Creativity is icing on the cake for Santa Rosa baker
Designs from soccer balls to cigar boxes

George Snyder
San Francisco Chronicle
Friday, June 11, 2004

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The old saw that mighty oaks from little acorns grow might well describe Lisa Kincaid's modest Santa Rosa kitchen from whose venerable twin ovens spring exotic wedding and birthday cakes that have people raving from coast to coast.

Kincaid's high-end, personally decorated cakes have ranged in style from elegant traditionals to edible soccer balls, golf sets and Cuban cigar boxes - - complete with stogies. She recently concocted a double-decker, flower- bedecked beauty faced with digitized -- and edible -- photographs of the client's favorite horses.

One enthusiastic newlywed, for example, is Abigail Durban, a New York City marketing executive whose recent wedding in Rutherford in Napa County 120 guests. It also featured the aforementioned cigar box cake.

"Lisa did both my wedding cake and my groom's cake," said Durban, whose husband is of Cuban descent. "We got so many compliments from my guests both on the taste of the cakes and the look -- they were absolutely beautiful. The cigar box cake was actually mistaken by many guests for a real box of cigars!"

Although Kincaid has been baking and decorating for the past 14 years, her current business, Fleur de Lisa Wedding Cakes & Specialty Desserts, is only 6 months old. Even so, the enterprise, which she jump-started with $8,000 and a $5,000 personal loan, is already proving to be a success. She makes two to three cakes a week, working Thursdays and Fridays baking and decorating prior to weekend events to ensure a fresh product. Her ingredients, she said, are a trade secret.

Clients usually give her about two months notice. "The sooner the better, " she said. "It gives us time to work together."

Despite her steady business, Kincaid said balance, in her life and in her business, is important to her ultimate success. "I want to stay small," she said. "I'm more interested in doing good work instead of just a lot."

She works out of a shared kitchen in a former Brother Juniper's Bakery building in Santa Rosa's older south side just south of Julliard Park.

Her creations cost between $600 and $2,000. However, Kincaid has produced cakes -- while working for other firms -- priced as high as $20,000. Cakes like these, she said, require special attention, such as flying with them across the country to ensure they arrive intact and are set up correctly at the destination.

"I've worked with 12 bakers over the past nine years," said Sasha Souza, a principal event designer who runs her own internationally focused firm out of offices in Napa and Beverly Hills. "Her quality is such that when she decided to go into business for herself, I ended up using her exclusively. She creates a stellar product that is unique to each client."

Souza said she had a "horrendous" event unfolding in Mexico in April when she was forced to use a non-Kincaid cake because of scheduling problems.

"We had 10 miles of bad road that wrecked everything," she said, "and I had to call Lisa long distance to give the cook a butter cream recipe that made the cake better. But even then, there was a clear difference between what she does and what everyone else does.

"She knows how to work with clients," Souza added. "A lot of people will say one thing but produce another. What we have found with Lisa is that she listens, she's never negative and she produces. Not in quantity but in quality. She gets it."

"One of the things I really find rewarding," Kincaid said, "is being able to work with clients and coming up with a theme for the event, either a wedding or birthdays. It's honoring them during one of the happiest times of their lives.

"I also love decorating cakes. I'm passionate about the color and the design and the themes that you can create working with cakes. When I'm decorating, I lose myself in the zone. I can spend up to four hours working and not know it. I can get way lost in the work, and I just love new designs and meeting and working with new clients. It's fun to see what they want and just play off of that. To fit the cake to what they want is important. After all, this is all part of their being in love."

Despite the elite venues in which her cakes often find themselves, Kincaid credits her small-town, big-family upbringing for her baking talents.

"I grew up in an apple orchard and next to a blueberry farm on Harrison Grade Road in Occidental," Kincaid said. "I have five brothers and one sister, and I helped my mom cook. I had plenty of fruit to make pies and other goodies for them. And I liked doing it."

She said she got her first job as a baker at the now-defunct Occidental Bakery & Café, a place operated by friends of hers just down the street from the town's famous Italian restaurants.

"I just got thrown into it," she said. "My friends were running the bakery when the baker quit. I was 18 at the time, and they asked me to step in. That was 14 years ago. Even then I developed a following."

She subsequently worked for cake and pastry makers such as Michelle Marie's in Santa Rosa, Le Chantilly in Marin and San Francisco and in Napa.

Her down-home roots, meanwhile, were recently evident when a neighbor planned a big 60th birthday bash in nearby Camp Meeker and asked Kincaid to do the cake and decoration.

The client, Louise Patterson, a horsewoman and a nurse at Friend's House in Santa Rosa, was thrilled when she saw the cake, especially the edible, digitized photographs of horses Patterson had owned since childhood pasted around the colorful, two-story confection.

"I knew my daughter was asking about pictures, but I didn't really know why. It was a wonderful surprise," Patterson remembered recently during a horseback ride. "There was even an old photo of myself when I was a girl and my first horse on the beach. I really couldn't believe it."

Maria Gonzalez, a facilitator and counselor with a private practice in Santa Rosa, and Patterson's riding companion, agreed the cake astonished many of the guests. "The photographs were special," she said. "Eating them was like eating communion."

"I'd never done a cake quite like it," Kincaid said. "It was so sweet to watch Louise look at the cake and go through the stages of her life. It was like looking at a wall covered with pictures in her house."

Fleur de Lisa Wedding Cakes & Specialty Desserts
Hours by appointment only
(707) 494-0000
fax: (707) 544-5581

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