Melissa Alt takes the cake – and first place on Food Network show

Melissa Alt takes the cake – and first place on Food Network show

Melissa Alt’s art takes the cake
Melissa Alt’s art takes the cake

Cake and art?

Melissa Alt can bake, sculpt, and paint an exquisite and delicious combination of both.

The Teaneck bred artist and cake master, recently took home the first-place prize in a new Food Network show, the Halloween-themed series, Hershey’s Chocolate Meltdown.

Making her television debut – a casting agent found her on Instagram and asked if she wanted to try out for the show — Ms. Alt wowed the judges with her creative confection, a creepy, crawly carnival-themed showpiece using the Hershey’s chocolate, Twizzlers, Jolly Rancher, Milk Duds, Good & Plenty, among other sweet treats. As the big winner, she took home $10,000 in cash, a year’s worth of Hershey’s chocolate, and a four-day Hershey park vacation.

“We were challenged to use as much candy and chocolate as possible,” said Ms. Alt, who explained the story behind her piece on her Instagram.

Melissa Alt’s winning creation on the Food Network’s “The Chocolate Meltdown”

The story centers on a girl whose father owned the carnival in which she grew up. Very lonely without friends, the girl grew close to the animals. When she got older, she realized the carnival staff mistreated the animals that were forced to perform. To save her animal friends, she cast a spell on the carnival suspending it in time. Her piece, in human-like form, depicts in candy and chocolate, the clowns, carnival rides, lights, elephants, and the enchanted insects who protect the carnival from the outside world.

Taking a theme, being creative, and making cake art is precisely what Ms. Alt has been doing in her eponymous cake baking business, Melissa Alt Cakes. Her work is so mouth-gaping gorgeous, it’s hard to believe that there is a delicious cake inside such sculptures as a peacock, a turkey, a lion, a guitar, life-like flowers. In addition to sculpted cakes, she also creates tiered cakes.

Her love of baking began when she was about 5 years old. Her paternal grandmother, Phyllis Alt of Buffalo, New York, would visit the family in Teaneck, and while there she would make her special decorated sugar cookies. That memory of her grandmother, who recently passed away, is a sweet one. She may have also gotten the food and art inclination from her father, Howard Alt, who had worked as a photographer in the advertising world before marrying her mother, Elaine. He took and displayed pictures of food that decorated their Teaneck kitchen.

She really saw her passion bud in junior high school when she would bake Duncan Hines cakes in a 9 by 13 pan and decorate them – SpongeBob Square Pants, Louis Vuitton bags, and the like. Then in high school – she is a Frisch alum – she started following baking shows.

“Cake Boss really inspired me,” she said. It was then when she started working with fondant and figuring out how to create two-tier cakes. She make a firetruck cake for a friend who was an EMT and a suitcase for another friend who was traveling.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

“Any time there was an occasion, I would make a cake. I was obsessed,” she quipped.

Following high school, Melissa landed an internship with the Cake Boss, where she learned the fundamentals of cake decoration. She attended college at Pratt Institute, studying painting and sculpture, incorporating edible materials into any project she could.

“Whenever I had a break, I was making cakes,” she said.

After college, Ms. Alt turned her passion for cakes into a career, launching Melissa Alt Cakes in 2015. Since the start of her business, her cakes have been featured in numerous magazines and reached international recognition. She won the award for Best Show Cake at the 2017 NY Cake Show. In the spring/summer of 2018 she worked as the culinary producer for Reality Bites Cupcakes on Food Network.

Her cakes are her art. She strives to create one-of-a kind artistic creations that form an experience of joy and beauty. Extreme passion, dedication and numerous hours are put into every piece of work. She loves the disbelief of her art actually being food. Her favorite moment is when the creation is cut, and her art becomes delicious cake. All her cakes are kosher and cruelty free. Her own favorite cake flavor? Mocha cake with espresso buttercream.

Game of Thrones dragon.

After college she attended a publicity party with a friend, who also worked as her manager. There she met Dylan Lauren, daughter of designer Ralph Lauren and the person behind the famed Dylan’s Candy Bar in Manhattan.

“She loved my cakes,” said Ms. Alt, “and I became her main cake designer.”

That meant that she created cakes for weekly birthday parties at the popular spot. She worked there from 2016 to 2020 – until covid hit.

But Ms. Alt took lemons and made proverbial lemonade. She used the lockdown and the changes from the pandemic to continue, and even step up her work. She became even busier. Since people were not spending money on venues for a party, they were willing to spend money on beautiful, artful cakes.

It was around this time that Ms. Alt also launched her online cake design classes. The online school where participants can learn how to make different cake designs has taken off. The course comes with equipment, such as a turntable, cake pans, spatula, piping bags, etc. She has already sold 1,000 online packages across the county.

Bar mitzvah boy sits atop Roald Dahl books.

Is she an artist? Or a baker?

“I definitely think of myself more as an artist,” Ms. Alt said, “but I enjoy baking. And I make sure that the cakes taste good.” Cake flavors run the gamut — from basic chocolate or vanilla to red velvet, mocha, pistachio, lemon, pumpkin, just to name a few.

To create her masterpieces, Ms. Alt uses modeling chocolate, and has had to create her own. The cake – which she adds at the end of the process to keep it fresh – is covered with a layer of ganache and both cake and ganache are inside of the modeling chocolate. From there she creates the sculpture. When done, she then paints with edible food coloring.  Demonstrations of how she does her work are on her social media. It takes about 40 hours, or a full week to complete a sculpture cake.

For one bar mitzvah, she recalled, she made a most elaborate sculpture cake. Using the theme of author Roald Dahl, she created a nearly life-size cake sculpture of a stack of books with the bar mitzvah boy sitting atop of the books on an iPad.

What are her plans for her future – especially after her Food Network win?

Ms. Alt said she will continue running her online school, which she adds a new course to monthly, and making beautiful wow-factor and delicious cakes.

“I guess we will see what happens.”

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