Recently I was asked to make a Dreamcake for Hillary Clinton and the US State Department! Talk about dreaming up something big!
The entire experience from beginning to end was awe-inspiring.
I met the event planner for the US State Department in NYC. He loved our cakes and after seeing and tasting them, he knew immediately, he just had to work with us. He asked if we could make a historical cake to honor Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, along with former Secretaries, Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, and Henry Kissinger for their help in raising 20 million dollars to preserve the Diplomatic Reception rooms at the State Department.
Getting clearance from the State Department was no easy task. It took a number of days to get the final okay. When all was said and done after going through final details with the Deputy Chief of Protocol for the State Department, we had 3 days and nights from start to finish to create this cake! It was crazy to make a cake for such an important event in such a short period of time. Our team worked day and night and into the wee-hours to get this cake finished in time.
We learned that the star antiquity of the 50th Anniversary for the Diplomatic Reception Rooms Gala was the Treaty of Paris Desk. This desk was used to sign the Treaty of Paris, by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams; marking the end of the Revolutionary War. John Adams is my favorite former president. He was the brain behind our nation’s independence. He had foresight and wisdom. I felt so humbled to be recreating this scene in cake.
The cake featured a special oriental rug that exists in the entrance hall to the rooms. The rug was hand-painted freehand with food coloring and vodka. It took one whole day to paint. Two sugar paste hand-made white quills were placed on the front of the cake to symbolize the historic signing. John Adams and Benjamin Franklin figures were sculpted in sugar paste and painted in food coloring. The mini treaty of paris desk was made out of thin layers of chocolate cake and mousseline buttercream covered with fondant and sugar paste parts.
Then came our next challenge- the delivery. Janna and I carried pieces of the cake in boxes on our lap during the entire 4.5-hour car trip, while my husband drove quickly but cautiously. The sugar figures were extremely fragile and we didn’t want anything to break during the car ride. When we arrived in Washington at the State Department entrance gates, we were greeted by guards that were expecting us…and who were excited! They reserved a special spot for our van right in front of the building, next to Colin Powell’s car. Our cake was x-rayed by security, then we were whisked up in the elevator to these special diplomatic reception rooms.
When we arrived to the room and placed the cake down, I noticed that directly diagonal to our cake, was the original framed “Declaration of Independence”. Wow! It was completely unassuming and understated; quietly sitting there, so close to the public and our cake. I was in awe.
Secretary Hillary Clinton, followed by a group of paparazzi style photographers and a hand full of staff members, entered into the room where our cake was on display, to greet us. After entering the room, her commissioner announced “Heather Barranco, cake designer for our celebration” as she pointed to me. I felt like I was dreaming.
The cake was a surprise for Secretary Clinton. She viewed the cake and said “Looks magnificent…mmmm, it smells sooo good,” then looked at me with her big, sparkling eyes and said, “Make sure that I get a piece!” We stood in front of the mantle, cake in front, while the stream of photographers took our photos with Secretary Hillary Clinton. The day before was her birthday, so after the pictures I said to her, “We made a special cake for your birthday. It’s our Chocolate Bananas Foster Cake.” We chatted for a minute then she said, laughing, to the Benjamin Franklin actor standing nearby, “Look, there you are in cake!” We were honored to have a “private audience” with Secretary Clinton.
Later that day, a crowd of guests entered the cocktail room with the actors in historical dress. Shortly, after most of the guests arrived, the actor, Michael Douglas came into the room. He stood directly in front of our cake as guests surrounded him to shake his hand. Along with Michael Douglas, the event was attended by former federal reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan and NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell as master of ceremonies.
The State department was so wonderful to us. They invited us as seated guests to the gala in the Benjamin Franklin Hall, where we enjoyed a historical meal while listening to the various speeches of the former Secretaries of State and Secretary Clinton. The tables and event décor were designed by the very talented, Bryan Rafanelli, of Rafanelli Events, in an elegant robin’s egg blue with gold accents along. This was beautifully accented by sweet smelling white magnolias and roses in antique gold vases as centerpieces. On each table setting was a menu with each guest’s name, hand-drawn calligraphy, and a gift of either a specially designed scarf, featuring the signatures of the secretaries of state, former and current, for women and a blue tie for men. My husband and I were floored by these unexpected gifts.
Have you ever seen the episode of Friends when Monica just wouldn’t take off Ross’s fiancee’s wedding dress- everything seemed just so special with that dress on? That is how I felt. It was hard to leave this place. We felt special. We were wowed with every little thing around us.
Later that evening, I met the curator of the rooms while he was staring at Washington’s portrait. I commented to him, “isn’t it just magnificant?” He continued to tell me all the details of the artist, then point out that the inconspicuous desk directly in front of me, worth $5-10 mil, along with the other 2 matching pieces scattered around the room. On this desk, sat a piece of china from Martha Washington’s formal china set. They were just quietly there under a dim light in the corner, right in the open, like it was any old piece of china. I noticed that the oil painted portraits of various presidents were some of the most famous from history books, such as George Washington and Andrew Jackson, among many others.
I felt like I was strolling in a friend’s home, welcome to feel at home in the most magnificant surrounding. This place is not set up at all like a museum, but rather a regal living room-except each side table or piece of art was priceless. Guests were made to feel at home in this rather grande and special room.After the speeches ended, the guests were invited to view the new terrace for cocktails, and slowly exited the rooms.
As guests left the event, we thanked them for attending, on behalf of the State Department and handed out parting gifts to each guest…what better gift than a delicious piece of cake? Each precious cake slice was delicately cut and was beautifully packaged in an ornate paper box with our signature purple ribbon and our brand labels. We handed these out to all 230 guests at the end of the evening. A number of people were clamoring for more to take home.
After arriving at our hotel at the end of the evening, I still had that special “I’m wearing a wedding dress” glow. It didn’t disappear the moment we left the event, as I thought it would. The best part is the memories we have that will last a lifetime. We were able to have our 3 kids ages 3, 7, and 9 participate before the official ceremony began, meet with and be in the pictures with Senator Clinton, and then go see DC the next day in a much more connected way than we could have ever imagined.
*A special thank you to Mark, Izumi, Kristin, and Angie at the State Department for being so absolutely wonderful to us!