Sam Godfrey, master cake baker and founder of Perfect Endings, was gracious enough to let me interview him. Since 1998, I have collaborated with Sam on almost every wedding and celebration cake at my events. My loyalty is not without reason. I have never tasted a better cake! I can always count on Sam and the Perfect Endings team to deliver fresh, delicious, beautiful and unique meticulous cakes. Sam is so passionate about is craft and it shows. I hope you enjoy his insights!
What advice would you give to couples in search of the ultimate wedding cake?
There are three areas which a couple should consider when choosing a cake baker and wedding cake: budget, taste, and time.
First and foremost, it is important to do a bit of research so that you can set a budget that is realistic. You should not be embarrassed if you have a limited budget and your cake maker should be willing to discuss all options available to you. In terms of specifics, I think the custom of having dessert before the wedding cake is unnecessary. The cake should be the sole dessert. Eliminate this course and cut the cake earlier in the evening. Additionally, order the richest, most decadent cake your baker offers. This way your guests will be satisfied with a smaller piece and you can reduce the size of your cake.
-A Matter of Taste-
Selecting a baker who is as passionate about the inside of the cake as they are about the exterior is critical. Your guests will remember how your cake tastes much more than they’ll remember what it looks like. The ultimate wedding cake is not just something beautiful to behold - it should be an extraordinary dessert. The best way to find great tasting cakes is to ignore what the cake maker says and consult industry professionals, like caterers, florists, and event designers. They will lead you in the right direction.
Delay meeting with your cake baker until you have had at least preliminary consultations with your floral and event design team. This will allow you to provide your baker with a vision during your first consultation and likely eliminate the need for a second meeting.
Are there any new trends in cakes for 2009?
I encourage my clients avoid trends at all cost. A wedding cake is a statement about your personal taste and style. Work with your baker to create a cake that is unique to you and your special day. I love recreating cakes that hold significant sentimental value to the couple, like an heirloom family recipe or a childhood favorite, and presenting it on their wedding day in a manner that is harmonious with the overall design of the event. It is always the perfect ending!
As a wedding cake baker based in the Napa valley (a place many people consider to have the best food and wine in the country), do you take advantage of the local and organic ingredients in the area?
While I love to use as many local and organic ingredients as possible, I find it more important to use the best quality ingredients. The terms "organic" or "local" do not necessarily translate to the "best" in terms of taste. About 12 years ago I had what I call my strawberry epiphany. I was so disgusted with the taste of the berries that I swore I’d never use them again…and for a year I didn’t. On a picnic with friends, we literally happened upon an organic berry farm in the heart of the wine country. As I marched out to the middle of the patch I noticed the berries looked incredible, but I was not convinced; I’d encountered many pretty berries that tasted like celery. Finally, I picked one and popped it into my mouth. It tasted like sunshine. It was sweet and aromatic and intensely strawberry. It tasted like a strawberry! I learned from that moment that organic is not enough…there are a lot of tasteless organic fruit out in the world. It must be organic and ripened on the vine (or bush, or tree). That moment in the strawberry patch was a monumental education for me.
I have tasted hundreds of your cakes and every one tastes like it was baked that morning. How do you achieve that consistently?
Thank you, Laurie. I had extraordinary mentors whose primary concern was the taste of the cake. Because of the example they set, making a cake that is a triumph visually, but substandard from a culinary standpoint is, in my mind, a complete failure. I have a great team at Perfect Endings who also share this opinion and, hopefully, it shows. Unfortunately, the wedding cake industry is still more about style than substance. With all of the television programming dedicated to the preparation of wedding and special occasion cakes, you never see anyone boasting about the taste of their cakes. No one talks about the type of chocolate they use or the amazing organic berries they picked up from the farm that day. And that is because taste is an afterthought…at best. It really is unfortunate.
You’ve baked for Presidents and First Ladies, Heads of State, Olympic Champions, Academy Award winners and the most famous singers in the world. For you, what would you say is the highlight of your career?
Because miracles happen, we have been in the presence of people whom we have admired since we were toddlers…we listened to their music, watched their movies, saw them on television or read their books. There are no words to describe how it feels when those people are so kind as to praise us for what we do. It is surreal and it is the most extraordinary blessing.
I have to ask - is Oprah as nice as she appears?
She is one of the few people of celebrity I have encountered who is as genuine and kind as she appears. Her heart is pure and her generosity knows no bounds. My love and respect for her cannot be measured.
She has embraced you and your products like few others. What impact has that had on you personally and your business?
Imagine having a grandmother who forces you to sit and watch the national debut of the Oprah Winfrey Show with her in 1986. Not only that, she’d call you regularly and insist that you turn it on because there was something important to hear. She’d even quiz you to make sure you watched. And one day, nineteen years later, you tune in and there is Oprah…telling the world how wonderful your cake is. That it’s not just a pretty cake, but it also delicious…the best she’s ever tasted. And the cake she speaks so highly of is the very cake your grandmother taught you to bake when you were three years old. Imagine that. There are no words. It is a gift and I try to receive it with as much gratitude and humility as possible.
You are serious foodie! What are your all-time favorite food memories?
I was raised by southern women who cooked. And, they did not cook from cans and boxes. Enjoying my grandmother's fried chicken, smothered potatoes and biscuits with fig jam on her back porch is my all-time favorite food memory. In recent years, my favorite would be a surprise birthday party in my honor where I found myself in a room with so many of my culinary heroes. Thomas Keller came and made my favorite foie gras and black truffle terrine. Alice Medrich and Marion Cunningham came and brought cakes for me. The only reason I didn’t die on the spot was because I didn’t want to miss a bite!
We collaborated on a wedding in 2006 that resulted in a very noteworthy honor for you - you became the first person not affiliated with the magazine to have a cake featured on the cover of Martha Stewart Weddings. Not only that, but your cakes are often the centerpiece of celebrity weddings in places like Paris, London, Bora Bora and Vienna. How do you handle the enormity of it all?
As challenging as it can be sometimes, if your biggest worry is how to get a cake from Napa Valley to Paris, then you are truly blessed. In the big picture that is a really good problem to have and I know it. I am very proud that people from all over the world call upon us to contribute to their most special occasions. In so many instances, it is neither convenient nor cost effective to bring us on board, but it happens and we do all we can to be worthy. It is most flattering. That said, I have seen what happens to people who are almost entirely defined by their press clippings. I have seen what happens when you believe your own hype. I will not have succeeded if ultimately my resume is what’s most impressive about me. It is just cake, after all…
Do you have a favorite Perfect Endings flavor?
I rarely eat cake because I am trying to get petite, cute and healthy (in THAT order!)…but on those rare occasions when I indulge it has to be the banana cake with peanut butter frosting or the chocolate pudding cake. Out of all of the flavors we offer I always gravitate to our Vintage Cake line because those are the tastes of my childhood.
Any chance you will start a retail store for all of the Perfect Endings addicts?
I am warming up to the idea. I want to do it right so that it not only reflects who I am, I want it to also do justice to all of the extraordinary bakers who have inspired me. I want a bakery that matters. We are having discussions about making it happen and I know it will come to fruition in the not so distant future.