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Stars Stars
baking with
diana ross
An excerpt from
"They Ate My Cake"
Cliff Simon

January 11 1986. San Francisco.

the shower, performing my stellar rendition of Send in the Clowns, the phone rings. I run to answer it, and it's Diana Ross calling from Switzerland. She tells me that she wants me to create her mountain shaped fantasy wedding cake (as her husband has climbed Mount Everest), in said country, in three weeks. I'm naked, nervous, confused and dripping wet. And I haven't brushed my teeth.

Tell me, please, if you were in my shoes (though I wasn't wearing any at the time) and Diana Ross asked what you thought of placing a black barbie doll on top of her wedding cake, what would you say?

Now, I'm just a down home Jewish boy, born in the Bronx, from simple Polish peasant stock. This was not my metier. Nor, did I have any idea what such a cake should cost. A friend advised me to charge thousands, intoning, "We are not talking butter and eggs here." So I did. Miss Ross agreed, and flew me to Los Angeles to meet with her in person.

January 23. Hollywood.

Terribly sophisticated. Cliff to see Diana at Bob Mackie's studio. Modeling her wedding gown, she turns to me. "So, what do you have to show me?" Nervously I made my presentation, feeling like one of those jugglers in a Sabu movie, entertaining the Sultan. I kept thinking, "What happens if she doesn't like my act?" Suddenly, Bob Mackie segues from fashion designer to cake designer. He sketches a doodle reminiscent of the Tower of Babel, shows it to Diana, who says, "Oh, Bob, how fabulous." What could I say? I said, "Oh Bob, how fabulous," and thusly, the wedding cake was designed. This was Thursday and I was being flown to Switzerland on Saturday. Somebody, please, get me a bible, because I have to build Babel.

Saturday, January 25. New York City.
Family members planned to meet me at JFK Airport en route to Switzerland. But my plane was late and they were waiting at an incorrect gate (confusion is a family trait) and we missed each other at this historic juncture of my life. As I met a wedding associate on the plane, seeing I was a nervous wreck he gave me two valium. I should have saved them. During this flight was the only time I had to design this BIG cake. I made groundplans and elevations (my set design history comes in handy). And I prayed (religion comes in handy as well).

Sunday, January 26. Beau Rivage Hotel, Switzerland.
I am introduced to the kitchen staff. Very professional. Very cordon bleu (as opposed to me, cordon jew). And tres antagonistic. It suddenly hit me that they were just not that happy to see me. I thought they'd like me because I'm so nice (ask my mother), but they were really upset that an American baker had been flown into their perfect country, to do something that they could do better. Welcome to Switzerland.

Monday, January 27.
I started baking the cakes which I was going to assemble into the edible Babel. I tried maintaining, but this was not home, and there was something of the feeling of a POW camp in the air. People were helpful to me, but it was a little solicitous. And all those guttteral whispers drove me crazy.

Wednesday, January 28.
In the (prison) kitchen I was building mon gateau, layering lemon walnut cake with pastry cream, when at nine inches high, all the fillings started gushing out the sides and it all began to collapse. I ran to the roll of wax paper, grabbed the end, and sped across the room with it in tow. When it was about twenty feet long, I ripped it off and circled that oozing thing, wrapping it like it was a cake mummy (Tutentorten). The Head Chef stood smiling in the shadows.

There was my poor cake, being held together like an accident victim needing EMS. Sitting in the walk-in, I prayed for a miracle. I closed my eyes, clicked my rubber spatulas together three times and when next I looked, realizing that things had indeed remained the same, I settled into a neurotic funk.

Suddenly I awoke from my frigid stupor with an idea. I jettisoned myself to the hotel carpenter, gave him the copy of my groundplan, and had him build me a wood Babel. Then, on the runway wrapping around it I placed the layers of real cake I had already baked. Ready to decorate!

Friday, January 31.
(Note: My cakes in process look [a] not beautiful [b] awkward [c] crummy and [d] bizarre. Woulds't thou judge a Monet painting before it is fini? Non!). I'm rolling my very unfinished cake through the corridor of the hotel when Miss Ross, her bodyguards, her mink coat and sunglasses pass me by, glance at the gateau and disappear. Oy vey.

Saturday, February 1. The Wedding Day.
I have been up all night decorating. I espy the pastry chefs across from where I am working, making something which looks surprisingly like a wedding cake. Freaking out (once again), I summon up the courage to inquire as to what they're doing. Unfortunately they tell me, "We are making a wedding cake for Miss Diana Ross."

Now hear this. Miss Ross, who thought my cake looked too yellow that day in her sunglasses, wanted to have two cakes made, and during the reception, she was to be handed polaroids of both at which point she would choose. The great Diana Ross Wedding Cake Bakeoff.

The tension in this hotel was palpable. Determined beyond belief to make my cake spectacular, but near a nervous breakdown, I worked feverishly leaving a trail of edible gold dust behind me. Both cakes finished, the polaroids were taken.

The Wedding Night.
Drum roll. I won't keep you in suspense. I won. At the moment of my bittersweet victory, the owner of the hotel told me he thought if the guests ate my cake they would be poisoned by it. We had an argument. I had never argued with such an important person. I survived it though. I heard Miss Ross actually ate my cake (and lived) saying, while chewing (This is a direct quote), "Oh, it tastes wonderful." I have since had much psychotherapy, and am presently reasonably stable. I live in Santa Fe where things like this don't happen (Do they?).

I have learned one thing. If I'm in the shower, and the phone rings, I just go on singing.