Madison Lee Interview
The editors of Dessert Professional Magazine called her one of the Top 10 Cake Artists in North America.
She’s appeared on TV shows including Good Morning America, and news outlets like NY1 And the Huffington Post.
Her cakes have been featured in the pages of publications and blogs including Sophisticated Weddings, New York edition, Brides, Style me Pretty, and New York Weddings to name just a few.
We are talking about Madison Lee
Q - Your name is actually perfect for the business you’re in. If you wanted to be a cake maker, Madison Lee fits!
A - (Laughs). My mom did a really good job naming me. My name is Madison Lee Barricelli. So Lee is my middle name.
Q - So, when you get tired of making cakes, you can start a pasta sauce company.
A - Yeah. (Laughs). Although my last name is changing in three weeks. I’m actually set to get married in three weeks.
Q - What will your name be then?
A – Sheehy. A good Irish guy.
Q - You were named one of the Top 10 Cake Artists in North America. What does that do for your business? Is Sylvia Weinstock at the top of the ladder?
A - I don’t think it’s fair to say who’s the top who’s not at the top. Everyone has their place and place meaning their own style and they find the clients that really fit their style the best. I’m very romantic in my style but I did tend to be a little bit more edgy and daring. I always kind of want to push the boundaries and make it a little bit more funky. So, I think that’s something that makes me a little more different from some of the other people in New York that are really up there like Sylvia and Ron (Ben Israel). But, I also think that’s because I am so young and I have a different, fresh interpretation of what our wedding cake could be. It could really be anything.
Q - I’m guessing that when people come to you they are looking for a beautiful, traditional cake.
A - They do come looking for that but that’s not usually what they leave with. I’m very different and I don’t have a book of pictures to look through. I don’t have a portfolio. I don’t want to make my couples a cake that I made last week for somebody else. I want to make a cake that’s just for them. I want to know about them. I ask them how they got engaged, how they met. I ask the bride when were alone is the mother-in-law driving you crazy. What’s the story. I want to know who they really are and what their all about together. The cake should reflect them as much as their day. I sketch on site. They usually bring me invitations, dress pictures, bridal party things. The more they bring the better! But the real inspiration really comes from their story and how they walk in. You can see immediately couples that are playful, joking around. Who’s pretending to feed each other. Those kinds of couples are more likely to walk out with the cake that’s just totally non-traditional because they’re playful and fun. Non-traditional meaning like they might want a hand painted cake that’s like red, or burgundy and gold. They might want something that’s dripping in sequins that’s a little bit more bizarre. Things like that. Then I have couples that come that are very prim and proper. Yes, I do make traditional cakes with beautiful sugar flowers and things like that but I’d say there always a little more edgy in the way I always change the heights of the tears so it looks a little bit more modern. Some of the different sugar techniques I use I really don’t use molds for anything. I do everything by hand. So that brings kind of an old school method back in a modern way so it has that sense of tradition but it’s used in more of the minimalistic way that’s slightly different if that makes sense.
Q - Since you’re getting married in three weeks who’s going to be making your wedding cake? Not you?!
A - Absolutely me! How could I not?
Q - So, you have to sit down with your husband to be as well as interview yourself.
A - Actually, it’s very funny. He did not want to come in. I told my team I’m going to be the client someone’s going to do a consultation and sketch for me, ask me all the questions. My fiancé was absolutely not. You’re going to surprise me. I don’t want to know anything about it. It’s great for me. It’s a way for me just kind of getting to really have fun. There’s no boundaries. It’s whatever is really in my own head which you never know what’s in there. I don’t know. (Laughs).
Q - You absolutely had to start work on this cake long before the wedding. So, you’re probably working on it right now.
A - That’s very funny. No. I should start long before but because it’s my own cake I tend to be more worried about my other brides. I have a lot of weddings going out this month (August 2015) so I really focused on their cakes more than my own. I feel like for mine it’s all going to work itself out. I change my mind a lot. I actually stopped sketching. I can’t sketch anymore. One week I want to colored base cake. Another week I want a white cake. One week I say I want no flowers. I want hand painted things. I really change because I can. There’s nobody dictating it which makes it hard I think. I’m just too creative. Too many things I want to get in there so I’m just not sure. So, I’m going to wait until the last minute which is very different for me.
Q - Do you just make wedding cakes?
A - No. My dad has owned Cousin John’s Bakery for 30 years. I was working alongside him. I ran Madison Lee Cakes out of Cousin John’s bakery for the last six years. So not only did I have my hand involved in cakes, but, the cookies, the tarts, the cheesecake whatever it was. I really learned all of those foundations from him. Just from being exposed to it. I love to bake anything although I didn’t go to school for pastry. I actually went to school for savory cooking. I was very young when I went to school. As teenagers do they don’t listen to their parents. My parents said what are you crazy? We own a bakery! What are you doing? We’ve got generations of Baker’s four years. You’d be the fourth generation. I’m just like I want to cook. I think I want to cook a steak. I don’t know what I was thinking. There I was, 19, in culinary school and I loved it! But then we did a baking section it was just the feel of the dough, the butter, the smell. It just fit like all of the sudden where I had to really learn techniques of savory cooking; in the pastry department I just understood them. They came with such natural ease. It just fit. I felt at home while I was doing it. Then, we did cakes in the pastry section and where my classmates could not understand cutting, filling or like the flavor profiles I just loved it. And, I never held a job in savory cooking. I was always in the pastry kitchen. After that I never went back to savory.
Q - You have two store locations, one in Brooklyn and one in Manhattan.
A - Yes.
Q - Why do you need two places and how do you maintain quality control? You can’t be in two places at one time.
A – I spend most of my time nowadays in my cake studio in Manhattan. In Brooklyn, my dad has owned Cousin John’s Bakery for 30 years and we shared that space together. He’s still in the Brooklyn space full-time. So, he watches over it most of the time. I feel like I need Brooklyn because Brooklyn is really home for me. I have a lot of clients, not just wedding cake clients, but birthday clients. I feel like when you come back every year for a birthday cake, I am of part of the family. I’m a part of the celebration and I didn’t really want to lose that so I feel I need to stay there for those kinds of people. It’s really just home. My store in Brooklyn I share with my dad inside Cousin John’s Bakery. I started there six years ago. Even this week we had a corporate order for small mini cakes and I needed about 300 of them. And, I don’t have enough refrigeration space to hold 300 small mini cakes plus my wedding cakes for this week so I took my whole staff yesterday and we all went to Brooklyn and we made all of those mini cakes that we could put in a huge walk in there. It’s a totally different feel in Brooklyn. It’s home. It’s nostalgic. My dad’s there. He’s overjoyed to see me yet also busting my chops at the same time and there is regular customers that come in. It’s an open kitchen. So, it’s really the sense of community, home. I don’t think I’d ever give it up for anything, although I do love my Manhattan store. It’s beautiful. Definitely better for the wedding cake clients. It’s more convenient for everyone but, it doesn’t have the same nostalgic like feel.
Q - Do you have celebrity clients or is that something you can’t disclose?
A - I am not allowed to say. I’ve signed too many papers (laughs). Everyone always had me sign nondisclosure agreements and so I’m not at liberty to say which is terrible because I’m sure that’s what you’re looking for. I’ve always just signed on the dotted line and kept my mouth shut. (Laughs).
Q - Between yourself and your two assistants how many cakes would you say you’re making every week, every month, every year? I don’t know how you break it down.
A - I make anywhere from 2 to 5 wedding cakes, actually I should do it bigger than that, I would say from two to ten wedding cakes a month and then I also have like smaller birthday cakes in there. I would say usually like six a month.
Q - Is there such a thing as a regular workweek for you?
A - My staff works five days a week. Monday through Friday and I very rarely leave and if I do leave, I have my computer and everything with me. On the weekends my fiancé comes in and helps me do the cake deliveries. Then he’ll come in and help me do paperwork or he will sit and read a book while I’m doing paperwork on weekends and things like that. So, I never stop working, but that just comes with the territory of two stores and being the owner I guess, but I make sure my to assistance George and Amy definitely get time off. (Laughs). There wise nobody’s happy and they make sad looking flowers.
Q - The specialty cake business seems to be a growing business. More and more people are going into that field are they?
A - More and more people are getting involved every year. I think that TV shows like Cake Boss really help make people aware of what can be done with cake and put everything in high demand. Everyone wants something that looks beautiful. They don’t want that typical whipped cream cake that’s coming out of the supermarket. They want something that’s worthy of a celebration and I think that’s great. I think everyone wanting to be in cake decorating is amazing. All the continuing education classes whether their online or whether their hosted at the schools are wonderful opportunities for people at home to really try to do things themselves and have a hobby and learn. I do think it’s really competitive and a lot of the quick trick methods of using molds and not having those basics foundations at what the real history of, it’s not really cake decorating. It’s actually called sugar craft. It’s years and years that it’s happened in London that they’ve been doing all these amazing things that we just here in the states are really all of a sudden learning about. So, I just hope for whoever is coming in, they really honor it like the craft it should be.
Q - Would you be able to conduct your business in any city in the United States? Do you almost have to be in a populated city like New York?
A - I’m a diehard New Yorker. I think I would have a hard time relocating. (Laughs).
Q - But, if you did relocate.
A - If I did relocate I think I would really have to change how much I was charging for everything. I think that’s the other problem. To sit there and make a sugar flower rose is really time-consuming. People often don’t understand what you’re paying for. Why is it so much? Why can’t you just put fresh flowers on it? Why is it really the minimum now something like $10 a slice? How could that possibly be? I think it’s really because people don’t realize how long it takes. I could not do it outside of New York. I could do it in London or Chicago or Paris. I could do it in one of those places. (Laughs). I think the things I’m doing are just a little bit different. But, there are plenty of people out there who are making amazing things all over the country and they’re really just found their niche with their clients.
Q - Do you price your cakes per slice based on how many people will be attending the reception?
A - I don’t actually price per slice. I price as a whole. I really hated pricing per slice. For example, let’s say an easy number is 10. So, if you do $10 per slice, then everyone thinks if you’re having 100 people it’s $1000. But, then you’re like oh, wow! Yeah have to deliver it. That’s another $200. Oh, you want a cake stand? That’s another hundred dollars. You need one year anniversary cake? A fresh cake. I don’t believe in eating frozen cake. That’s another hundred dollars or whatever it is. Before you know it all of a sudden you thought your price was thousand dollars and now I just hit you over the head with an extra like $500. I don’t think that’s fair for a bride and groom. So, I don’t charge per slice. I charge in like a package deal. So, it includes the delivery the cake stand rental if you need it or want it and I always include a fresh one year anniversary cake that usually matches the cake that you had a year from your wedding. I wouldn’t eat frozen cake so I wouldn’t expect anyone else to eat frozen cake.
Q - Madison, your cakes look so good, they look too good to eat!
A - No. They taste better I assure you. I’m really a nut about the flavors. I’ve worked really hard on my recipes and it really shows. I really am a Baker more than just an artist. So, they taste good.
Official website: www.madisonleescakes.com
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