Leaning so his eyes are level with the carefully cut sheet cake in front of him, Dwight Green dips a doll-size spatula into a bowl of fresh butter-cream frosting. With quick, deliberate strokes, he transfers the whipped icing to the cake, spreading it in even layers before it can slide free of the small metal blade. He works fast, first putting a rough coat of frosting over the cake and then another, more finished coat. Stepping back, Mr. Green studies, spreads a little more and then smiles.
His cake has all the markings of the perfect tennis racket.
Mr. Green, who calls himself a baker in conversation and an artist in private, works cake and cream the way another sculptor might manipulate marble or clay. His cakes are sweet sculptures; confections transformed by imagination and the desire for a dessert less ordinary.
Mr. Green, who now plies his trade at DaVinci Cakes and Celebrations in Augusta, has been combining his love of art and the edible for nearly 25 years.
"There are times when people want more than a cake," he said. "They want a centerpiece. They want something that addresses who they are or the nature of the event. The fact that it also leaves a sweet taste in their mouth is just icing on the cake - no pun intended."
Mr. Green worked in Los Angles until recently - producing pieces to be admired, and then eaten, by the very famous. Among his clients - Debra Winger, Bob Hope, Elizabeth Taylor and Pee-wee Herman, who appeared with one of Mr. Green's cakes on the cover of Life magazine.
Many go to Mr. Green with specific designs in mind, but he said his most successful cakes have been the ones where he was allowed the freedom to create. In that, he said, sculpting cake is like any other art.
"When it comes to doing something that is the essence of who you are, something you pour your heart into and call your creation, it becomes something very different," Mr. Green said. "I don't consider myself a cake decorator. I consider myself a cake designer. I consider what I do art, and it's something I'm very happy with."
There are two schools of thought in the small world of sculptural cake. The first is that every piece of the cake should be edible; the second is that structure sometimes demands the introduction of non-edible materials. Mr. Green said that his tendency was to lean toward the former, but his cakes have evolved to the point where he has embraced the latter.
"I've noticed that for the convenience of the customer, or just so I can safely transport a cake, it can be helpful to use other materials."
Often, this mean building an armature on which the cake can rest. Still, Mr. Green said, wire and wood are secondary; a good cake is paramount.
"You always have to keep in mind that a cake needs to stay together," he said. "That dictates material. For instance, you want to use a denser cake, like a pound cake. It has to taste good, too. I've always thought that although these cakes have to look beautiful, there's not much point to them if they don't taste beautiful, too."
Although a sculptural cake might take hours to construct, Mr. Green understands that, in the end, his art is disposable. He said early in his career, seeing his work go under the knife was a little difficult. The passage of time, and a lot of cakes under the bridge, has allowed him to become more philosophical about it.
"In the beginning it was a little difficult, but now I can let them go," he said. "The fact that I'm selling more art work than any other artist I know helps a lot."
In the end, it's not the money or the mingling with the rich and famous that has kept Mr. Green returning to the kitchen. He said it's the opportunity to be a part life's important moments, if only tangentially, that keeps him up to his elbows in sweet frosting.
"I would be lying if I said doing a celebrity cake wasn't exciting," he said. "But I've come to a point where I've decided that everyone I make a cake for is a celebrity. They are coming to me, trusting me, asking me to be a part of their celebrations. That makes them all stars."
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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