Cake decorator just wants to make his girls happy
April 23, 2014
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. - Constructive criticism about his wife's cake decorating skills led Phillip Garrison to the dog house, but also allowed him to have his cake and decorate it too.
Garrison, Army Contracting Command headquarters Operations Group quality assurance specialist here, discovered he had a talent for baking and decorating cakes after commenting on his wife's efforts in the kitchen.
"I asked her if I was supposed to be able to see the cake through the icing. It seemed innocent enough to me," said Garrison, who has been working his decorating magic for almost four years. "That one critique was all it took for our kids' cake duties to be passed to me."
Many of Garrison's cakes have the appearance of carved sculptures because included in his hobbies are woodworking, drawing, painting and airbrushing. He doesn't consider himself a baker though, so much so that he uses box cake mixes to save time and give him a base to build upon.
"Making cakes isn't relaxing at all; satisfying is a better word to use," said Garrison, who has never taken a baking class. "It's more of the challenge to see if I can execute my ideas. I do make the fondant icing that I use from scratch because the store-bought fondant tastes horrible."
On average, Garrison said he bakes four or five cakes a year, one for his wife, one each for his two daughters and one or two random cakes for work or a friend. Last year he created a tank cake for his co-workers. Having never taken any kind of cake decorating class, Garrison relies on instinct to get the cake he envisioned finished.
"I kept the first cake simple by using one of those themed cake pans and just covered it with the fondant I made," said Garrison, who has been a Department of the Army Civilian for three years. "Every cake is an experiment and a challenge to see if I can make it. I've always been able to look at something and understand how it was made, so I find or sketch a picture of what I want to made and just run with it."
Using whatever is needed for the end result, anything from a straw wrapped in fondant for a tank's barrel or a doll's head to finish off a princess, Garrison's completed works leave a good impression on his co-workers.
"The cake that he made was beautiful," said co-worker Joy Lloyd referencing a birthday cake shaped like a present, including a three-dimensional bow. "I had no idea that he could create such lovely cakes. And, it tasted great. The cake looked like a professional baker had prepared it."
Co-worker Gretta Snead agrees.
"That cake was beautiful, but due to my diet I could not indulge," Snead said. "It looked very complex and I'm not sure how long it took him to make it. I can cook my butt off but I don't bake."
Garrison said his cakes tend to be geared toward subjects and items that will put a smile on his daughters' faces.
"Because my girls are young I mostly do cute rather than fancy cakes, but I did make a cake shaped like a fancy pillow with a stiletto heel on top for a friend's birthday," said Garrison, who estimates each creation takes approximately six to eight hours to complete, excluding the time it takes for the cake to bake. "My most elaborate cake was probably the tank cake I made for our office Christmas party. My supervisor at the time saw a picture of one of my previous cakes and thought it would be a good idea."
Garrison's creations might be seen at an office gathering or at a family member's birthday celebration, but the one place he said they will never be seen is in a competition.
"I don't see me ever doing competitions. I don't make cakes for personal recognition, I just like seeing my girls happy," he said with a smile. "To put it another way; I need to be motivated. It's the enjoyment that my girls or friends get out of it that provides that motivation, not personal accolades."