Chatting with Natalie Sideserf, a Star of the New Series Texas Cake House
Let's just say that Natalie Sideserf isn't your everyday cake decorator. While many bakers look to a sheet of fondant and a few roses to craft a birthday cake, Natalie pushes the limits of what you know cake to be by building from the base up hyper-realistic designs that are as much works of art as they are desert. Together with her husband and business partner, Dave, Natalie will offer fans an insider's look at the start-to-finish process she and her team employ on their all-new series, Texas Cake House. The show premieres on Monday, July 10 at 9|8c, but we caught up with Natalie ahead of time to learn more about her style in the kitchen and the business she and Dave run, Sideserf Cake Studio.
Natalie Sideserf: After graduating from the Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, my friend Kelsey suggested I try to make a sculpted cow skull cake for our friend's upcoming birthday. I gave it a try and immediately realized I had found the thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Being able to combine my love of food and art is a dream come true.
NS: I learned the basics of cake decorating while working at local bakeries, but I taught myself how to create elaborate cake sculptures by experimenting at home. It has taken me many years of practice, and I still learn something new with every cake.
Your work transcends cake decorating and becomes pieces of edible art. How would you describe what it is that you do?
NS: Approaching sugar, chocolate and cake the same as I would traditional art media has allowed me to master my innovative techniques and style. With every cake design, I ask myself, "How can I take this cake to the next level?"
Who would you consider to be your culinary/professional mentor?
NS: As far as cake sculpting, I research hyper-realistic artists and special-effects makeup artists. I often borrow their techniques and find substitutes for their materials in food, sugar and cake. My go-to artist to reference is Ron Mueck. His work is absolutely insane.
Austin is a very unique food city. When it comes to the culinary side of Sideserf Cake Studio we are very much influenced by local restaurants whose food is also creative. Odd Duck has a chocolate layer cake with Mexican vanilla ice cream and chocolate potato chips that is amazing. And if you think my cakes are artistic, you have to try Texas barbecue! The smoking process is truly an art.
Do you enjoy eating cake as much as sculpting it? What's your favorite cake-frosting combo?
NS: Sideserf Cake Studio is known for creating unique flavors that complement our cake designs. I love variety, but if I had to pick one go-to cake-frosting combo, I'd say chocolate cake with chocolate Swiss buttercream. Give me all the chocolates!
What's the process like to create a custom cake? Please walk us through the steps in as much detail as possible.
NS: My cakes are project based, so every cake is a little different. Typically I start by searching reference photos to influence the cake design. After drawing up a quick sketch of the cake, I build the internal structure that gives the cake its gravity-defying shape. After the structure is built and the cakes are baked, I stack, carve, ice, sculpt and paint the cake. The last step is delivery, which is always the perfect mix of stress and excitement.
NS: I've had requests for cakes of a life-sized human bust to a unicorn farting a glittery rainbow. My clients are open-minded and order very unique cakes. Many of my cakes circulate online in blogs and news outlets all over the world, so a lot of my clients order from me because they see my work online first and become fans. In fact, I've had someone tell me they didn't plan on having a party but did anyway just so they could order a cake. I was super flattered. I'm so happy my cakes have the power to initiate parties.
What are your favorite kinds of cakes to make, in terms of subjects, themes, genres or celebrations?
NS: Like most chefs, I specialize in a specific style. I prefer to sculpt organic cake designs (humans, animals), as opposed to mechanical objects (cars, buildings). My favorite cakes are when customers give me a theme and let me come up with a design completely on my own, because it allows me to design based on my strengths.
Are you ever bummed to see your cakes be eaten, given the amount of effort and time you invested in making them?
NS: Eating the cake is my favorite part! I love that scratch-baking ingredients can be transformed into an elaborate sculpture that people can eat. It is a really fun process and unique experience for the customers and myself.
What's the most-unusual cake request you've ever received? Were you able to deliver? Please explain.
NS: The more unusual the cake, the more excited I am to make it. I had a really, really weird cake that I made for a film festival in Austin, but you will have to watch Texas Cake House to see it. No spoilers!
How long does it take you to create one cake, from start to finish?
NS: I estimate approximately 30 to 40 hours per cake, from design to delivery, but time varies. I always want the cake to be as fresh as possible, so there are a lot of long hours days before delivery.
What's the most-rewarding part of this job for you?
NS: The most-rewarding part of this job is that I get to make cake sculptures that are incredibly personal. I have many customers become emotional as I drop off their cake — some even tear up. It doesn't necessarily have to be an emotional event; it is a matter of exceeding a client's expectations.
What cake or project in particular are you most proud of?
NS: I will always be most proud of my own wedding cake. Dave and I were married close to Halloween in a famous movie theater, The Alamo Drafthouse, in downtown Austin. Dave loves film and grew up watching a lot of cheesy horror-themed B-movies, so I came up with a cake design of our severed heads. I thought of the cake as a Halloween prop and used special effects makeup techniques the same way they do in movies. The cake isn't for everyone, but it was perfect for us, and Dave absolutely loved it.
Do you find yourself getting stressed or anxious over the amount of work that's involved in each project, or are you used to the demands by now?
NS: I don't think I will ever make a stress-free cake. I rarely sculpt the same cake twice, which means I am bound to run into a few unexpected surprises.
What do you think fans might not realize about what it takes to create one of your cakes?
NS: I think when people only see the finished product and miss the cake-making process, they think that everything went quickly and with ease, but that isn't always the case. It takes a lot of time to make high-quality sculpted cakes, and sometimes things don't go as planned. You wouldn't believe how dramatic a cake delivery can be!
Tell us about your working relationship with Dave. What's it like working with your husband every day?
NS: Dave worked from home for most of our relationship so we are used to being around each other, but now that Dave joined Sideserf Cake Studio, we are never apart. We occasionally argue, but working together allows us to understand how to handle our disagreements better. He's really smart and business savvy, so I appreciate and respect his input. Also, he's my husband and he's funny and I love him, so there's that.
How do you balance the professional relationship with Dave and your personal one?
NS: Dave and I are happiest when we strike a balance between our personal and professional relationships. We are very passionate about the business and are very hard workers, but we try to make time to go to dinner and events when we can. Having fun outside of work is really important to us.
Please fill in the blank: Dave doesn't know this, but it really makes me happy when _____.
NS: [When] I am stressed while working on a cake and he cracks jokes. It lightens the mood.
What's the most important thing you've learned about yourself and Dave in working together?
NS: Dave and I complement each other really well. We both have different talents that we contribute to the business, so having him involved makes our cakes that much better.
What can fans expect from watching Texas Cake House?
NS: Along with watching the process of making cakes that I am really proud of, fans can expect to learn more about the people behind our crazy cakes. Dave and I are super goofy, and we have a lot of fun together.
What do you hope fans learn about you and your business?
NS: I hope fans will see how appreciative I am to have the opportunity to make cakes, and I hope that they feel encouraged to follow their talents too.
Mark your calendar for the premiere of Texas Cake House on Monday, July 10 at 9|8c.