A genius with genus, Sylvia Weinstock replicates botanical beauty that fools the eye and stuns the senses.
The capable potter molds clay into a vessel to be admired, used, and perhaps passed down from mother to daughter. A gifted sculptor forms metal, stone, or wood into the perfect piece to grace a courtyard, greet guests in a foyer or join a museum’s collection to be appreciated for centuries.
Imagine then, the fleeting nature of the phenomenal works created in the commercial kitchen of New York baker Sylvia Weinstock (a.k.a. “The Leonardo Da Vinci of Cakes.”) Not only is she an proficient baker whose cakes are commissioned by celebrities and heads of state, she has the eye of a botanist and the steady hand of a master craftsman. Only her painstaking art is transitory. The illusory sugar bouquets, fanciful gardens and sculptural figurines which accent the fine cakes her shop churns out last just a few short days, long enough to mark a noble occasion and be savored by those lucky enough to be present. Her art then lives on in memory or photograph alone.
When asked if there is a favorite cake that she has made, one which she considers her masterpiece, Sylvia Weinstock says with a sigh, “Oh, no. It’s always the last one you do. I mean, I’m working on one now that has phalaenopsis orchids, spray roses, hydrangeas and sweet peas. The whole thing is going to be knockout gorgeous.”
From the pleasant tone of her voice, she sounds more like a proud new mother describing her beautiful baby. To understand how she can part with her creations, it helps to know why she got into the business in the first place.
“I’m a craft person and I was a suburbanite and had a garden,” Weinstock explains. “I love flowers, so for me it was a very easy transition to focus on making a botanically correct flower. It comes from studying the flower itself,” she continues.
“Many people don’t know that tulips have six petals or that lilies have six petals and few think to count the stamen. To take a fresh flower and pull the petals apart carefully in a row as they grow then try to duplicate the shape and size [in sugar dough] and put it back together again is key. The real test is to be able to put your flower in with a real flower and fool somebody from a distance.” With that feat accomplished, she is able to move to the next project, the next challenge.
Weinstock’s shop employs a staff of eighteen. Like Warhol’s factory, she is the creative mind with a signature look (in her case, figure-8 eyeglasses) behind the creations, but her hand is also in every detail. She calls herself a “baker” though she is a trained pastry chef. Certainly her business would be a success if only for the quality and flavor of her cakes. Yet she has taken it beyond cake-baking mastery to artistic form and does it like few others are able. Over the years she has perfected the sugar dough that is her medium and created many of the tools the shop uses to shape it. She trains her staff as well.
“I want all the people who make flowers for me to know real flowers,” says Weinstock. I bring real flowers in and I encourage them to go to flower shows and visit flower shops because to see a real hydrangea or a real rose or a real tulip up close gives you a whole different perspective than working from a drawing or a fake flower,” she insists.
I marvel that she can teach such skill, but she readily admits that hers is an accomplished team. They understand color theory so that they are capable of reproducing the perfect yellow-green of a leaf or stem and the organic, earthy brown of bark or twigs.
As if to stifle my amazement, Weinstock exclaims in her staccato New York accent, “Sure, I do teach some, but here’s the thing—any woman can make her face up, right? She knows how to put on powder, rouge, lipstick, eyeliner, eye shadow and so forth. If you are able to do that you understand what we’re doing. We’re making up the face of a flower.”
Sylvia Weinstock Cakes, Ltd.
273 Church Street – New York, NY 10013