Icing on the cake

Icing on the cake
Published 6:17 pm, Wednesday, January 30, 2013

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Cake maker extraordinaire Lisa Maronian, owner of Sweet Lisa's Exquisite Cakes in Cos Cob, is being honored at the 2013 Great Chefs benefit for Greenwich Hospital, which will take place on March 1 at the Westchester Country Club. "I absolutely love, love what I do," says Maronian, who developed her love for baking as a little girl. Photo: Anne W. Semmes






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For the past 20 years, chef Lisa Maronian has been creating custom-made or specialty cakes in her bakery in Cos Cob, Sweet Lisa's Exquisite Cakes. Step into her shop and you are met with confectionary constructs of every size, shape and design.

This year, Maronian will be honored, along with Chef Angelo Vivolo of Vivolo Restaurant in New York City, at the Great Chefs fundraising benefit for Greenwich Hospital. Maronian will be celebrated by hospital supporters and a number of other Greenwich-based chefs who will be participating in the annual event, which will be held at the Westchester Country Club on March 1.

To learn more about Maronian's extraordinary cake making the Greenwich Citizen asked her a few questions.

Q: What are the challenges for you in creating a specialty cake?

A: Sometimes it's hard to put clients' ideas into cake. It's hard for people to wrap their mind around what they want in a cake. One woman wanted a cake for her son of the city of London with Peter Pan flying over it sprinkling fairy dust, along with Tinker Bell. It's a challenge to construct that. Everything we make is made from a variety of sugar mediums. The supports we use are a variety of flanges, piping, wooden dowels etc. One woman who had breast cancer with breast reconstruction wanted a cake of her new breasts. One wife had us make for her husband's birthday, a cake in the shape of a spiral ham -- he hates ham -- it was very funny. We have stories behind every single cake.

Q: What kind of manpower does it take to make a Sweet Lisa's cake?

A: There's a team of eight of us, including my husband, Steve, who draws out the designs while sitting with the customer -- he's a talented artist. He first makes the sketches, and then we have a staff meeting to discuss the best way to go about making the cake. It takes a week to put a client's request into an edible beautiful creation. The sugar work has to be made at the beginning of the week to let it dry. It takes a day, sometimes two, to put the cake together, and on the day of the party we do the finishing touches. My mom works with us also, keeping us all in line and making us fabulous lunches every day. She also does all the bookkeeping.

Q: What is the trend in cake design these days?

A: Cakes that are made in different shapes. People don't want a regular round cake anymore. I think it's because of all the cake decorating they see on the food and cake shows on TV. I often get emailed photos of cakes in the shapes of things, like a cake shaped like a unicorn for a child's birthday. We have also made a hamburger cake, a book signing cake, a Budweiser beer six pack cake. It's endless. It's all edible art. For flavor, chocolate is the best seller, dark and yummy, but vanilla is a close second and for those carrot cake lovers, it is truly to die for!

Q: How did you end up baking cakes?

A: I absolutely love, love what I do. We have so much fun everyday! I want to provide happiness for others. It's about a passion that began with my mother -- she and my grandmother are great cooks and bakers. When I was 10-years-old my mother gave me a Betty Crocker cookbook. I saw all the pretty pictures of cakes and cookies and I wanted to make them all. And I did. I made every single one. My brother was my guinea pig. He ate everything and so I thought I was a natural-born baker, but of course my brother would eat anything!

In high school and college, baking wasn't on the career track. So, I took business courses in college at Central Connecticut State University. I was miserable. In my sophomore year my mother cooked up a surprise for me. She took me to visit a cousin at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie then veered off to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY. I was in awe. This is where I wanted to be. But my mom told me I had to finish college first. My mother is a great support and help to me, so I followed her advice and received an associate degree in accounting.

There was a year's waiting list to get in to the CIA so I got a job in a New Haven restaurant and also worked part time for a caterer. When you get into a professional kitchen it's really a big change. It's not for everybody. It's a very tough business. The hours are extremely long and both physically and mentally exhausting. It has to be in you.

I entered the Culinary Institute in January of 1985 and was just in my glory. I met my husband, Steve, soon after I got there. We both graduated in September of 1986. We had to take the entire curriculum at the CIA -- all these different courses in French cooking, etc. Now you can just go for baking and receive a degree. But what makes me such a well-rounded chef is I had to learn everything. I also teach baking and cake decorating at Norwalk Community College.

Q: What do you make for your own and your husband's birthday cakes?

A: We have a tradition for our birthdays and anniversaries. Our daughter Victoria -- who is 11 -- decorates our cakes. I bake them and she gets to use all the decorating tools and sugar decorations at the bakery to make it fun and pretty for us.

Q: Who do you fantasize making a cake for? And what would your design be for that person?

A: It would be phenomenal to make a cake for my favorite singer, Elton John. I have enjoyed his music for many years and it would be an honor to make him a birthday cake :). I would make him a great big cake in the shape of a piano with him sitting on the bench playing a song.





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