Victoria German shares the story of a Calgary cake maker’s brush with royalty.
Queen Elizabeth made what could well be her last visit to Calgary in May 2005. A royal visit is always a spectacular event that requires months of planning every last detail. It's an honour for those who are involved with any part of the occasion.
I recently watched a documentary that looked at life inside Windsor Castle. My interest was particularly peaked while watching the set-up of a dinner function for the Queen. The table was polished to look like a mirror and every place setting was identical and perfectly lined up. Everyone involved took the utmost pride in creating this perfection.
During my career as a pastry chef, I have met few people who display true perfection (the kind fit for a queen) in their work. They're the kind of people who will do their work over and over until it meets their exacting standards.
Kate Fielder is one such person. Her wedding cake and sugar flower business is one that has been built upon dedication and extreme attention to detail. Naturally, she was asked to make the 650 gumpaste Alberta roses required to garnish the desserts at the Queen's luncheon, hosted by Premier Ralph Klein and held at Calgary's Roundup Centre in Calgary on May 25. Apparently there were not enough wild Alberta roses to use as a garnish, so at a short notice of 10 days, Kate was called to the rescue. She says she considered it an honour to be able to help, regardless of how busy she already was.
Altogether the roses took 100 hours to make with the help of her assistant Krista Kienitz, a former student of the pastry chef program at SAIT. Even a family visitor at the time was put to work, as each leaf was made separately, coloured and steamed. There were boxes of roses everywhere, made for a modest price that paid the staff; Kate made sure each rose was identical. The roses were destined for a luncheon dessert of chocolate pâté, complete with a western-themed lasso. The rose was the finishing touch; many guests, deeming them too beautiful to eat, tucked them into napkins to bring home with them. Kate and Krista took the afternoon off so they could watch the Queen arrive at the Roundup Centre. Kate also has repeat orders from the Calgary Stampede for more Alberta roses.
Kate is a master cake decorator, teacher and judge. Originally from England, this line of work is in Kate's family background: her mother taught her much of what she knows. She later studied the art of cake making and baking in college. Kate and her husband immigrated to Canada 30 years ago and she now runs a successful business in Calgary, selling and making wedding cakes and sugar flowers. Her basement is her workshop, a creative paradise set up perfectly for this work. There is a large table in the centre of the room where Kate also teaches classes of up to 12 people. Kate also competes and has won numerous "Best of Show" awards in Canada and the U.S. The ovens, fridges and mixers are for conventional use yet this does not hinder production, as each cake for each person's order is mixed from scratch; this includes the rolled fondant. I was introduced to an ingredient called carboxy methycellulose 400 which, when added to buttercream, enables you to roll the buttercream out. This offers an alternative to rolled fondant if you are not keen on it.
Kate consults carefully with each customer, ensuring all flavours are tasted before a choice is made and all colours matched and flowers types selected. Hours are spent on each masterpiece: if the result is not to Kate's liking, she'll redo it. Kate makes an average of five cakes a weekend, ranging from $200 to $1,800. She doesn't advertise and 99.9 per cent of the customers that come out for a consultation will order a cake.
Since each season's trends are different, as colours and types of flowers change, Kate doesn't prepare anything ahead of time for the wedding season. This year, oranges and greens were popular, last year it was Calla lilies, so Kate checks the magazines, and looks to see what Martha Stewart is suggesting to get an idea of what the season will bring for cake designs.
Everything on these masterpieces is edible; Kate's sugar flowers look so real that judges, studying her work during a competition, have bent over to smell them. To make them even more authentic, she has even gone as far as scenting the roses with rose oil.
Victoria German is a baking and pastry arts instructor with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Kate Fielder can be reached at: email@example.com
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