Cake it Easy
Lexington baker Brandi Romines is ‘baking impossible’ on Netflix
By Rhonda Reeves
Baker Brandi Romines grew up in Harlan County and moved to Lexington at the age of 18 with “literally $20 dollars” in her pocket. “I wasn’t born into wealth,” she says, “but I was born with creativity and also a lot of grit and determination.”
These days, she’s famous for high profile work for high profile clients — like creating a cake replica of UK’s Gatton Center, sculpted mermaid cakes, and nearly life-size bourbon barrel cakes with spigots that actually dispense bourbon. The Gatton project alone was “1,123 servings of cake. 378 eggs, 4 lbs of cocoa, 6 bags of lemons, 68 pounds of sugar, 64 pounds of flour, 54 pounds of butter, 54 pounds of powdered sugar, 24 pounds of fondant, 16 pounds of modeling chocolate, 6 gallons of buttermilk, 1/2 gallon egg whites, 1 quart vanilla extract,” (not to mention over 100 hours of labor), but who’s counting?
And those well-publicized creations are just the tip of the iceberg.
“During the pandemic I had no idea of the direction I’d go. Should I find another job? Should I go bag groceries? (no shame in my game! A job is a job).”
What about the wildest or strangest or craziest cake she’s ever undertaken? She’s not saying. “I actually can’t tell,” she confesses with only minor elaboration, “Not all of my clients want their projects out there. I do a lot of things that never make it on social media or in the public.”
On October 6, she’ll be even more famous when Baking Impossible makes its debut on Netflix. This time last year, she was in California filming as a cheftestant, describing “two months away from home” as “just about unbearable.”
But in some ways, the timing was perfect. The last year and a half has not been kind to the hospitality and special events industry.
She says, “During the pandemic I had no idea of the direction I’d go. Should I find another job? Should I go bag groceries at Kroger? (no shame in my game! A job is a job).”
It was a challenging time. “It’s been difficult,” she says, “Having events cancel, reschedule, constantly having to move things around to accommodate my clients. Luckily, my client base has been absolutely amazing and has supported me in any and all possible ways. And I will always be humbled and grateful for that.”
This summer, she made her first celebration of life cake. For as long as she’s lived in Lexington, she’d always noticed the iconic orange Herb Geddes Fence signs. When owner Doug Geddes died, his son reached out to her to create the cake for his memorial, which was held on what would have been the elder Geddes’ 70th birthday. She says, “Doug was an avid singer in his church choir. He owned the fencing company and was also an avid scuba diver. If you zoom in on the underwater photo his son sent, you can see him smiling so big. As I applied it to the cake and I stared at his picture, I started to cry. Doug’s adventurous life was cut short by Covid-19. So much loss, so much devastation, so much heartbreak in the last year and a half.”
Throughout it all, she was able to keep her business open, and found more unexpected and inspiring moments when she offered cake and cupcake kits. She provided ingredient kits, and then filmed videos of herself decorating the projects, so customers could follow along at home. One woman sent an appreciative email, “She said that sometimes connecting with her teenagers is hard, but that it was something they all did together. I will never forget that. My mom passed away when I was 10 years old. Being with my kids is the most important thing to me. So, to know that the legacy of my mom’s cake decorating is blessing someone like that is very special. When you lose someone, your biggest fear is them being forgotten. Knowing she is still living on through me is indescribable.”
Somewhere along the way in all of the shutdowns, she posted a photo of a thank-you cake she’d made for a friend to look like a bowl of (his favorite) Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, and the rest, as they say, is history. “That crazy little cake got noticed by a casting agent, and a week later, I was on a Zoom.”
Engineer and baker, Andrew Smyth (The Great British Bake-Off), executive produces, but the average home cook may not be familiar with what he calls “the art of bakineering.”
It all came naturally to Romines though, who says, “ I have always been an extremely curious person. As a kid, I got in an immense amount of trouble for taking apart every toy I ever received. I deconstructed my Strawberry Shortcake bicycle when I was four, just to see if I could rebuild the thing. I taught myself to use a soldering iron at the age of 11, and soldered anything I could. Bakineering is implementing engineering feats into baked projects. Making a boat cake that floats, building an edible building that has to withstand an earthquake simulator. So that was something that really drew me to the show.”
She laughs, adding, “It’s very different. And it’s not for sissies.”
The grit and determination — and the flour and sugar — are all in the family though. She explains, “My mom was an extremely talented cake decorator, both of my Mamaws as well. I grew up watching them pipe all of those crazy Wilton designs….As a kid, we didn’t have grocery store cakes, not like today. We also didn’t eat out a lot. Every single Sunday, we ate supper after church at my Mamaw’s house with my entire family. Cooking and baking for people is all I ever knew.”
The inspiration stuck. She recalls, “When I was in college, my roommate at the time loved the 101 Dalmatians movie. It was her birthday and I decided to try to make a cake for her that looked like a dog. I bought a Wilton 101 kit in the middle of the night, which was two piping tips, a decorating book, and a basic buttercream recipe. It was as if I immediately knew what to do. I was hooked. So I slowly started baking, and building and pushing myself.”
Now, she says, “My best selling cake —my old fashioned buttermilk cake—actually started at the bread portion of my Mamaw’s blackberry cobbler. I loved it so much I kept playing around with the recipe until I got it to a good cake form. Now it’s my go to for all of my builds.” (It was also the base of the cake she used for the Geddes celebration of life, and in a moment of serendipity, she found out later from the family that blackberry cobbler was what Doug Geddes had always requested on his birthday.)
What’s next for Romines —aside from the fact that she is not allowed to divulge the outcome of the show’s competition as we go to press?
It’s hard to tell if she’s more excited about the possibility of a $100,000.00 victory… or Halloween. She’s the kind of woman who can barely get to sleep from all the excitement of counting down the days to October 31… starting at 76 days out.
She posts about it year-round and her decorations are legendary.
One of her fans tells her, “Everything you touch is beautiful (unless it’s close to October… then everything you touch is creepy).”
She is especially proud of the newest item added to her Halloween collection this year, “I managed to snag one of the 12’ tall skeletons from the Home Depot! Eeeeeek!”
Asked to forecast baking trends in general, she says, “Right now buttercream is continuing to make a huge comeback,” and she’s glad to see it. “People are kind of over fondant,” she says, adding, “You can’t beat the look of fondant, and sometimes I require it on certain things. So, I love seeing all of the buttercream piping making a comeback,” admitting (in a confession sure to generate heated controversy in pastry kitchens everywhere) “I am not a fan of the boho brown/nude color cakes. I like color.”
Win or lose, she’s living the sweet life no matter what. After spotting one of her confections in a magazine this past summer, she kept it all down to earth when she said, “Now excuse me while I go cry tears of joy, and have a Whiteclaw to celebrate.”
BONUS LIGHTNING ROUND
What’s the most important cake tool in your arsenal?
Quick: name 5 things in your fridge right now.
Buttermilk, eggs, butter, blackberries, strawberries
Quick: is Lexington the South or Midwest (and why?)
The south! Because I said!
What’s your favorite baking show? (Ruling out Baking Impossible)
Probably ‘Nailed It!’ [on Netflix] Because it makes me laugh
Favorite dessert in a Lexington restaurant?
The coconut cream pie from Malone’s
If you wanted your clients to sum you up in one word, what would it be?
This article also appears on page 8 & 9 of the October 2021 print edition of Ace.
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