By Ms. Tracy Robillard (AMC)October 8, 2010
PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. -- By day, she inspects gun barrels, cartridge cases, bullets, and odds and ends from various weapon systems to study their metallurgical properties.
But in her off-duty hours, materials engineer Michelle Schutz puts down the weaponry and switches to a new set of materials: butter, sugar, flour-and plenty of icing.
Going on eight years with the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC), Schutz hit the ground running with her cake decorating hobby about two years ago, and since then she has been baking, cooling, and icing away to build up her decorating portfolio.
In fact, one of her most recent creations was a three-tier, white almond butter-cream cake designed for Picatinny Arsenal's 130th birthday celebration on Sept. 7.
This whopper of a confection (weighing 40 pounds and designed to feed 140 people) was the largest cake Schutz has ever made, taking her four days to complete.
"It was a little stressful figuring out how to transport a 40-pound cake," she said. "My husband and I had to do a test-run to make sure the box would even fit through the door."
But in the end, the cake was the center of attention at the birthday party, proudly displaying the arsenal's Cannon Gate logo in sugary, edible bliss.
"When I was carving the cannon gates into the gum paste, I was thinking about what Picatinny stands for and what we do here, and why it's so important for us to develop the armaments and technologies here to help our warfighters," she said.
The birthday celebration was also a rewarding opportunity for Schutz to get some feedback from her peers.
"I was a little nervous displaying my cake in front of all my coworkers, but it was also exciting when I saw their reactions to it," she said. "It's nice to get that affirmation from the people around you."
Her successful creation of Picatinny's birthday cake may also reap benefits for Schutz down the road. She may consider auditioning next year for the television show "Cake Boss."
In fact, she tried out for the show for the first time this summer, progressing through the first three phases of the casting auditions. Though she didn't end up making the "final cut" as she called it, she looks back at the experience with a smile and may give it ago a second time.
"A friend of mine told me about the casting for the show, so I filled out an application but didn't think anything would come of it," she said.
"Then I got an e-mail from the casting crew, then they did an interview, then they asked me to make a You Tube video featuring some of my cakes."
"Part of my motivation for trying out is that I'm interested in cake decorating because everything I've learned about the hobby has been through my own research," she said.
Schutz relied on blogs, instructional You Tube videos, baking shows on television-and even good old fashioned cook books-to develop her confectionery and creative skills.
"I hope to do more work with making sugar flowers and designing three-dimensional cakes with sculpting," she said.
Sculpting comes naturally for Schutz. For the last six years, she has been an active pottery enthusiast and artist.
She even taught pottery classes for a few years in Parsippany, N.J.
"My interest in pottery is what inspired my interest in cake decorating," she said. "Because of the molding and sculpting involved with pottery, it seemed to shift naturally into the art of cake decorating."
Schutz's friends and coworkers seem to enjoy her cake hobby as well, especially when she brings in a batch of cupcakes for special occasions.
"If you bring food into this office, it will disappear by lunchtime," she said with a chuckle.
So while Schutz continues to study and analyze weapons parts, create and teach pottery, and design and decorate cakes, she will always look back at her portfolio of creativity and remember Picatinny Arsenal.
"Picatinny's a great place to work. I'm happy to be employed here," she said. "It was an honor to make the cake for the 130th birthday, and I'm thankful to everyone here for their support."