Lisa Mansour was first introduced to the world of cake decorating very close to home - in her mother's kitchen, nonetheless. The tradition of creating and sharing cakes has always been a buzz in the Mansour family; it's the glue that binds them together. In this exclusive interview, learn how Lisa went from making cakes in her childhood kitchen to running the legendary N.Y. Cake.
Brief history of your business and how you got to where you are today?
I grew up in the cake business and ever since I can remember, I was by my mom’s side while she took classes herself. As a chiId, I assisted my mom when she started teaching classes, and now I am teaching my own classes. I didn't have play dates like children do today - instead I went to work with my parents where I learned the techniques of cake decorating from my mom and how to run a business from my dad. I didn't have to go to culinary school; all I had to do was come to my Mom, (Joan Mansour - who is a cake decorating legend and pioneer in NYC), to learn.
The Business: It all started in the back of my Dad’s cosmetic store - Ultra Cosmetics (similar to a Duane Reade today). My mom took a tiny space in the back where she taught her classes and sold her supplies. Over time she slowly grew into the aisles of my dad’s store. My dad eventually lost the lease and decided to retire - which put an end to my moms business. When her clients heard the news they begged her to open up her own store. So in 1989 we opened the Chocolate Gallery, and that is when I began working full time in the business. My mom ran the cake school and I took responsibility for the store.
(Photo below of Joan Mansour teaching one of her first classes.)
In 1994 we expanded to a bigger store and opened NY Cake and Baking Distributors. Currently, I work with my brother Richard in the retail division, (located at 56 West 22nd Street), while my sister, Jenny, and her husband, Eitan, work in Yonkers at our wholesale and mail order division.
(Photo below from left to right: Two generations of Mansour's outside of NY Cake - Lisa, Joan and Jenny.)
How were you first introduced to Satin Ice?
Back in the 1980’s we had to make our own fondant because there wasn’t any fondant readily available on the market. As soon as Satin Ice was an option, I was hooked. It was so convenient, soft, and easy to work with. My days of making fondant from scratch were over!
Is there one particular project that stands out as significant or that you are particularly proud of?
As my mom aged she stopped teaching and closed her school. I am proud that I was able to reopen the school and named it NY Cake Academy. My mom used to have cake shows back in the day for her students and this year I am proud to host The NY Cake Academy 3rd Annual Cake Show.
The show will take place on Sunday, May 3rd at the Radisson Hotel, New Rochelle, NY - and the theme is Mother's Day. There will be mini three hour classes offered by guest cake artist/instructors as well as a cake competition in the following categories: All occasion, Stiletto Shoe and wedding. The show is by far my favorite day of the year! It is so much fun to witness all the beautiful creations that my students and customers make, and the camaraderie amongst the cake artists. Satin Ice has been a sponsor since the beginning and I am grateful. To register and for more information on the show: www.nycakeacademy.com
I have two boys at home and five nephews, so in my spare time I am surrounded by basketball, football, and hockey. So in my business life I like to make very feminine, elegant, girly cakes with ruffles and bling. I love making ruffles, pleats and gathers out of fondant. I also love making edible bling and jewelry - it is so much fun for me!
My favorite cake was a cake I made for my niece’s shower. It was a shopping theme - so I made a Chanel purse, jewelry box with jewels, and a glitter shoe. It was the first time I made the shoe and purse. The cake caused such a scene at the party - it was almost embarrassing - it became the talk of the night! Since everyone wanted to know about the purse, that led me to making my own line of products. At the time of the party, I made my own molds for the shoe and purse chain. I told my customers to do the same, but they responded by asking me to make it. So I asked my sister and brother-in-law to help me manufacture them - and now I have my own product line - Edible Bling Collection.
Most challenging cake to date?
I recently won a gold medal and “Best in Show” award this past November at the Societe Culinaire Philanthropique. It was a lot of work and the cake is taller than me! It wasn’t easy gathering the fondant so tightly and evenly. After doing it hundreds of times, I figured out a way to make it easier and came up with a product that I will launch at the Satin Ice Cake Fair in September. This way everyone can make the same stunning effect in a quick and easy way.
What advice or tips can you offer to Satin Ice newcomers?
- Chill your cake before covering your cake with fondant to give a smoother effect.
- Use cornstarch to roll out fondant rather than powdered sugar because the sugar makes it sticky.
- When storing fondant - rub a thin layer of vegetable shortening to coat the fondant. This prevents the air from drying it out and gives the fondant a longer shelf life. Then wrap in plastic wrap and store in an airtight container.
- Always take pictures of your work. As time goes on you can look back and see how you improved.
Describe your cake decorating style in just 3 words?
Feminine, stylish, trendy.
If you weren't decorating cakes, what would you be doing?
I can’t imagine doing anything else. I can honestly say I wake up everyday and go to work happy. I am happy teaching, giving advice and love to see my students and customers. I love what I do and I know I am very lucky to live in New York with the best customers in the world.
What is a ‘regular’ day like for Lisa Mansour?
To sum up my day in one word it would definitely be the word "multi-tasking." I manage NY CAKE retail and I make sure everything is functioning properly. Throughout the day, I look for new products on the market to carry in the store. I help customers with their cake dilemmas/problems and help to choose the right product for them. I may teach a class or work on new class material. I work on sample cakes for store display - the list goes on and on. . .
What is your creative process for making cakes?
I try to start out with a sketch or idea. I don't always stick to it. I find as I am working on the cake, I sometimes get different ideas - and when that happens I usually go for it!
Who or what is inspiring you this very moment?
People inspire me. I love seeing people that start from nothing and thanks to hard work, dedication and passion are able to create a successful business. And then I love watching those businesses grow and succeed over time.
What are the big trends you are seeing right now in cake art?
The things that are trending in wedding cakes right now are some of my favorites: glitz and glamour - cakes with metallic gold or silver and painted details. Edible jewels and diamonds, ruffles, drapes and of course cakes covered with fondant.
If you could create a cake for anyone in history (past or present day): Who would it be and why?
The person I would want to make a cake for would be Jennifer Lopez. I like her style and would love to create a sensational cake that reflects both her style and personality. It would be a fun challenge for me and I would probably come up with new techniques in the process. I am actually picturing some things right now in my head as I am writing this!
Finally what is next for Lisa Mansour and NY Cake this year?
I have a lot of new ideas for classes coming up that will be added to my schedule. I am also working on some new products that I am excited about.
Name: Lisa Mansour
Education: Taught by her mother.
Business name: NY Cake and Baking Distributors