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Augustine’s strawberry-rhubarb trifle with basil cake. Photo: Liz Clayman

Maybe it’s just a side effect of The Great British Bake Off mania, but British desserts have made an unexpected return to menus around the city. “If you look at the classic desserts of England, they’re extremely comforting and I think they’re very traditional in the way that they’re designed for the home cook,” says British-born chef Jess Shadbolt of King, where an Eton Mess was recently added to the menu. “Nostalgia drives so much of our love and appreciation for food.” That nostalgia has inspired a sticky toffee pudding that’s sending diners into sugary nirvana, cherries jubilee set aflame tableside uptown, and Victorian sponges that the Mother of Europe herself would be head over heels for — all of them a bit elevated but nonetheless simple and comforting. “I definitely think that there should be more British desserts on menus,” Shadbolt adds. “I, for one, believe in them.” Below, a guide to all the British desserts worth ordering right now.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Trifle
Where: Augustine
How Much: $11
As far as British desserts go, trifles are pretty old hat, but leave it to Augustine to give the dessert a new coat of paint. The restaurant now serves a version of the trifle that starts with a sweet, egg-based pastry cream, followed by a layer of rhubarb compote, cubes of verdant basil cake, toasted marcona almonds, strawberries, whipped cream, and dehydrated strawberry powder.

Citrus Posset
Where: Cherry Point
How Much: $10
How do you follow up one too many old-fashioneds and a 70-day dry-aged steak for two? With a very simple, very light dessert. At Brooklyn’s Cherry Point, run by British-born chef Ed Szymanski, that dessert is a citrus posset featuring Cara Cara orange supremes. The original posset featured cream curdled with liqueur, but today’s possets are more akin to nice custards featuring thickened cream. Cherry Point sweetens its version with sugar and vanilla, then allows it to set in the fridge before arriving tableside with crunchy Earl Grey meringue shards on top. It’s the culinary equivalent of cooling down after a particularly hard-core workout.

Lemon Pudding Cake
Where: Simon & the Whale
How Much: $16
Pastry chef Zoe Kanan recently added a lemon pudding cake to the menu that features a pudding base and an egg-white-based cake on top. (The pudding is steamed as the cake rises to the top.) Each spoonful is a combination of light and airy cake mixed with a citrus bomb that Kanan says will “make you sit up straight” thanks to the addition of lemon juice, oil, and zest.

The sticky toffee pudding from Crown Shy features a syrup-soaked date cake. Photo: Melissa Hom

Sticky Toffee Pudding for Two
Where: Crown Shy
How Much: $18
The sticky toffee pudding at Crown Shy, just one part of the restaurant’s truly impressive dessert menu, is a master class in decadence. Pastry chef Renata Ameni starts by making a date cake and soaking it in an apple-cider-caramel soak to keep it moist and drizzles it with syrup made with muscovado sugar, which is just shy of pure molasses. The cake is topped with smoked candied pecans and brown butter and then served with a scoop of Granny Smith–apple sorbet that cuts right through the heaviest part of the pudding. If that sounds like a bit much, Ameni recently started selling a small to-go version of the dish at lunch time.

Banoffee Tarte Tatin for Two
Where: The Clocktower
How Much: $25
At this British-leaning Stephen Starr spot, the classic banoffee pie with banana, cream, and toffee layered over a cookie crumble goes decidedly Continental. Pastry chef Mark Henning has taken a page out of the French playbook and stacked layers of caramelized bananas over puff pastry plus a scoop of hazelnut ice cream, drizzling the final result with toffee syrup.

Cherries Jubilee
Where: The Grill
How Much: $15
Yes, a French chef — Auguste Escoffier — invented cherries jubilee, but he did it to celebrate Queen Victoria. The folks at The Grill are similarly taken, it seems, and their version of the dish features sweet cherries, orange-vanilla cherry syrup, and a splash of bourbon set aflame in beautiful, highly Instagrammable fashion and then poured over a couple scoops of candied-almond ice cream.

The slightly savory Eton Mess from LaLou. Photo: Melissa Hom

Eton Mess
Where: King and LaLou
How Much: $13 and $11
Anyone can make an Eton Mess: strawberries, meringue, and whipped cream. For this most classic take, King is your best bet. (“It exemplifies simple deliciousness,” says Shadbolt of her version.) But for a take that goes one step further, head to the recently opened LaLou. Like King, Chef Ashley Rath uses whipped cream instead of butter-fat-heavy double cream and mixes it with chunks of vanilla meringue. Both sit like a cloud over a handful of locally grown strawberries macerated with balsamic vinegar and black pepper to savory effect and then served in a coupe glass.

Pound Cake
Where: Loring Place
How Much: $16
Pastry chef Diana Valenzuela makes over the classic pound cake by substituting whipped cream for butter and then adding the eggs, flour, and sugar for a cake that’s so airy and delicate that it might float away. Luckily, there are fresh blueberries and cherries plus a scoop of fennel-seed ice cream to keep it firmly grounded.

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Curry Up Now is celebrating the Grand Opening of its first Atlanta area location at 1575 Church Street in Decatur on Tuesday, 7/30. The first 150 guests in line at 11:30 a.m. will receive a free burrito, bowl, or samosa, and all day long guests can enjoy 50% off orders and live entertainment from Punjabi Bhangra dancers and henna artists.

The Award-Winning Indian Fast Casual, Which Has Four Additional ATL Stores In The Works, Will Celebrate With FREE Food To First 150 Customers, 50% Off the Rest of the Day, & Live Entertainment

Atlanta, GA  (RestaurantNews.com)  Curry Up Now, the award-winning Indian fast casual and transplant from the San Francisco Bay Area, will celebrate the Grand Opening of its first Atlanta area outpost at 1575 Church Street in Decatur on Tuesday, July 30 from 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. The restaurant, which is best known for its iconic Tikka Masala Burritos, Deconstructed Samosas, Indian street food and more, will celebrate by offering a complimentary bowl, samosa, or burrito to the first 150 guests in line, 50% off all orders for the rest of the day, and live entertainment from Punjabi Bhangra dancers and henna artists. Curry Up Now will open at least four more locations in Atlanta and is currently seeking real estate options throughout the metro area.

“We’ve been eagerly waiting to open our doors and finally bring Curry Up Now’s unique and innovative Indian eats to Atlanta,” said Atlanta franchisee Hemant Suri. “Decatur is known for its impressive and ever-growing food scene, which is why we wanted to introduce Curry Up Now to this area. We think that it’s going to be a welcome addition and couldn’t be more excited to celebrate our Grand Opening with the community of Decatur.”

Curry Up Now began as a food truck in Northern California in 2009. Founded by husband and wife duo Akash and Rana Kapoor and ably supported by co-founder and Senior VP of Operations Amir Hosseini, the innovative concept took off in the San Francisco Bay Area market and quickly expanded to include six corporate brick-and-mortar locations, several food trucks, and two globally-inspired craft cocktail bars, Mortar & Pestle. The Decatur location will be the first outside of Curry Up Now’s home state and will include all of the brand’s iconic Indian dishes that are presented in friendly, easily recognizable formats that can be adapted to meet the needs of vegan and gluten-free guests.

“We want to enter Atlanta with a bang, which is why we are celebrating with a Grand Opening that all can enjoy,” said Akash Kapoor, Founder & CEO of Curry Up Now. “This opening is only the beginning, but we have full confidence in the Atlanta group to grow the Curry Up Now brand and bring the long-awaited Tikka Masala and Hella Vegan Burritos, Sexy Fries, Naughty Naan, and Indian street snacks to the area. Our franchisees are about to break ground on our second location in Reynoldstown and can’t wait to open the third Atlanta location in Midtown, which will also house our eclectic craft cocktail bar, Mortar & Pestle.”

The Decatur location will be open Sunday to Thursday from 11:00 a.m to 10:00 p.m., and until 11:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Catering and takeout will be available, and guests are invited to order ahead using the Curry Up Now mobile app. For more information, call 470-343-2911, visit www.curryupnow.com, and follow @CurryUpNow on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

About Curry Up Now

Curry Up Now was established in 2009 by Akash Kapoor and his wife Rana, and ably supported by co-founder and now Senior VP of Operations, Amir Hosseini. The concept, which is known for its innovative spin on traditional Indian cuisine, has been recognized in publications such as Zagat: ‘5 Hottest Fast-Casual Chains,’ EATER SF: ‘SF’s Best Indian Restaurants,’ 7×7: ‘100 Things To Eat Before You Die,’ QSR: ‘40 Under 40,’ Fast Casual: ‘Top 100’ Movers & Shakers, Nation’s Restaurant News: ‘2018 Breakout Brand,’ and International Council of Shopping Centers: ‘Hot Food & Beverage Chain.’ Curry Up Now currently operates six brick-and-mortars and three food trucks in California’s Bay Area, and has both corporate and franchised units in development across California, New Jersey, Colorado, Utah, and Atlanta, GA. For more information about Curry Up Now, visit www.curryupnow.com. To learn more about franchising opportunities with Curry Up Now, visit http://go.fransmart.com/CurryUpNowApply.

Media Contact:
Ajenda Public Relations
Kathryn Kelly
Kathryn@ajendapr.com
714-421-8117

Jenna Satariano
Jenna@ajendapr.com
562-761-2095


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As well as helping you decide what to cook we can also help you to cook it. From tips on cookery techniques to facts and information about health and nutrition, we’ve a wealth of foodie know how for you to explore.

See our how to section…

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Restaurants said they often get blamed for issues with food delivery even if it’s not their fault.

Mr Agi said customer refund requests take up time for the restaurant chain which turned over around $10 million last year.

He said Deliveroo is particularly difficult as refund requests are sent through to restaurants which are required to rebut the claims or it will be charged for the refund.

A spokesperson for Deliveroo denied its processes are difficult for business owners.

“When things go wrong with an order, we have a robust and transparent process to ensure we review and assess each claim, and provide a resolution that’s fair and reasonable to all,” a Deliveroo spokesperson said.

“Our restaurant partners are not responsible for compensating the customer on claims that are outside of their control. For instance, if the issue is linked to the delivery of the food, or an aspect of the order which is impacted by the delivery process.”

It’s tough all round — everyone is feeling it.

Steve Agi

Uber Eats said restaurants could contact the platform’s support system with any concerns around issues with delivery that happen after an order leaves the store.

“We also have automated and real-time systems in place to flag issues with orders placed through the app so we can follow up with the relevant restaurant or delivery partner to understand what has occurred,” a spokesperson said.

Tough decisions necessary

At the same time, insolvency practitioners warn companies must make tough decisions about whether to use these platforms, as margins in the hospitality sector are tightening.

“The question really is, are restaurants layering on further costs in order to service the delivery market?” Jirsch Sutherland partner Andrew Spring said.

Uber Eats delivers an order from Biggie Smalls to another hungry stay at home diner.Credit:Kristoffer Paulsen

Mr Spring warned this week that restaurants are facing a potent cocktail of high rents, increased competition and labor costs. Brand differentiation and cost tracking is key to surviving in this environment, he said.

According to ASIC insolvency data, in the 2017-2018 financial year 952 food and accommodation services businesses went into external administration — an increase from 803 businesses the year before.

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Between July 2018 and May 2019, 975 businesses in this sector have already called in the administrators.

The number of wind-up applications across the broader economy was up 26 per cent this past financial year to 3,794, according to analysis from Prushka Fast Debt Recovery.

Prushka chief Roger Mendelson warned these numbers indicate this increase is a sign of more general financial stress across business sectors.

“A spike like this is generally a sign of increasing financial stress in the sector and is not necessarily representative of the entire scope of insolvent businesses,” Mr Mendelson said.

Mr Spring said hospitality owners must “understand where they make their money – on profit, not just their sales”.

Over the past two years the commissions charged by food delivery platforms has been a key point of contention for small businesses. The startups have argued that it’s worth it for businesses because of order volumes.

Companies like Burger Love have seen significant online order volumes over the years and have been able to grow significantly over this time.

However, Mr Agi said it was tough across the whole food industry, with commercial rents also a pain point.

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New Jersey and New York City-metropolitan area restaurant professionals are invited to learn the best restaurant marketing ideas for 2019 and beyond during Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine’s first in-person event on Monday, July 22. 

Space is limited and the spots are flling fast. To register for MRM Engage: “The 19 Best Restaurant Marketing Ideas for 2019,” click here or email bcastiglia@modernrestaurantmanagement.com.

“We are very excited to launch this series and have put together an engaging program filled with takeaway actionable marketing tips for restaurants,” said MRM Executive Editor Barbara Castiglia. “We will discuss NAPs and apps, social media, trends, delivery and more. Attendees will have an opportunity to meet with experts as well as take home giveaways from companies such as 3M and more. 

The presentation is based on one of MRM’s most successful articles and topics will include:

  • Guest Acquisition

  • Guest Retention

  • Revenue Optimization 

Attendees will be able to savor gourmet coffee from event sponsor RGM Coffee and light refreshments from new local culinary hotspot Mandara Ristorante as they engage with industry experts and colleagues one-on-one in a relaxed, business-casual atmosphere. 

The free event will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. at Agency Network,  located in Fairfield, New Jersey, approximately 25 miles from New York City. The Essex County location is in close proximity to Routes 46, 23, 80, 3, 280 and 287 as well as the Lincoln Tunnel, New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway.  Free on-site parking is provided. 

“We view hosting seminars as a natural way of expanding the MRM brand while keeping to our mission of providing information that enables restaurateurs to make decisions that help them operate in a more efficient manner,” added Castiglia. “We were greatly inspired by the number of online restaurant forums where real-life restaurant issues are discussed and advice is freely shared and wanted to create a similar feel at in-person event. We hope to see you on Monday afternoon.”

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Skills & know how

As well as helping you decide what to cook we can also help you to cook it. From tips on cookery techniques to facts and information about health and nutrition, we’ve a wealth of foodie know how for you to explore.

See our how to section…

About BBC Good Food

We are the UK’s number one food brand. Whether you’re looking for healthy recipes and guides, family projects and meal plans, the latest gadget reviews, foodie travel inspiration or just the perfect recipe for dinner tonight, we’re here to help.

Our recipes

All our recipes are tested thoroughly by us to make sure they’re suitable for your kitchen at home. We know many of you are concerned about healthy eating, so we send them to a qualified nutritionist for thorough analysis too.

Start browsing our recipes now

Tell us what you think…

Love the new look or think we’ve missed the mark? We want to hear your thoughts – good and bad – to make sure we make the new website as useful as possible.

Get in touch

Magazine

Subscribe to BBC Good Food magazine and get triple-tested recipes delivered to your door, every month.

Order today!

On TV

See your favourite chefs on Sky Channel 133, BT 313 and find their recipes at goodfoodchannel.co.uk

Follow us

Join the BBC Good Food community by following us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Google Plus.

Find out more here

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MRM’s “Ask the Expert” features advice from Consolidated Concepts Inc.

Please send questions for this column to Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine Executive Editor Barbara Castiglia at bcastiglia@modernrestaurantmanagement.com.

Q: It’s a well-known fact among restaurant professionals that the foodservice industry runs on razor-thin margins.  Therefore, how can I use recipe costing and server incentives to boost profits and productivity?

A: Throughout the foodservice supply chain, profits are made on incremental markups.  Amidst rising costs of labor, real estate, licensing and other operating expenses, it has become increasingly important for restaurants to stay focused on their margins via a heightened awareness of margin-adjacent factors such as recipe costs, staff retention and table-side selling of the operation’s most profitable items.

Recipe costing is a complex moving target that can be very tricky to accurately calculate on an ongoing basis.  Many restaurants only calculate recipe costs quarterly or when introducing new menu items – and then do so without the most accurate commodity forecasts, pricing information or trend analysis. However, with the proliferation of online ordering tools, POS integrations and restaurant data technologies, restaurants can now generate much more accurate recipe cost analyses that factor in up-to-the-minute information.  

In order to succeed, purchasing departments at restaurants must carefully consider what software and data tools their operation will utilize and how all of those tools integrate to create an accurate and actionable flow of information.

One example is FoodBAM, an app and software tool that allows restaurant operators to input complex recipe costing parameters such as labor and waste. This gives operators a crystal-clear picture of what their dishes actually cost to produce. 

And while marketing, promotions, and reviews can help, the real key is training and incentivizing servers to sell the items that are most profitable for the business. Research shows that 54 percent of staff recommendations result in conversions, but restaurant staff are only making recommendations less than five percent of the time. (MSS Bartender Influencer Beer Report January 2015 & TNS 2014).  

This as a huge opportunity to boost a restaurant’s profitability; however, you have to train servers and bartenders to sell the right products the right ways. It’s not just a matter of reminding them, it’s about effectively communicating whyand howto sell the items on your menus.  

Once again, this is an area where technology can play a large role. The days of informal server contests for T-shirts or scratch-offs are behind us as newer, more sophisticated systems are available to help restaurants equip their servers to sell effectively.  

Tipzyy is a server incentive program that creates competitions that can be run via mobile phones. Servers download the application, take trainings on their own time, and compete with one another to win cash prizes. Tipzyy integrates directly with the POS system to automatically track the contest and populates leaderboards, stats and positive reinforcement for the selling staff.  

Beyond selling drinks, appetizers and specific entrees, managers can offer contests for upselling, gathering emails for the restaurant’s newsletter, filling out comment cards or bringing guests in for special events. Restaurants with employee incentive programs have reported a 64 percent increase in the level of employee engagement then those without one, making the incentivization piece critical to success. 

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America’s largest premium QSR Italian chain shows no slow down with continued increases in sales and traffic throughout the month of June

Lexington, KY  (RestaurantNews.com)  Fazoli’s continues to have the edge on its competitors with impressive sales numbers this summer, as the brand saw a 4.5% increase in franchise sales, with company locations increasing 4.1% in June.

The quick-service Italian chain ended Q2 with 3.9% sales growth and an impressive 33 franchise sales records. Fazoli’s undeniable success is being attributed to its limited-time menu launches, investments in new technology and a system-wide brand refresh.

“Summer is often a challenging time for restaurants, but our sales continue to be on the rise with key strategic initiatives,” said Carl Howard, Fazoli’s president and chief executive officer. “We have craveable value offerings to drive traffic and innovative menu items that build sales during off-peak dayparts. While we’re driving positive traffic, we’ve challenged our teams to focus on providing an unparalleled guest experience and deliver on our brand promise. Fazoli’s came out of the gate strong this year, and the brand is proving there is no slow down in sight.”

Fazoli’s has embraced the change in consumerism and implemented strategic investments in technology to keep the brand relevant and competitive in the industry. The brand is using technology to its fullest advantage, capitalizing on the data to better understand its guests and what they crave from Fazoli’s. The insight from the brand’s mobile app and rewards allows Fazoli’s to tailor offers and share new menu items and promotions with their fans. As a result of their strategic planning and these new opportunities to connect with guests in more ways, more often, sales and traffic continue to outperform the industry.

The system-wide brand refresh is also boosting top line sales with its newest round of restaurant upgrades complete, Fazoli’s has a goal of completing a total system remodel by the end of 2021. After seeing close to a 12% sales and traffic lift in remodeled locations, we are seeing existing franchisees jump on board. The Fazoli’s team has worked tirelessly to bring down the current remodel expenditure, and it’s now 75% less than where it started in 2016. It’s significantly below what Fazoli’s competitors are spending, and the results are unmatched with a very quick ROI.

Along with the top line sales results significantly outpacing the industry, the brand is on a development roll with new and existing franchise groups. The brand just signed three new deals for a total of nine locations. Most recently, new Fazoli’s restaurants opened in Dothan, Ala. and Norco, Calif. With sales and traffic on the rise, the Fazoli’s is poised for growth and new opportunities to expand the brand footprint.

Until the end of the year, Fazoli’s is offering one of the best franchise incentives on the planet and bringing new franchisees into the system. Seeking multi-unit operators across the U.S. to join it’s growing, successful franchise network, the new incentive program offers a guaranteed savings of at least $125,000 for franchisees developing at least three locations. Franchisees developing more than five locations will save over $200,000. For more information about franchise opportunities visit ownafazolis.com or contact Senior Director of Franchise Sales Steve Bailey steve.bailey@fazolis.com.

For locations, hours, menus and more information, visit fazolis.com.

Fazoli’s: Fast. Fresh. Italian.

About Fazoli’s

Founded in 1988 in Lexington, Ky., Fazoli’s owns and operates nearly 220 restaurants in 28 states, making it the largest elevated QSR Italian chain in America. Fazoli’s prides itself on serving premium quality Italian food, fast, fresh and friendly. Menu offerings include freshly prepared pasta entrees, Submarinos® sandwiches, salads, pizza and desserts – along with its unlimited signature breadsticks. Named one the “Best Franchise Opportunities for 2018” by Franchise Business Review, a FastCasual.com “Brand of the Year,” and an Entrepreneur 2018 “Franchise 500.” Recipient of the 2019 American Business Awards Gold Stevie Awards in Food & Beverage for Company of the Year and Achievement in Management by CEO Carl Howard.

Contact:
Camille Studebaker
Champion Management
972-930-9933
cstudebaker@championmgt.com
www.championmgt.com


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Photo: Christian Rodriguez

Madison Lee’s Garment District studio sounds more like a SoulCycle class than a bakery filled with batter, buttercream, thread-thin edible lace, and delicate sugar flowers that are sculpted deep into the night. “I try to find music that’s a minimum of 135 beats per minute,” Lee explains. “It helps me focus.” She taps her foot as she pulls a tape measure across the top of a Styrofoam dummy cake. “Then I’ll change to a more uptempo song to let the team know it’s time to speed up.”

It is 11 o’clock on the Thursday night before a wedding weekend, so that time is now. Lee, wearing her signature chef’s jacket and red lipstick, darts to a whiteboard for a quick bout of mental arithmetic. “I’m missing a tier!” she announces to a small gaggle of assistants gathered around a table.

Petal by petal, they assemble intricate sugar flowers, just as they’ve done for days. At one station, tiny lilies of the valley; at another, regal chrysanthemums. A new employee, fresh out of architecture school, carves petals into sheets of gum paste, hoping to meet Lee’s exacting-yet-intangible standard: “It has to be perfect,” Lee explains. “And that means not perfect, like in nature.”

Approaching 2 a.m., Lee takes over from an assistant who’s struggling to press a convincing ivy mold. Lee demonstrates with a hearty press: “It’s not working,” she explains, “because you’re afraid.”

As it turns out, there’s no room for fear when creating cakes that can cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for clients who might very well charter private planes to convey finished confections to where they need to be. The world of high-stakes, bespoke baking is filled with fabulously wealthy clients, all-night baking sessions, and — for the people like Lee who actually make these extravagant showpieces — grueling physical labor behind the impossibly ornate details.

Doing battle with a batch of yellow cake batter, Lee digs into the depths of an industrial mixer that almost completely envelops her petite five-foot frame, using her (freshly washed) forearm as a giant spatula. “This is where I should have maybe gone to my dad’s,” she says. “He has a bigger mixer.”

After dropping out of college, Lee, a Long Island native, learned the trade at her family’s classic Italian bakery, Cousin John’s, in Park Slope. A decade ago, she was a newcomer and the only female in their kitchen — “It was torturous!” Lee says with a laugh — but it was there, along with a stint working the door at a nightclub in Brighton Beach, where she honed her unflinching work ethic. “My first clients were walk-ins at Cousin John’s who saw my display cakes in the window,” she says.

She continued to train, under the legendary baker Betty Van Norstrand and the British sugar-craft expert Alan Dunn, as well as with the sugar artist Nicholas Lodge in Atlanta. She also appeared on novelty cooking shows like Cake Hunters and Ridiculous Cakes, where contestants build confections shaped like, say, giant hoagies, pizzas, cheeseburgers, or even buildings. “It was too rough,” Lee says of reality-TV cake-baking. “I don’t want to press bricks into things.”

After six years churning out dozens of occasion cakes every week at Cousin John’s, she’d built up a client roster that allowed her to make her own mark, with sugar flowers and elaborate wedding cakes towering five, six, or seven tiers high. “This is what I always wanted.”

For decades in New York — and around the world — the world of elite cakes has been dominated by a single name: Sylvia “the Queen of Cakes” Weinstock, who began her cake career in 1978 at age 50 and, now pushing 90, retired from cake commissions just over a year ago.

When Weinstock started, women had minimal roles in professional kitchens and cakes tended to be decorated with real flowers that had been, Weinstock says, “sprayed with insecticide — who wants to eat that?” Over her 40-year career, Weinstock’s client roster grew to include names like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Kennedys, Mariah Carey, Oprah, Michael Douglas, and — as you might already know — the Clintons and Trumps alike.

Still, she says, “I don’t know who came up with that ‘Queen of Cakes’ title. I guess I could be a king, but I don’t have the equipment.” Now that Weinstock is retired, there is no clear-cut successor to the title of Cake Queen, but there is more than enough competition.

Sketching out a design, and several of Lee’s finished cakes in her workshop. Christian Rodriguez.
Sketching out a design, and several of Lee’s finished cakes in her workshop. Christian Rodriguez.

If the industry had a King, it would likely be the Israeli cake maestro Ron Ben-Israel, who’s been dubbed the “Manolo Blahnik of cakes” in his own right and has the designer-shoe-shaped cakes to prove it. Meanwhile, D.C.-based ballerina-turned-baker Maggie Austin has baked for President Obama, and in San Francisco, Jasmine Rae’s austere, sculptural cakes might be the world’s most perfect Pinterest fodder. (Later this year, Lee plans to host Rae in her studio for a workshop series.)

“Everybody wants it,” Weinstock says of the title. “Is there one name? No, but I think Madison Lee wants to try for that.”

But Lee and Weinstock fervently disagree on one crucial cake issue: Weinstock famously despises fondant — the heavy-duty icing that can be sculpted and molded, as well as help cakes withstand tricky weather conditions — while Lee embraces it. (“It’s a big debate,” Lee says.) But the two women also have plenty in common and are almost evangelical about using batter made from scratch. Both agree that it’s an issue of control: “As a chef, it means I have complete control over the ratios, and the ability to adjust textures and densities of the cakes,” Lee explains.

Lee and Weinstock also share a crucial secret weapon: Three years ago, Lee hired Weinstock’s former right-hand woman, an unflappable sugar-flower master named Vilna Peters. A native of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Peters spent 33 years working under Weinstock, and it wasn’t uncommon to see her in the cockpit of a chartered cargo plane with only a wedding cake in the back, on its way to a multimillion-dollar wedding in the UAE, Florence, or South Africa. (Peters recalls one commission that ended up being flown to Bahrain for a wedding. The budget was $175,000, she recalls. “And they didn’t even want any cake,” Peters remembers. “That one was pure Styrofoam.”)

“Madison is very lucky to have Vilna,” Weinstock says. “She has wonderful hands.”

It sounds like Peters feels similarly about Lee: “She bakes, she designs. At the end of the day,” she says, “the magic comes from her hands, her vision.”

Magical hands, however, aren’t enough to stand out in New York’s upper-echelon baking scene. Instagram skills are key, and the flip side is that you must also stay one step ahead of everyone else who’s good at Instagram, where ideas can be replicated instantly. “I’ll make a fuschia and post it on social media,” says Alan Dunn, the British sugar master who trained Lee, and “the next day I see that someone else is making fuschia.”

But even if Instagram has changed the speed with which the industry moves, at least one constant remains: the unmatched marketing cachet of celebrity clients. So when Lee didn’t receive credit in the press materials for what was perhaps America’s most-watched cake-consuming event of 2019 — Meghan Markle’s star-studded baby shower at the Mark Hotel — she took to Instagram.

Skirting the limits of a lengthy nondisclosure agreement signed with Kensington Palace, she purged her entire account, leaving behind a single image of what was ostensibly the royal-shower cake-display table, several zipped-mouth emoji, and a cryptic caption: “Actually there were 2 cakes,” a not-so-veiled reference to the behind-the-scenes work that went into making both a show cake and the one served to guests. On just a few days’ notice, Lee had created a special recipe known as the Duchess — a buttery yellow cake with elderflower buttercream, filled with fresh berries — and another tier of gluten-free cake with German chocolate, a nod to the event’s host, Serena Williams.

Women weren’t always welcome at the top of the baking industry.

When Betty Van Norstrand burst onto the all-male cake-competition circuit in the 1960s with her decorating partner Irene Miller, We were oddballs,” Van Norstrand remembers. “We were housewives.” That description downplays just how taxing the work could be. In the case of a looming major cake deadline, it was “20 hours a day, day after day after day,” Van Norstrand says. “I’d work until three in the morning, sleep until 6:30, get my children up for school. That’s what you have to do if you want to be successful.”

Even now, the hours required to create these showstopping cakes are brutal. “You’re talking weeks and weeks and weeks of gradual work for one cake,” Dunn says. “There are people out there who will spend days making a single rose.”

The dedication to craft is so intense that many of these new-generation bakers would rather be called cake artists and want cakes to be recognized as a legitimate artistic medium. For her part, Lee is concocting plans to display her works in an actual art gallery. But for now, these cake artists have an edible product to deliver, and for spare-no-expense clients, transporting the cakes can be just as difficult as baking them.

In March, Lee found herself needing to transport a partially completed seven-tier wedding cake, which by then had required 2,000 man-hours, from her midtown studio to a rented commissary kitchen in Miami, and thence to a ceremony in ritzy Coral Gables. At nearly $20,000, the project budget offered enough wiggle room to charter a small propeller plane to transport the cake to Miami.

Racing up the West Side Highway to an airstrip in White Plains in the back of a Chevy Tahoe driven by her mother, Lee propped herself on a gallon bucket of Satin Ice fondant. While her mom handed out Excedrin and tortilla chips, Lee gazed at the Intrepid, docked on the edge of the Hudson River.

“We put a cake on that once,” Lee said. “There was no way to get it on there, so they put it on a crane.” She pulled up an iPhone video depicting days upon days of labor swaying precariously in the wind. “I was a nervous wreck!”

Lee’s signature perfectly imperfect sugar flowers. Photo: Christian Rodriguez

After the flight, in the rented kitchen in Miami’s Doral neighborhood, Lee and her team finished carving architectural rivets into each cake tier, delicately iced it, buffed the fondant coating, and dusted each petal with edible powder paint. Having made around 5,000 cakes in her career, Lee didn’t hesitate when the time came to hoisting the central, 80-pound cake tier onto her shoulder and impaling it onto a trio of wooden support rods.

The cake’s final hours in Lee’s hands were spent sweating in the Miami heat on the way to the venue, where, in a nail-biting turn to avoid walking it through cocktail hour, the massive midsection was lifted over the neighbor’s fence before the massive strawberry shortcake arrived at its final resting place. If Lee was shaken, it didn’t show. “Vilna, I need a chrysanthemum — a big one,” she exclaimed as sugar flowers finally came out of their cases and made their way onto the cake. At the eleventh hour, an assistant lifted Lee into the air to place the final bloom.

By the time a couple slices through one of her cakes, Lee and her crew are usually long gone. For Lee, that’s the nature of this particularly ephemeral art. “It lives at the venue for four hours,” she says with a shrug. But even if she’s stoic about her cakes’ limited life spans, staying to serve them is still too much. “I never cut the cake,” Lee says. “It’s like creating a piece of art and killing it yourself.”

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It also claims migrant kitchen staff were paid a $70 flat rate for working 12-14 hour shifts, or as little as $5 an hour.

Former Hochi Mama bartender Alex Pugh said he was underpaid almost $4000 for four months’ work.

He says he and other staff found out they’d been sacked when they were deleted from the staff’s online group chat on WhatsApp.

“It was so disrespectful,” Mr Pugh said.

“Whenever it happened, everyone in the venue could see someone had been fired. It left them all feeling fearful, and wondering who was next?”

But he said the kitchen staff, made up of migrants and international students, were the worst affected and paid flat rates of $70 or $100, working double shifts over 13 or 14 hours.

“I saw these workers sleeping on milk crates out the back of the restaurant,” Mr Pugh said.

“It’s not OK for anyone to be treated like this, particularly in a wealthy country like Australia.”

The venues have been contacted for comment.

Ben Redford, from the union, said hospitality workers are fed up with wage theft and poor treatment.

“What Hospo Voice found at Hochi Mama and Straight Outta Saigon lifts the lid on some of the most shameful practices in hospitality,” he said.

“We demand the watchdog condemn this callous method of sacking workers and thoroughly investigate wage theft and exploitation of migrant workers at these venues.”

AAP

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