Mark Randazzo Interview
(Mark Joseph Cakes)
Mark Randazzo owns and operates one of the most successful custom-designed cake businesses in New York City.
His cakes have been featured in Modern Bride Magazine; he was part of the winning team on the Food Network’s prestigious Extreme Cakes Challenge.
His cakes and pastries have been showcased in some of New York’s most elite establishments including Lespinasse, Fauchon, and the award winning bakery, Confetti Cakes.
Mark talked with us about the Art of creating such dazzling cakes.
Q – I take it that Joseph is your middle name?
A – Yes, it’s my middle name.
Q – You went to the Culinary Institute Of America. Did they teach you how to make fancy cakes and pastries?
A – Well, we learned pastries and things like that. We did a little bit of wedding cakes, but, most of what I learned in wedding cakes was through previous jobs and jobs after school. Things like that. As far as wedding cakes at school, the program is much better than some of the other schools especially in New York. Did we do things I’m doing now? No. We did the classic type of wedding cakes with piping and things like that.
Q – So, you more or less had to learn this trade on your own didn’t you?
A – Kind of. Wedding cakes is a kind of a thing where it’s more artistic, so, it’s not easy to teach it. You can teach the techniques like covering a cake with fondant which we did at school, making flowers and basic processed, but the artistic side of things and just thinking outside the box kind of, is something you have to do on your own. It’s more of an artistic mentality for decorating cakes than an actual pastry.
Q – I take it this is something you were passionate about your whole life and you knew you were good at.
A – Pretty much. I didn’t know I necessarily I wanted to do wedding cakes specifically, but I always wanted to be in the pastry field. After I got through school and started going to various jobs and always ended up making the wedding cakes at those jobs, I really started to like it. It incorporated several of my interests so I felt like I was good at it so I decided to go that route.
Q – Who's buying these fancy cakes of yours? Your cakes are made to order are they? You don’t have a commercial bakery do you?
A – We have a bakery but it’s not open to the public. It’s by appointment only so, everything is made to order. But, basically our clients are just someone who likes our style. That’s how it goes a lot for wedding cakes. We have people of all kinds of budgets come in and we try to work with them to make something that they really like, but, our emphasis is really on the taste of the cake whereas a lot of time people come in not expecting the wedding cake to taste good because that’s a common misconception these days where the wedding cake doesn’t taste good. People have been to so many weddings where the cake is horrible. It’s a traditional thing. That’s why it’s there. But, we’re trying to turn that whole thing around and show people that it actually can taste and look good.
Q – So, what you’re saying is more attention is paid to the look of the cake rather than the taste?
A – Right. That’s what it is because wedding cakes actually have a demanding role in their, I want to call it life span because they’re there for an entire wedding event. So, making it stable enough to last that long is a pretty tall feat. It’s food obviously and if you have a wedding outdoors in the summertime you need to make sure your cake doesn’t melt. A lot of times people accomplish it by using things like shortening and artificial flavorings and things like that, that technically don’t melt so that they’ll withstand the heat but, we obviously don’t use those types of things. So, it’s a bigger challenge for us, but in the end the payoff for us ends, the client is always much greater.
Q – Since you don’t take any short cuts, it must be harder for you to make a cake?
A – Right. That’s why we only take a few cakes a week. We spend lots of hours crafting that cake essentially for the customer in flavour and look. So, we just take our time and make sure everything is correct.
Q – Would you have any celebrity clients?
A – A few but, I’m not at liberty to say.
Q – I always ask. Sometimes you get a name or two, or sometimes people will remain quiet.
A – Right. I prefer to be quiet about it. I’m not that type of person. If I describe our clients, our clients are well-to-do people that don’t look well-to-do. We don’t get the flamboyant type dressed to the nines clients that you see on some of these wedding shows that are dripping with jewelry. We don’t get those type of people. We get plenty of high up executives and lawyers and people who have a very good lifestyle but don’t throw it around like some people do. People who want quality but don’t wear it on their sleeves.
Q – Your wife is working by your side everyday?
A – Yes. She is running the business. She does help in the back with some of the cakes sometimes but her main focus is the office work, speaking with the clients, being our sales person and representative.
Q – When you’re at the dinner table, are you talking shop or anything but wedding cakes?
A – I like to try and leave work at work, and home is home. When we’re at work together we speak to each other as business partners ‘cause that’s what’s necessary. We respect each other but our feelings aren’t necessarily the first thing of importance. If I’m making something and Leslie thinks it should be one way and says ‘The client thinks it should be like this’ then we’re not worried about whether it hurts my feelings or not, we’re just worried what would look best for the client. Once we get home if we have to we talk about work. We will. But, most of the time we try to leave work at work.
Q – You teach people how to make fancy cakes. You have 5 private classes costing $800. It almost seems like a person would need more than 5 classes. How long does each class last?
A – Each class is about 4 hours but, it’s not a class where you will leave it and know how to make wedding cakes. It’s more of a novelty class where you’ll learn basic techniques as a beginning building block situation rather than leaving here and be an expert. Some people come in with more skills and they might learn something different but it really depends on the person’s skill level.
Q – So in the class, people bake cakes and you go around giving tips and advice.
A – Right. If someone doesn’t have basic skills what we’ll do is I’ll show how to role fondant and cover a cake and then maybe do some simple gum paste decorations like appliqué design of some sort and maybe make small flowers. Something to just get them started in the field of cake decorating.
Q – You probably get a pretty diverse group of people come through those doors.
A – Well, lately the classes haven’t been so popular, I’m assuming because of the economy. Like I said it’s more of a novelty type class rather than an actual school type situation. But yeah, there’s a pretty good variety of people that come in. People who are just doing this for fun ‘cause it’s their hobby and people that are considering changing careers.
Q – It appears that there’s a certain mania that exists around the creation of wedding cakes and cupcakes.
A – Since the Food Network had jumped on the bandwagon of cake shows and TLC has a few shows there has been a huge influx of people wanting to do cakes. That being said it’s not necessarily a good thing not in a business sense, there’s plenty of businesses for everyone. People are getting married constantly. But, more so people who don’t know what the field actually entails and then they are changing careers and they got into it. A pastry career isn’t your standard career. We work between 9 and 15 hours a day on our feet basically. There’s not really breaks. There’s not really an hour lunch break. It’s just a very demanding physically field. And people who come from a desk job, who are deciding they want to do this ‘cause it looks fun really get a rude awakening when they start training places and going places to learn. It’s tricky. You basically have to not want to make any money for a long time. (Laughs).
Q – Where do you want to take Mark Joseph Cakes?
A – Well considering we’re a fairly new co. we’re finishing up our third year of producing cakes, we essentially want to grow our cake business. We’re not looking to be some celebrity chef like you see on t.v. We just want to stick to our roots ‘cause when you get too big that’s when quality starts slipping. The more people you have doing your work and the more work you have to do you can’t always stick with quality control. We kind of want to stay at the level we are, fill in some empty weeks with cakes and definitely grow, maybe do some larger accounts but we have a huge window to grow into. But, we’re definitely going to stick to the idea of having just a few cakes a week but really, really high quality, beautifully decorated cakes.
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