This “steak dinner” is actually a hyperrealistic cake made by Fat Ben’s Bakery in Cincinnati, at nearby Cincinnati restaurants.
Photo: Fat Ben’s Bakery / instagram.com/fatbensbakery
As surrealist René Magritte would say: This is not a pipe.
And this steak dinner is not a steak. Rather, it’s a hyper-realistic cake creation by Ben Arington, the pastry artist behind Fat Ben’s Bakery in Cincinnati.
Arington, known for his extravagant and imaginative baked goods, has been in the baking and food business for over 15 years. He says he was drawn to the industry as a way to use his energy creatively. According to Arington, he needed a way to keep his “jazz hands” occupied, and the kitchen as an outlet suits him well. “Let’s be honest, you can’t put the ‘jazz hands’ guy in an office,” Arington said in an email interview with CityBeat Last year.
Arington creates aesthetically pleasing treats, while keeping it “weird” and pushing the boundaries of what conventional baked goods should look like. In the previous interview, he touched on the days when he made a sunglasses-shaped brownie out of candy cigarettes to look like a piece Lady Gaga wore in her “Telephone” music video. “I mean, that’s the kind of thing people expect from me. You go to your more traditional bakeries for your frozen donuts or whatever, but you come to Fat Ben’s Bakery for the WOW factor, ”he said at the time.
He also devotes a large part of his business to making cakes – from the simplest to the most elaborate – for celebrations like birthdays and weddings. Recently, he’s decorated cakes to look like everything from fried chicken and a stack of pancakes to a 3-Way and a bottle of vodka.
That steak set Arington released on October 19 was a birthday cake. CityBeat emailed Arington to learn more about their process, how long it took and what it looked like.
CityBeat: What do you use to build your similar cake shapes? Is everything edible?
Ben Arington: When building cakes that require a lot of detail, the best thing to use is to mold the chocolate. Fondant (a sculptable type of icing) is great for a lot of things, but it’s really hard to sculpt and mold and scratch details. The advantage of using modeling chocolate is that it heats up in your hands and allows you to manipulate it to do whatever you want. But also, personally, I think it’s much better than fondant. Everything I use to make these types of cakes is edible.
CB: What did you use to color?
BA: There is so much that needs to be done to make something look the way it is meant to be. For example, I had to use four different greens, three colors of purple, and a small amount of yellow to make the asparagus look realistic. I ended up using Wilton food coloring and adding some shiny powder to get the food likeness.
CB: What “painting” or decorating technique do you use to make it so realistic?
BA: Oh man. There are so many ways to achieve realistic looks. I once used the mesh of a bath loofah (a new one, LOL) to put a “scale” effect on a dinosaur cake. Usually, I use whatever is lying around the house. To make the corn cob I used a pearl necklace mold and once I turned it I cut it into four pieces and gently squeezed it to (transform) the look of round beads in a corn-on-the-cob look. I have done this many, many times to collect this corn.
I used a pair of scissors for the asparagus. I made small cuts to make the tips of the asparagus, then I made a few sporadic around the rest. The steak needed more attention. I actually used several carving tools, knives, forks, as well as six different sized paintbrushes to shape and color the steak. I also used a blowtorch to caramelize it and give it that “realistic” color. I did the same method on the baked potato. The top of the potato is just a few of the leftover cake mixed with a little buttercream and voila: instant baked potato.
When it comes to getting the right color, I always start with the light, slowly adding more and more color as needed. I painted the steak six different colors, seriously: brown, black, white, brown, purple, and red.
CB: What are the flavors of each of the cakes?
BA: Since the asparagus was in individual pieces, I actually used fondant for these. But the other three pieces were flavored with black cherry and marshmallow. It was absolutely delicious (if I say so myself). It was like the cherry syrup ice cream had marshmallow fluff on it * chef’s kiss *.
CB: How long did this cake take?
BA: The cake was surprisingly poor. It took me about eight hours. When I bake cakes for my family or close friends, I pay special attention to all the little details. I want to make sure it’s perfect. I would say the asparagus and corn on the cob were the hardest bits.
CB: You are using the #hyperrealism tag, which it really is. Would you describe your cake style as hyperrealistic? I imagine there is a certain feeling of joy and achievement in making a cake look like a steak, a 3-Way, or a bowl of cereal. Is it fun to question the concept of what something is “supposed” to look like?
BA: I wouldn’t describe my style as “hyperrealistic”, but I would love to. For me, there is a difference between “realistic” and “hyperrealistic”. Realistic is when I do something bigger or smaller than normal, but it looks like it might be real. Like, when I made a cupcake look like a skateboard or a DJ board. You see it, and you’re like, “Wow, that looks like it! But hyperrealistic cakes are when I make things that are actual size, color, etc. The steak “dinner” cake is hyperrealistic. Everything was actually measured with a ruler to keep it at the waist. I did the same for this Air Jordan shoe. It’s hyperrealistic because I modeled everything on a real shoe. I LOVE making hyperrealistic cakes. But it’s hard to convince someone to let me bake a cake that looks like a full size bunch of asparagus. That would only feed three people, haha. I was emailing back and forth with a client where I tried SO MUCH to let her let me bake a cake that looked like Wendy’s Spicy Nuggets. But, she decided to take a different path. But I want to start doing more because I really think making cakes looks like food is my specialty.
CB: What is your ordering process going to go forward? I know you posted about limiting some of your pastries to focus on other things. Will you continue Fat Ben’s in the future? If people want to place an order for a cake, how far in advance should they contact you? And what’s the best way to order?
BA: If you want to order something, you can email me at [email protected] I’m a one-man show and sometimes it takes a few days to get back to you. But I do my best to make sure I answer everyone. I usually ask for 12 days notice. But I get about six requests a day (minimum) so if you really want something I’ll email you as soon as you can.
I posted a while ago that I was going to end Fat Ben’s Bakery at the end of the year. The truth is, I have been at full capacity for over six years and work seven days a week. I am really exhausted. I got something like 230 messages from people congratulating me for stepping back or begging me not to stop. Anyway, it was amazing and everyone supported me no matter what decision I made. But, I think instead of finishing now, I’m just going to manage my time better. I think I will continue to accept requests for cakes, but be sure to devote a lot more time to “me” for my own sanity. I also think I’ll start to be a bit more picky about the cakes I want to bake. Usually I feel bad for saying no, so I tell everyone, “Of course I will.” … I want to start doing really fun stuff. Things that will test my skills. So I guess you heard it here first. FBB is still in the game in 2022.
Check out Arington’s Instagram for more amazing cake creations at instagram.com/fatbensbakery.
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