A REPRINT FROM THE
By Anthoiny DellaFlora
Imagine if Woody Allen had turned his talents toward baking cakes instead of making movies, and you begin to get an idea of what Cliff Simon is about
Simon, a Flushing, N.Y. native, has earned the unofficial title of cake baker to the stars, having performed his creative art for the likes of Madonna, Liberace and James Taylor, among others.
His elaborate, fancifully painted cakes have graced events for celebrities such as Malcolm Forbes and Diana Ross. But Simon also has great stories behind each of his creations that he's put into a book and incorporated into a comedy routine.
"It's sort of a strange act. Especially men think they'll be bored. They think it's like a cooking thing," says Simon, a graphic designer now living in Santa Fe. "But the whole act is about doing things and having faith, even though you may not have all you need to know to do it. You go in blind. That's what a lot of my career has been."
Simon appears Saturday on behalf of the American Association of University Women. Contributions go to the education foundation, which provides fellowships and grants to women pursuing advanced degrees.
Simon, a self-described neurotic, says the experience of designing and baking a cake for Diana Ross' wedding is a case in point.
In a self-deprecating, Allenesque tale from his book They Ate My Cake,' Simon recalls the story of an average guy stepping into a world where he's suddenly jetsetting with the likes of Ross, dress designer Bob Mackie and a coterie of snobby chefs in Switzerland who are out to show him up.
The resourceful Simon won the day with his Tower of Babel-like creation, but not before suffering through extreme bouts of self-doubt.
'My comedy routine developed out of a slide show on cake painting" that he had prepared for a community college class when he moved to Santa Fe about four years ago.
"I realized when I was talking about the slides that some of the experiences were so intense that unless I made them with humor, it would be really painful to talk about them. The humor came out in that class," Simon says. 'Cakes were always like a learning experience to me. The humor is just part of my background.'
Simon takes a metaphysical view of creating ready-to-eat art, drawing on his background as a set designer.
"They always say it looks too pretty to cut. ... What I say in my act is that when I was a set designer, you would work for a long time on a set and work really hard, and then when the show was done, they'd strike it, just destroy it,' Simon says. "I got used to that---creating art that got destroyed, so it doesn't matter to me.'
Simon sees a kinship with aborigines.
"Their idea of art is that they do it in the sand, or the dirt and once it's done, the whole process of art is over. It doesn't mean anything anymore. So it doesn't bother me at all when people cut it As long as they've seen it first"