The Queen of Cake

Artisan Charmaine Jones turns flour and sugar into jaw-dropping visions.
By Eunnie Park (Staff Writer)

Do not offer Charmaine Jones cake.

But if you must, prepare yourself for negative feedback. She is the nationally-recognized "Cakediva" with sky-high standards, and no ordinary cake will impress her palate.
"You really don't want me to try it, because I'll tell you the truth," says Jones. "And the majority of the time, the cake the I taste from other places is nasty."

The nastiness of her competitors' cakes is what inspired Jones to open Isn't It Special/Outrageous Cakes in Hoboken and Manhattan more than ten years ago. The Indiana native came to new york in her early 20s after completing her masters in art from Loyola University. She initially wanted pursue a career in music but fell into baking when she realized that the cake industry needed her more.

"I was very disgusted with what I saw was available," she says. "So I felt that if I was looking for that to change that was my life's calling — to try to change the world of cakes."
Drawing on her artistic background and the skills she learned and inherited from her mother, a French pastry baker, and father, an architect, Jones began constructing cakes that are as delicious as they are beautiful. With fondant as her canvas and sugar, her clay, she created cakes that make people exclaim, "Girl, you a diva. You the cake diva," she says.

At first, she was baking for acquaintances and other random connections, but as the word spread about the Cakediva, her clientele grew. She was able to open her own bakery in Hoboken in 1990, and then Manhattan in 1991. She now does her baking in Manhattan and keeps the cake gallery and sugar room in Hoboken. The gallery reveals hundreds of photographs and models of Cakediva's previous works. One cake looks like a bouquet of flowers, another, an enchanted castle.

Some of her recent orders include a 6–foot gavel cake for a judge in New York, a four–tier box birthday cake for the producer for "the Early Show", and a six–tier with edible CD's and a sugar sculpture of Notorious B.I.G. for the Christopher Wallace Memorial Foundation.

Working with a staff of three to eight people, Jones creates cakes that may weigh hundreds of pounds and take days to make. in the past, she has delivered cakes for overseas clients in the overhead compartment of an airplane.

Jones' client have a choice of 11 cake flavors and 13 fillings; the most popular combination is pink champagne with coconut filling, she says. The base price for a novelty cake is $250, wedding cakes start at $500. Multi–tiered and highly decorated cakes can cost thousands of dollars, but for the time, labour and quality, they are worth every penny and more, says Jones.
"If you want a regular cake, you wouldn't be coming here," she says. "Cakediva is a major name we have to live up to. We don't just put everything we have into it, we put our life into it."

Jones bakes for weddings, birthdays, corporate events and other special occasions. Her former clients include Erykah Badu, Michael Jordan, Jay Leno, Susan Sarandon and Queen Latifah's mom. Her cakes are also often featured on many soap operas, including "One Life to Live" and "All My Children".
A dedicated fan of ABC Daytime, Jones has been watching the two shows since they premiered more than 30 years ago. She loved the handsome actors and the twisted plots, but hated the stale looking cakes in the wedding episodes.
"I knew that the guy who's in charge has got to be disgusted with that cake because me, as a viewer, was disgusted," she says. "I knew I could do better."
So she went to the studio and made a pitch to Jimmy Balzaretti of the props department in "All My Children." Her first cake was for a couple that met over the Internet; she proposed making a three–tier wedding cake with bride and groom computers on top. Since then, Jones has been doing the cake for all weddings on the show.
"Her cakes, I think, are phenomenal," says Balzaretti, who has been working with Jones for about then years. "She's very good with color and texture [and] she does know our needs."

Cakediva gets most of her inspiration from things other than cakes, she says. Seeing a chipped pavement or the texture of a fabric can give her a new idea. And her ideas must be original and unprecedented, she adds. "I've always been a leader, not follower," says Jones. "I can't stand to do what someone else has already done. I'd rather die."

She would, however like to help others to do what she has done. She plans to write a cookbook someday, teaching people how to make these outrageous cakes themselves, she says.

In the meantime, don't invite Jones to your birthday expecting her to bring a three–tier mega cake. One thing she dislikes is to bring her work home — or to a party.
"I'd rather bring buffalo wings," says Jones. "Something other than cake, which is what I do everyday."

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