So Divine

Great Job Batter Up: She's a multilayered angel making the devil's food with a touch of cheesecake, but whether she's baking for the soaps or for real-life dramas, Cakediva always delivers.From Food Arts Magazine, October, 2000

Interviewed by Chris Styler
At over six feet tall, not counting the store-bought hair and heels, Cakediva is not a presence you're likely to miss when you stroll through your next bridal show. One look at the statuesque, figure in stiletto heels, gold lamé miniskirt, and blond mega-wig, and you know this ain't your mother's Betty Crocker.

Cakediva-aka-Charmaine Jones-puts the "special" into Isn't That Special-Outrageous Cakes, her Hoboken, New Jersey-based company, which produces show stopping cakes in styles like "Extreme", "Afrocentric," "Novelty," and "Conceptual." When Jones started the business out of her tiny Manhattan apartment, she didn't have a clear idea of what to expect. What she did have was a master's degree in fine arts from Loyola University,. an architect for a father, and a mother with French baking experience. All of which came in handy when she began forging remarkably complex and beautiful cakes that are as much edifice as they are dessert.

As for training that might be more germane to the art of baking showcase cakes, Cakediva took a lot of baking classes to figure out, as she puts it, "what I didn't want to do."

The process of elimination was a long one. It began when Jones, who had promised her, father the above-mentioned degree, delivered the goods, then promptly loaded everything she owned into her car and drove to New York City to pursue modeling. Over the next to years, her new career went well, but try as she might, she couldn't put her mother's baking influence behind her. "I couldn't run away from cake," says the fated Cakediva.

Cakediva arrives at ABC studios and gets busy, lifting the heavy but fragile cake to the transport cart.
Photo by Robert Milazzo

In the early 1990s, Jones was using her tiny apartment to turn out dramatic cakes-some of which climbed as high as eight feet and was transporting them to her clients in taxicabs. One contact led to another, and, in 1992, she was asked to prepare one of her afrocentric cakes for a photograph to be included in Jumping the Broom.- The African-American Wedding Planner by Harriet Cole. The book, which has gone on to sell approximately 9 million copies, led to Jones' introduction to the fantasy world of soap-opera weddings, birthday celebrations, and showers.

When Jones, an avid fan of "the soaps," saw that Noah and Julia, an African-American couple on ABC's All My Children, were engaged, she began pleading her case for preparing their wedding cake. That particular cake took a while to see the light of day'- in true soap fashion, Noah was arrested at the altar before the rites were performed and the vows weren't exchanged until he was able to clear his name. Since then, many of Jones' cakes, accompanied by more or less drama, have appeared on soaps like All My Children, One Life to Live, and The City.

As the business grew and began to take up more of her time, Jones realized she had to either commit to her avocation or ditch it all together. Fate steered her to a friend who knew about some space available in a Hoboken, New Jersey, warehouse. Space was about all there was -just wooden floors badly in need of repair and walls that were half sheet rock, half exposed chicken wire."Honey, l had no money!" Jones recalls. I did those floors myself I'd tear one piece of sandpaper into eight pieces, wrap one piece around each of my knuckles and go to work!"

Under the watchful eye of OLTL's set designer Rodger Moody, Cakediva puts a few finishing touches on the cake.
Photo by Robert Milazzo

Over the course of two weeks-during a snowstorm that virtually stranded her in the new place-Jones managed to transform the floors and browbeat her new landlord into finishing the walls. The finishing touch was to paint a wraparound floor-to-ceiling mural, and her first show room was born. It was around this same time that Cakediva was born.

Jones sometimes found herself spending eight-hour stretches making sugar flowers and working so hard, she recalls, "that I had to have an alter ego or I'd go crazy." During a trip to Los Angeles, while walking down Hollywood Boulevard, "This big, red, Marge Simpson-looking wig, and this other big blond wig were just screaming at me," she explains. She went with the blond, bought some shoes and a skirt to complement the outfit, and hasn't looked back since.

Cakediva is no mere schtick. This is serious cake. Working with hundreds of possible cake, filling, and frosting combinations, Cakediva makes cakes from small to huge and from more or less traditional to totally off-the-wall, prospective clients can sample the cakes at an annual tasting held in her show room or at other events like the bridal show held last February at New York City's Pierre Hotel. Given the lengths that she goes to research, create, and schlep her creations, it's no wonder they don't come cheap. A simple novelty or birthday cake starts at around $250. From there, depending on size, theme, and other factors, the price climbs.

Cakediva doesn't bake in her showrooms. She ships premixed dry ingredients, "drys" as she calls them, to a local bakery where the baking takes place. The cakes are returned to Cakediva, who, along with up to eight assistants in peak season, works her magic on them. Her Web site ( and portfolio feature dozens of examples of her work, and it's an understatement to say there are no hard-and-fast rules. How about a tank of live goldfish as one of the layers (for the opening of Atlantis Paradise Island in The Bahamas in 1998) or a bust of Michael Jackson (for People magazine in 1997)?

Impressive as these cakes are, the stories behind them are serious rivals. I loved hearing about the cake Silvercup Studios in Queens commissioned to thank Wendy's owner Dave Thomas for his business. "It was really a whole bunch of cakes," Jones explains.

Cakediva exits the set.
Photo by Robert Milazzo
Its central "burger" portion was frosted with chocolate mousse and chocolate butter cream, and topped with three round "pickle cakes," a fondant onion slice, and squiggles of mustard-colored butter cream. They were all sandwiched between two "bun' cakes-the top one removable, of course to reveal the pickle, onion, and mustard combo beneath it.

For the 105th birthday of a woman who credited her long, life to breakfasting on Total cereal Cakediva fashioned a 200-pound replica of a box of Total, complete with three-dimensional flakes of cereal and milk made from thinned royal icing. Jones flew to Ohio to prepare the cake, a 12-hour process that was completed just as the man who had promised to drive the cake to Indiana reneged on his offer. "So there I was," she recalls, "stuck in Ohio with a 200 pound cake in the shape of a cereal box and no way to get it where I was going. Let me tell you, that was too much drama for yo' mama." Help came in the form of an offer from a bystander who had watched, rapt, as Jones completed her work. Cakediva once again emerged triumphant.

With all this work, and the soap opera-style drama surrounding it, one wonders that Cakediva ever sees the light of day. "It's an ordeal,"Jones admits. "The lashes, the heels, the wig." As I listened to her incredible stories, most of which start with "Baby, check this out" (as in "Baby, check this out-let me tell you about the time the cake spies came to visit"), I got the feeling there's a book in there. When I suggested this to Jones, she responded, "Oh, I know. Adventures of Cakediva. I'm working on it baby."

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