Now that chefs of all stripes -- from executive to pastry -- are media superstars, they're starting to trump the old-school celebs (you know: movie stars and TV performers) when it comes to serving as drawing cards for fundraising events. Last week, bloomberg.com wrote about the phenomenon.
Celebrity categories mirror the times we live in: In the lavish excesses of the 1980s -- the era of Dallas and Dynasty -- fashion designers such as Nolan Miller and Oscar de la Renta were flown all over the country as star attractions for charity balls and high-priced social gatherings. Chefs, once consigned to hot and sweaty kitchens, are suddenly as fashionable as Michael Kors and Stella McCartney -- or John Travolta! -- on the charity circuit.
Add Mike Elder to that list.
A former auto mechanic, sports-car driver and 1992 graduate of Kansas City's Hickman Mills High School, Elder is one of the best-known cake designers in America, thanks to his success as three-time champion of TLC Channel's reality series, The Ultimate Cake-Off. Although Elder maintains a popular cake business based in Clinton, Missouri, and is pitching a pilot for his own culinary TV series -- there are times when he's jetting off to an event, like his series of cake demonstrations in Brazil for a Muscular Dystrophy fundraiser next week -- he has to turn down business.
"I still design all the cakes myself," says Elder from his office at Black Sheep Custom Cakes, "but I do have assistants who can help me make them. But if it's a really big project and it's going to have my name on it, I need to be there to execute it. I try not to take business if I'm going to be out of town. And sometimes that means turning down a project, which I don't like to do."
What Elder does like is to create cakes and events. He's the mastermind behind this Sunday's fundraiser for Kansas City's shelter for abused women, Newhouse. Elder came up with the concept for "Icing on the Cake," a full day "sugar art show and exposition" featuring a TV-style celebrity-cake challenge with national TV cake stars -- Debbie Goard, Bob Brougham, Brian Stevens and Ruth Rickey -- participating. (For the record, Newhouse asked me to be a volunteer judge for the event, although I'm still not exactly sure what in the hell I'll be judging.)
Tickets to Sunday's event, at the Overland Park Sheraton, are $10.