Last weekend I visited the Phillips Collection’s 90th anniversary celebration with Mango Tomato*– to see the art, sure, but mostly to see the cakes. The Phillips had a special exhibition of “birthday cakes” celebrating their anniversary, designed by DC’s top pastry chefs (find out more about the cakes and their inspiration here).
Olga and I joined about thirty other people in a bright, white room, where pale natural light poured down on the cakes. It reminded me of a cathedral – but instead of worshiping a higher power, we were worshiping cake.
I though about several things while looking at the cakes. Some of them amazed me with their artistry. Some of them, honestly, I could have made myself (and I’m no great cake decorator). The cakes proved that cake decorating is a skill in and of itself. One can be a great pastry chef and a great cake decorator, but one can also be a great pastry chef and a mediocre cake decorator.
It also made me think of our current obsession with large, fondant-covered show cakes. It’s probably because of shows like Ace of Cakes and Top Chef – Just Desserts that the Phillips decided to use cake to showcase their 90th anniversary at all. Part of me is pleased that pastry is getting all this attention. And part of my thinks that, for all their loveliness, cakes encased on fondant and elaborate decorations aren’t my favorite thing to bake – or to eat.
Maybe for their 100th anniversary the Philips will do birthday pies?
*All of the lovely photos are by Mango Tomato.