10 Minutes With: Cake Opera Co.
Extraordinary Wedding Cakes
Masterpieces never tasted so sweet. Meet Alexandria and Jessica.
One look at the dramatic creations of the duo Alexandria Pellegrino (the artist) and Jessica Smith (the pastry chef) of Cake Opera Co. and the title composers, rather than bakers, comes to mind.
Their mastery of wedding cakes and all related confections (like salted milk-chocolate macarons, fluffy vanilla-bean and cocoa marshmallows, nougat with candied strawberries, Goji berries and pistachios or a “tablet” of Valrhona chocolate dotted with pink peppercorns, pistachios and flaked coconut) are works of genius.
The Toronto, Canada-based twosome do both celebrity weddings and local affairs. But the events they do accept must provide them with a visceral connection to the cake project. “If we don’t fall in love with an idea, we’re really honest with the client,” explains Alexandria who studied drawing and painting at the prestigious Ontario College of Art and Design before meeting Jessica at Le Cordon Bleu’s Patisserie program.
Here, Alexandria and Jessica impart their vision for beautiful cakes.
Alexandria, as the artist, where do you get inspiration for your designs?
Alexandria: When I was in art college, I started using fondant and meringue and even beating bread in my art installation work. It was also the time when Food Network TV shows like Ace of Cakes and Cake Boss started to get popular. So I thought, I may never make money making my art but I do love using these foods as a medium so maybe I should start a cake business. That’s when I decided to enroll in the patisserie program at Le Cordon Bleu.
Today, my cake design inspirations are pretty intuitive. I don’t flip through magazines or watch fashion shows but turn to classical art, the Dutch Masters’ still-lifes, even taxidermy, and flip them for subject matter to make them appropriate for a cake.
Jessica, as the pastry chef, what are some tips on picking out flavors? There are such inventive flavors out there now for cakes. What’s the key to successfully blending ones all your guests will love?
Jessica: I prefer classic tastes and try to steer clients away from the more trendy flavors. The wedding cakes we did for Colin for the Wings of Love contest winners at the Empire State Building, for example, I chose a fresh, all-natural strawberry buttercream filling for a pink velvet cake I made. It even tastes pretty and feminine!
Or for a denser banana cake, I’d pair it with gorgeous vanilla buttercream. It is quintessential but so delicious. We don’t want to overwhelm guests with outrageous flavors.
What are some trends you both are seeing in wedding cakes?
Alexandria: We love sweets tables! This is a modern take on the one wedding cake and expanding it to offer guests a variety of cakes. To make this work, we usually present one central decorative cake and then we have secondary cakes or pastries that all tie together with the same theme and colors. This way you can create a whole identity with a tablescape.
As for color, to be honest, I really love white. I’m very sensitive with colors so I may play with a variety of different tones of white. When I say a cake is white-on-white it really may have tones with a little grey here or an opal vanilla there. Subtlety is key so that just light and shadow give the cake colors depth.
Any tips for a bride on how to get the best out of her baker?
Jessica: We recommend that a bride books her baker nine months to a year away from her wedding date.
Alexandria: We welcome clients to bring color swatches before we design a cake. We also love any images they can provide, like pictures of the gown or flowers, and any personal pieces of information. A good baker will be able to figuratively incorporate these aspects of the couple’s personality into the cake.
Why is a bride’s attention to her wedding cake so important?
Alexandria: It’s such a symbolic expression to your guests! Here’s this centerpiece you display and then you share with everyone to take a piece of and eat. I do think that extravagant cakes may not be for everyone but a wedding cake that speaks to you as a couple is a beautiful thing at your wedding.
Thank you Jessica and Alexandria!