Dreams in Cake

Harrah’s Casino Cake Centerpiece

When I was a kid, my grandparents used to go to Atlantic City quite often. My grandmother really loved to play the slots while my grandfather would bet on the horse races. Every once in a while they would bring my parents, my sister and I for a weekend there. As kids, we were not allowed on the “floor” but would go to the gift shop and eat at the “comped” massive buffets and walk around the board walk with my parents. It was okay. Not really my thing, until my grandmother gave me her free front row tickets to see Harry Connick Jr. In my early teens he was one of my favorite singers. After this experience, I had a new opinion of the place. It was fun.

For my 21st birthday, my family brought a handful of my best friends along with us for the weekend. My grandparents had given us free tickets for a fancy dinner. I learned from my dad how to play blackjack all night with $50 and not lose it. I still love to play poker and blackjack along with many other fun card games. For me, playing cards reminds me of many sweet childhood memories with my grandma and my 4 cousins playing memory or solitaire after school on a Tuesday.

As soon as I found out that we were commissioned to make a cake for a Harrah’s party, with invites going to their top executive and big high-rollers, of course I called my grandparents. They are older now and unable to go to the casinos but I knew they would be excited.  Harrah’s Altantic City Casino held their party at Above Restaurant and Bar in South Orange, New Jersey.

Mario, the manager, told me to make it really cool, exciting and unique in flavor and design. I gave him and the chef a special tasting. The flavor chosen was our signature, Raspberry Red Velvet. The chef picked this out because he felt the flavor was unique while the cake was very moist with our luscious Philadelphia cream cheese icing.

While designing the cake, I tried to tap in to all the emotion and excitement involved at the casinos. I can still picture my grandmother winning money at the slots and coins pouring out non-stop, bells ringing, ding-ding-ding. It felt like you just won a pot of real gold. It gives you a rush. For me, it was when I’d win a big stack of chips during a poker game; the sound of the chips clicking together. It was exciting.

I was thinking, these high-rollers obviously love to gamble and love the feel of the chips and the cards in their hands. It’s the catalyst for their excitement. So the cake had larger then life Harrah’s chips in stacks $100, $500 and $1000 chips. We fashioned the design after photos of the real chips. I like to play with scale in my designs; something I learned in my first 3-D class at Parsons. We made the chips look like stacks of chips in motion. The center logos were hand-painted with food-coloring and vodka.

We built the cakes to look topsy turvy so that the chips appeared to be popping out towards the onlooker. In reality, when you’re gambling, chips seem to be always moving either towards the dealer or towards the guest on the green table. The same goes for the playing cards. They are always in motion. This floating effect made the cake more dynamic then if everything looked static. I’m going to be honest and tell you that it was not easy to put this cake together because it was floating on a metal rod. It took us half a day just to assemble it.

When we brought the cake out of the bakery, all of the onlookers in Eden Marketplace stood around us with shocked looks on their faces. Some told me that it appeared that the cake would fall apart because it looked like each tier was hovering over the other with nothing to stand on. It was an optical illusion. I knew it wouldn’t fall apart, unless I slipped on a banana peel and the cake fell. For this reason, we always have one person clear the way in front of us as we are carrying a cake, to make sure we don’t trip on anything or anyone.

Scattered around the cake were sugar paste edible playing cards; each hand-painted freehand. My favorite was the joker because he looked like he was having fun. We used stars as a design element because the star pattern is a part of the Harrah’s logo.The stars were made out of sugar paste and dusted with gold glitter dust.  The cake was topped with a edible sugar paste Harrah’s logo. The logo was painted with red glitter dust. The cake was placed in the center of the room.


The cake fit right in with the rest of the event. It was all very extravagant. Above Restaurant set up a buffet with a carving station, a large ice sculpture surrounded by the largest extra-jumbo shrimp I’ve ever seen, oysters, and other seafood, and a gourmet cheese table. Yum! The bar featured exotic drinks and a sushi station. Above truly looked beautiful at night, filled with colorfully lit fountains in the center of the restaurant and a glistening mosaics. Many guests opted to enjoy the brisk night air on the terrace overlooking the village. It felt like an oasis.


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