“You have to be good with your hands and love art,” she says. “I like to create something people will get a big kick out of — things that are beautiful as well as hideous and ugly. Like zombies, for instance,” she continues. “You can look up all kinds of reference materials that show what organs look like in all their messy wonderfulness — what things look like when they decay. On the beauty side, I love to reference art history and find out what colors were used in a particular era and apply it to cake design. That’s so much fun!”
It’s easy to imagine Katz growing up as a precocious, baking enfant terrible, using an Easy-Bake oven to create miniature replicas of the Egyptian temples at Abu Simbel, or perhaps something simpler, like Beijing’s Forbidden City. The truth, however, is more mundane. As a child, she favored making Rice Krispies treats or birthday cakes topped with M&M’s and marshmallows.
In college, she worked in a mall bakery while pursuing an art degree at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Ill. But smitten with the bakery biz, she dropped out of college and moved to Los Angeles to take another bakery job, where she became a buttercream-frosting artiste. Katz then perfected her design and decorating bona fides at Hansen’s Cakes, a landmark L.A. bakery since the 1940s. There, she specialized in edgy, new-wave designs. After eight years, she left to open Rosebud Cakes with her husband, Alan.
“I wanted to create a high-end, very gourmet place where we could take our time to create something unique with a no-holds-barred attitude,” she explains. “The movie industry here creates a standard where people have pretty much seen it all. It’s quite creative and innovative around here. The next new thing might be old by tomorrow. It’s a little daunting, but that’s the stimulating part. This audience expects you to keep raising the bar.”
The job requires both left- and right-brained thinking; engineering is as important as creativity. How should the cake be built? What will keep it from falling apart? How will it be cut? And how the heck do you get it to Malibu without the icing melting? There is, as Katz points out, more science involved than meets the eye. It’s downright amazing what Katz and her team can do with fondant (an icinglike substance with which she paints and sculpts), white-chocolate dough (moldable and stronger than fondant) and some basic tools that include a palette knife, an X-Acto blade, scissors, a wire cutter and a hot-glue gun.