All News & Blogs
By By Ann Parker
Santa Cruz Sentinel
CAPITOLA, Calif.--Marina Sousa's star-studded career (this Food Network champion has designed cakes for Oprah, Raquel Welch, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston!) may have been foreshadowed by her fifth-grade science project.
"We had to make a volcano; I made mine out of cake, complete with buttercream eruptions," she says with a laugh, ganache-brown eyes dancing.
That story wouldn't surprise foodies across America who have watched Sousa's stunning, gravity-defying creations win a dozen Food Network cake competitions--including the first one televised, in 2004, and the Miley Cyrus "Sweet 16" birthday challenge.
"The Food Network's a kind of phenomenon, that concept of putting competition standards on something as visually interesting as cake." Says Sousa, owner of Just Cake. "'Cake TV,' as I call it, was the advent of the whole cake revolution.
She also competed against other cake designers on a 2009 episode of "Oprah."
Marina's elaborate, 10-foot-high cake took second but resoundingly won Oprah's online competition.
"The whole process, beginning to end, was magical," Sousa remembers.
Her varied background in design, theater and baking includes degrees from San Francisco's Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and two CIAs--the California Institute of the Arts and Napa's Culinary Institute of America.
Following a three-year "dream job" at Universal Studios producing celebrity events such as movie premieres, a chance visit to innovative Rosebud Cakes in Beverly Hills led to a part-time job. And a life change.
"Within two months I was decorating cakes full time; it was an ideal place to learn the craft and work with celebrity clients."
After moving back to Santa Cruz, Calif., in 2003, Sousa considered making cakes professionally but needed a commercial kitchen. She found one at her former elementary school, Salesian Sisters in Corralitos, Calif.
Marina laughs. "The nuns put my business cards under St. Joseph's statue: Mom said that's why I did so well. I took eight display cakes to my first bridal show on a Sunday--Monday, I had 38 phone calls."
Soon she was sharing a storefront with Fiona Flowers in Capitola and kitchen space with Feast for a King caterers.
The business name, Just Cake, came from her Beverly Hills experience: "I used to think, 'It's just cake, people.'"
Despite the fact Sousa is a top wedding cake designer, she has worked with countless celebrities, and, in fact, is a celebrity herself. "I'm just someone in Santa Cruz, trying to run a business."
BORN: June 3, 1971, in Fremont, Calif., she moved to Santa Cruz in third grade. EARLY JOBS: 'I worked at Gizdich Ranch and at Beverly Fabrics in the crafts department.' EDUCATION: Visual merchandising degree, Fashion Institute of Design and Management; theatrical production management degree, California Institute of the Arts; baking and pastry arts degree with honors, Culinary Institute of America, Napa MENTORS: Aunt Carolyn and of course my mother; in cakes, Mike McCary and Collette Peters, both Food Network challenge judges.
FAVORITE DESSERT: Olallieberry or Dutch apple PIE.TEACHING: Marina has taught cake design classes from Australia to Toronto, at culinary schools, on cruise ships, at cake-decorating stores and online.
CAKE FUTURES: Marina is planning a line of shippable cakes with fellow Food Network star James Rosselle.ONLINE CLASS: craftsy.com/class/advanced-fondant-tech niques/99