It is an absolute pleasure to be featuring Gene from Cakes By Gene, based in Washington, D.C.! I am always impressed by his variety of cakes ranging from glam dinosaur cakes to art-inspired cakes. Just take a peek at his Instagram portfolio, and you’ll see why! He is truly a master at Jack of all trades art! Read on to learn a little bit more about Gene.
How did you get started with making cakes?
Since I was a kid, I have always loved to bake, but I made my first custom cake for my husband’s 30th birthday in 2009, which I made look like a cheeseburger and fries. After that, I started showing up to parties with wild cakes until, eventually, folks began to ask if they could pay me for them. That started a little side hustle until I made it a full-time gig in 2018.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Wow, from all over. From art to nature to pop culture, and of course, the fantastic group of bakers that I’m privileged to be within this industry.
Do you have a cake style?
You know this is something I struggle internally with because I don’t latch on to one style. A part of me sometimes wishes I had an identifiable aesthetic…one that folks would be able to see and immediately say, “that’s a cake by Gene,” but then again, I love being able to challenge myself and try new things. My work is ever-evolving, and I would hate to be short-sighted and keep myself in a box. I also think my clients respond well to the fact that I am a bit of a “jack of all (cake) trades.”
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to own a cake studio?
First and foremost, I would say power through the rough spots. There are going to be times when you get overwhelmed and feel like throwing your hands up. Whether dealing with red tape or trying to see the end of a crazy work week where you may have bitten off more than you think you can handle, you gotta stick it out. Anything worth having or worth doing doesn’t come easy, and in the end, it will reward you in spades if you are doing it right. Sometimes that reward will be emotional, and sometimes financial, but you will find those rewards mean more than a temporary struggle.
What is the most significant accomplishment to the date of your baking career?
I would say being a competitor on the Food Network was a career-high. I was on the “Easter Basket Challenge,” hosted by Sunny Anderson, back in the spring of this year, and it was such an incredible experience. I had been chosen for a couple of shows before, but they didn’t feel like they had the right opportunity until this one came along. Even though I didn’t win after making it to the finale, I came away from it with such an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, as I challenged myself to try new things and present work that felt elevated and different. Also, filming a series during the height of the pandemic was in itself a challenge, but through it all, we kept chugging through and laughing, and I made some lifelong friends. It was also an incredible boost for my business.
Do you have a memorable cake that challenged you?
In 2018, for my second ever wedding cake, I was asked to create a 3 tier Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired stained glass cake to which I said “yes” without having any idea how I was going to accomplish it. Not only was I challenged by a more limited skill set at the time, but I was also not prepared for how long it would take to bake, stack, fill, and assemble that much cake with only one small oven, one small mixer, and one small fridge. At 20 hours, it’s still the cake with the longest completion time, but it’s also the cake that made me realize what I wanted to be doing as a career.
What do you love the most about your job?
The sense of pride that comes with delivering a finished cake is really powerful. I pour my heart and soul into everything I do and see faces light up with smiles (and sometimes even tears) because something I made means as much as, or more than, what the balance on the invoice was. Knowing I created a permanent memory that appeals to all the senses makes it all worthwhile. Clients know they are getting a piece of you and that it’s not “just a cake.”
What are your go-to tools when designing a cake?
Blood, sweat, tears… or would you consider swiss meringue buttercream a tool?
For 2022, what do you hope to accomplish for your cake business/content?
On the business side, I hope to add an assistant to the “cakes by gene” team who could be someone that helps with day-to-day operations like bookkeeping and order intake or someone to bake and make the buttercream. I don’t ever want to get to a point where I don’t have a hand in every aspect, but I also know that I can’t grow if I don’t allow myself to hand over some of the work.
From a social media standpoint, I really look up to those whose content contains videos and tutorials, and I get asked all the time when I will do the same. Maintaining social media is a job within itself, and I’m grateful for the following I have without having a ton of that kind of content in my feed thus far, but I think you can be on the lookout for more of that in the coming year.
What is your usual way to decompress after a long day of baking/cake decorating?
It may seem lame, but I love a good nap after a crazy day. That can mean shutting out the world snuggled up with my dog and/or hubby, or it can mean zoning out in front of the tv with my eyes half-open/closed. Let me do that for 20 or 30 minutes, and then I’m ready to grab a drink or dinner with friends.
My Top Cake Creations
Beach Inspired Cake
This cake was with layers of chocolate cake, salted dulce de leche, and peanut butter buttercream. This oceanic beauty comes to life with crashing waves in buttercream and rice paper, chocolate seashells, and rabbit tail grass.
Fall Boho Wedding Cake
I covered this Boho cake with layers of decadent carrot cake with sweet cream cheese filling in super smooth, knife-sharp Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream. It also had a glorious assortment of dried florals and edible lace for a harvest wedding centerpiece that appeals to vintage and modern sensibilities.
Boho Baby Shower Cake
Who would have thought such a seemingly basic color palette could feel so dynamic? Add a few dried stems, some chocolate spheres, and sprinkles to turn this into a show stopper!
Glam Dinosaur & Monster Truck Cake
This cake was the perfect opportunity to reinterpret one of my most popular designs (image below), employ some of my favorite methods, and try my friend’s, @lolo_loves_cakes, “tummy side up” technique. Marbled buttercream covers nostalgic flavors of double chocolate and funfetti for the ultimate, super sophisticated kid’s cake.
For more dinosaur cake inspiration, click here.
Floral Marbled Square Cake
I could not be more in love with this little green goddess. Super sharp marbleized buttercream, layers of toasted coconut cake with pineapple brown sugar compote, and vanilla SMBC along with touches of gold leaf and tiny fondant succulents and roses make way for a mini arrangement of real succulents.
Isomalt Jeweled Birthday Cake
I added isomalt jewels over a clean, white column for a bestie’s birthday, and It was candy bar-inspired flavors of toasted coconut cake, salted dulce de leche, and chocolate swiss meringue buttercream tempts tastebuds for a treat that dazzles the mouth just as much as the eyes.
Art Inspired Cake
Inspired by a favorite piece of art, this cheery cake screams joy with its fun shape and colorful wafer paper flowers popping off an abstract horizon background.
Helping to celebrate “22 years enjoying the Air Force One magic”, this triple-tiered beauty stood regal and proud with classic details such as marbled buttercream over chocolate cake and salted dulce de leche, a hand cut map, and 22 golden stars.
Etheral Mermaid Cake
Ethereal and magical like the creatures that inspired it, this mermaid-themed centerpiece would make anyone’s underwater birthday fantasy come true with aquatic colors of vanilla swiss meringue buttercream are awash over layers of toasted coconut cake filled with tart lime curd along with hundreds of painstakingly applied gold and white sugar pearls fill the spaces between fondant seashell clusters and golden fins, while waves of rice paper add a final layer of texture and movement.
Mediterranean Bridal Shower Cake
Morocco meets the Amalfi coast on the largest cake I’ve made in over a year and is a new addition to my list of faves. A cheerful color combo of citrus and cobalt blue evokes the Mediterranean and echoes the bright flavors inside the luscious lemon cake and raspberry swiss meringue buttercream. Fresh florals, faux lemons, and a shiny topper help make for a beautiful and delicious bridal shower centerpiece.
Vintage Paris Cake
Some vintage Parisian vibes are accented with pops of pink for this deliciously sophisticated birthday centerpiece that is accented with handpainted gold trim and the ultimate Paris icon standing front and center.
90s Birthday Cake
This was one of the funniest (and funkiest) cakes I have ever done. Giving you all the major Saved By Bell vibes, blue striped buttercream pairs with a solid pink, covered in wildly colored fondant shapes, for the tastiest blast to the past.
Thank you so much Gene for an amazing interview!
Cakes By Gene Contact Info