Name: Madison Lee
Location: New York, NY
Education/Training: I studied culinary arts at the Institute of Culinary Education. Also, privately studied with Betty Van Norstrand and Alan Dunn, along with many others in the art of sugar flowers.
Business name: Madison Lee's Cakes located at 336 West 37th Street.
Website: Madison Lee's Cakes
Cake Philosophy & Words to Live by: I never want to make the same cake twice. I’m an artist, and I believe that each cake should be a completely individual creation. As what I make is edible art, I also strongly feel that the cake needs to be delicious. At the end of the day, someone is eating the cake, and I want it to taste great!
What is a brief history about your business and how you got to where you are today?
My path to cakes was initially a bit rebellious one. While I grew up with my dad owning a bakery and my mom decorating cakes at home, I had absolutely no intention - and I mean none whatsoever - of following in their footsteps. So, I went college to become a teacher, but it just didn’t feel like the right path for me. So, then I went to culinary school to become a great cook - not a baker. But sometimes you can’t fight your destiny! I worked for various bakeries and cake designers in and around the city for a few years and then started Madison Lee’s Cakes in historic Park Slope, Brooklyn.
After six years it was time to expand, so I moved from a cozy neighborhood to the big city and opened the studio in Manhattan! Now Madison Lee’s Cakes is fortunate to be recommended by some of the most iconic venues in the city and is the exclusive wedding cake vendor for the Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center.
(Inside shot of Madison Lee's Cakes)
How were you first introduced to Satin Ice?
It was the best on the market, who wouldn’t use it?
Is there one particular project that stands out as significant or that you are particularly proud of?
My birch cake is easily one of the most significant cakes that I’ve created. I was trying to explore texture, and birch trees with their unique look immediately came to my mind as something I was interested in recreating it in sugar. In researching birch cakes, I was, honestly, just not satisfied with the quality and standard of the typical birch cake. So I came up with a seven-step process to manipulate Satin Ice’s products to create a texture that actually looked like bark was pulling off a tree. I’m proud to say that the final cake looked like cut logs of birch - it truly didn’t look like a cake! I was honored by the Societe Culinaire Philanthropique with a blue ribbon and by the CIA with the Revere bowl for culinary excellence for my technique in 2012.
(More bark cakes by Madison)
What is your signature style?
My style is constantly evolving. While clean lines and hyper-realistic flowers will always be a part of my style, I am currently working with a “less is more” sensibility and a chic, New York attitude.
What is your favorite cake and why?
My favorite cake is whatever cake I’m working on each week. I do not replicate anything- every cake is a unique design. Because no two cakes are alike, I get to explore something different and am able to do something that’s new and interesting with each cake. So, every new cake is my favorite!
Most challenging cake to date?
My wedding cake was by far the most challenging. Obviously if you are a cake artist, there are some pretty high expectations for your wedding cake to be amazing! But setting any external pressure aside, it was so hard for me to be on the other side of the table. I did not want to create something that was expected or typically associated with weddings- like roses, peonies, and hydrangeas… My wedding cake in the end put focus on the foliage and smaller filler flowers. I was so happy to have all the small detail work really give the cake an interesting texture and showcase something unusual at my wedding.
What tips of advice can you offer to Satin Ice newcomers?
Don’t let the fondant own you, you are the boss! And don’t worry about having enough fondant to cover a cake; Satin Ice has the best stretch. Also, if you condition Satin Ice’s gum paste properly, there’s no reason to make your own gum paste. I never do.
Describe your cake decorating style in just 3 words:
Intricate, Innovative, Chic
If you weren't decorating cakes, what would you be doing?
I would probably be hand painting stationery. I love painting with watercolors, and am so excited whenever I get to paint on a cake. I’m really interested in paper and beautiful invitations. As a very visual and creative person, I’ve always thought it would be a great fit!
What is a 'regular' cake decorating day like for you?
I think my staff will agree on the statement that there is no such thing as a “regular” day at Madison Lee’s Cakes. Every day is something different - with new projects, different types of sugar flowers to make, and constantly pushing to be innovative - and I love it! I wouldn’t have any other way!
What is your creative process for making cakes?
Honestly, my creative process is messy. I experiment with everything on hand and take over every surface in the studio in whirlwind of activity! By the end, my glasses are crooked and the table is a mess, but the sketch is something fresh and unexpected!
What is your favorite part about designing cakes?
My favorite part happens at the very end of the process. I love the moment when the cake is set up at the venue, and I get to take a step back and finally see the entire cake! It’s so easy to get lost in all the details while making and designing, that sometimes I actually can’t see or imagine the finished cake. So it’s a great moment when I get to see it fully and really appreciate the whole design and beautiful details!
(Photo by Tania Colamarino)
Favorite cake flavor to make?
What is inspiring you this very moment?
Right now, the end of winter and arrival of spring is inspiring me. I love the return of flowers and getting to replicate them in my studio!
Who would you love to learn from in the industry?
I would be honored to learn from Eddie Spence. I find it such a shame that royal icing is becoming a forgotten art. Royal icing is such an enormous part of the history of our craft, and I think every cake artist should be proficient in the medium. Eddie Spence is unquestionably the master, and it would be a privilege to learn from him.
What are the big trends you are seeing right now in cakes?
Lately, I find that a lot of brides are drawn to 3D fabric appliqués. A lot of designers are taking texture and structure to a whole new level in bridal gowns using these appliques, which is inspiring a lot of exciting cakes.
What do you aspire to accomplish with each cake?
I aspire for my cakes to taste as good as they look. I really feel that you have to nail both components for people to have positive memories of the cake. No one wants people to say that the cake looked beautiful but tasted awful! I think the industry standard should be for cake to do both - look amazingly beautiful and taste delicious, and I try to promote that.
Finally what is the next "big thing" for you?
We are currently in the process of moving to our new, bigger cake studio where I am hoping to offer classes!