one small wedding cake would get completely lost.  However, with the wedding being on the more intimate side, I knew that breaking down the number of servings needed into multiple cakes would result in some pretty miniscule cakes that would definitely get lost on such a giant table.

So what to do?

Create rental cakes!

I’ve been toying with the idea of rental wedding cakes for a while, and with this particular client being incredibly nice (yes, listen up … it does pay to be nice to your vendors people … we’ll go above and beyond for grateful clients!), I knew that rental cakes would work beautifully to fill the table on a budget.  So, in the end, I created one real wedding cake (center) and two faux cakes (left and right) for display on the giant dessert table.

The real wedding cake below was comprised of devil’s food cake, filled with Nutella and raspberry preserves, and frosted in Nutella buttercream.  This was the first cake I had made with macarons as decoration & ombre ruffles, and I have to say, I was quite pleased with the end result!

Here’s a closer shot of one of the rental cakes that incorporated pink macarons, a fondant fan and a few gum paste feathers with a black bow on top.

The other faux cake was a one tier cake, in a rough hand painted “polka dot” treatment with a large outline of a flower in the front, accented by a macaron center.

I was so happy to see the following review a few days later from the bride about these cakes on WeddingWire:

“I can’t thank Jen at Sweet Element enough for sharing her amazing talents with us!

I fell in love with a wedding cake design and had come across a bunch of ideas and was searching for someone to bring it all together in one original cake…and not charge us a million dollars for it! I found Sweet Element online and was excited when I read that she will make your design fit within your budget! Its one thing for someone to rip your wedding cake dreams into little parts that you can afford but she really took everything I wanted and gave me a bunch of designs that were all amazing! It was so hard to choose just one!

Jen also made the suggestion of using 2 false cakes to take up space on the huge(14ft long) table we would use as our cake table. Everyone LOVED the 3 cakes and people kept asking when we were going to cut the other two!

I would highly recommend working with Sweet Element for any occasion! Jen was always easy to reach, willing to work with our ideas, worked everything into our budget and her cake was DELICIOUS!

And lastly … a bit of advice for how to transport a cake on a cake plate!

As the bride wanted to use specific cake plates of her own for presentation, and the real cake had a delicate ruffled base, we came up with an ingenious idea for transport – with the foam support in the photo below.  Essentially, I took a cake tier the height of the cake plate, cut out a hole in the center to put the foot of the plate through, cut a piece of no-skid to place atop the foam, and voila!

Rami Kashou Bridal Line Launch at bebe

I was thrilled when Sweet Element was offered the opportunity to participate in the Vow to Wow launch party for Rami Kashou‘s new bridal line for bebe last month at bebe’s SoHo location in NYC,  as I have been a fan of Rami’s work ever since his first stint on Project Runway.

The cake above was inspired by this layered silk tafetta wedding gown.

So why the delay in posting you may be asking?  Well … it’s taken me a little while to get over the unexpected drama that completely threw me for a loop! (There’s a hint in bottom of the photo above of me & Rami.)

Everything started out well, and I set up my table above with chocolates, a few display cakes inspired by Rami’s new gowns, my portfolio and some business cards.  Initially I thought that this would be an invitation only event, but I was surprised to see that bebe kept it’s doors open to all shoppers.  As you might imagine, when you’re giving out free chocolate – it goes quickly!  Within twenty minutes, all 100 pieces of chocolate were gone and I had one of the corporate marketing folks from bebe come over and ask if I had any more chocolate or any other food, as I couldn’t have an empty table.  I explained that her staff had specifically ordered just 100 bon bons, but I did bring two sheet cakes that were supposed to be cut and served by their catering staff.  After grumbling that she was going to have words with her staff, she then disappeared to find the sheet cakes that I had left in the kitchen for the catering staff.

Half an hour later, the corporate marketing person was still missing, and I was left wondering what was happening with these two sheet cakes, as I didn’t see any catering staff.  At that point, one of the security people from bebe came over, and seeing my quizzical expression, explained that there were no plates or utensils for the sheet cakes, and they were sending someone to Duane Reade (a local pharmacy) to get something to serve the cake with.  With the event nearly half over, as it was only two hours in duration, I was seriously wondering if these cakes would even get served.

Oh, but then *I* got served.  I was mortified when the staff brought up both sheet cakes, which were supposed to be cut and plated in a back kitchen and NEVER meant to be placed on my white linen table!  If that wasn’t bad enough, the staff thought it was helpful to precut the cakes in a very odd fashion, and not supply me with anything to serve it with … so I ended up using two forks (or spoons!) to serve up the odd shaped pieces of cake, while suppressing tears.  Where was the catering staff I was promised?!  If I had known there was no catering staff I never would have made sheet cakes (which by the way, the corporate staff specifically asked for), and would definitely have opted for mini cupcakes as I usually do for these types of events.

Here’s a photo of the cake horror that I took with my cell phone.  That’s devil’s food cake with nutella buttercream on the left and red velvet with cream cheese frosting on the right.  And yes, those are paper BOWLS that the staff ran out to get.

And as if that wasn’t bad enough … the staff only ran to get 30 or so bowls and 48 forks, so within ten minutes, I was offering people cake on napkins sans utensils as that’s all I had.

I honestly think I might have just packed up if Mr. Sweet Element hadn’t shown up as moral support during this disaster.  It was a small consolation to see the corporate marketing person felt terrible and came over to apologize for the mix up, as she saw how mortified I looked when they dropped those two very NOT for presentation cakes on my table for me to serve.

So … lesson learned … I will now ALWAYS quadruple check with any event planners to ensure that everything promised – like a catering staff with PLATES & FORKS will actually be there!

Here’s a shot of Rami with the bebe staff.  And yes, that’s me at my table in the back right corner, posting the cake horror on twitter.