COOL THINGS - Taking the cake

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

While many little boys dream of having a birthday cake in the shape of a truck, nowadays the big kids are lining up for them too.


Photo: What better way to celebrate a career milestone than a first class cake.

Fiona Saunders of Tauranga comes from an art background and puts her sculpting talents to good use creating edible works of art. “I did a cake for my mother and father-in-law about 11 years ago, for their 50th wedding anniversary, and when we took it to the venue the chef came out and asked where we got the cake from. Within about a week I had three orders and I thought I may as well turn it into a business, and it grew from there,” says Fiona.

Making cakes and cookies, Fiona’s business bubbled away in the background for a year or two until she was asked to make a Freightliner truck cake for a friend. “I thought it would be a good picture to load on Trade Me and say that I could do truck cakes. Trade Me picked it for their Cool Auctions and it just went stupid from there; it grew a mind of its own.
“A lot of people asked if I could do cars, and then it seemed to progress from cars to trucks. A lot of cake decorators won’t touch cars and trucks because they can go wrong really quickly, but for some reason – maybe because I did sculpture in my art course – it seems to be something that doesn’t worry me.”


Photo: Instantly recognisable.

Fiona says ‘normal’ cake decorators make roses and things like that but she can’t think of doing anything worse. “It’s just not my thing at all, I would rather do vehicle cakes. There are a couple of other cake decorators in Tauranga who push orders [for vehicle cakes] on to me. I’ve made hundreds and hundreds – seven or eight hundred I suppose. I’ve been doing it 10 years and now I don’t even take photos of all the cars and trucks I’ve made. I’ve done cakes for people in Auckland, I’ve sent them down to Wellington, Hamilton – you name it. There is a lady who gets one every couple of years down in Gisborne.”

Amongst those hundreds of cakes there have been a few that stood out for Fiona. “I did a Mack for my husband, Jason, years ago when he turned 40. That was the first truck I went for a ride in; he drove it 27-odd years ago when we got together. I’ve also done a couple for the guys he works with. “I did a Louisville for Taylor Brothers in Katikati for their 50th anniversary a couple of years ago. That one means a lot because Jason drives for them. He is my quality control as well; if I ever did anything wrong I’d never hear the end of it! Any time I think I’m finished, and I’ve spent about 14 or 16 hours on a cake, and I think ‘oh yeah, I’m done’, he’ll go ‘no, you’re missing those two lights or that scroll’ and I’m thinking ‘oh, go away!’ “Another one that stood out was one I did for Rowe Motors in Tauranga. It’s a White wrecker. I’ve also done one for Jo Neustroski and for Graham, her boss. Graham’s wife commissioned one for his birthday and then Jo also got a smaller one of her truck.”


Photo: The Taylor Brothers cake was the subject of particularly high levels of scrutiny on the home front.

All the cakes Fiona uses as the base for her creations are made from scratch. “The white chocolate caramel mud cake I make is high in butter and there is a lot of white chocolate in it. Nine times out of 10 you’re making that recipe 16 times to go into one cake and that’s a lot of expensive ingredients. The cakes all vary in price depending on whether it is just the tractor unit or trailers as well.”
Making the cakes and decorating them is time-consuming, and at one time Fiona was making about 20 cakes per week. She has now cut back to a maximum of six per week so she can catch her breath a bit. “If it hasn’t got trailers, if it’s just the truck, then it takes about eight to 10 hours. The longest I’ve spent was 28 hours on a Mainfreight Kenworth B-train that went down to Wellington.

That was 1.2 metres long and that one was quite a mission! “With the trucks, you’re not making your money back on them but I really enjoy doing it, so it’s just one of those things where you just do it and sometimes it’s not all about money, it’s more the love of it.” During the quieter times of the year an order received on Monday could be ready by Friday. “At the end of the year, probably from about October on, it starts to get really busy, especially November/December and February/March. It’s much better if I can have two or three weeks’ notice.” Fiona says females are usually happy to cut the cakes and eat them, but the males are often very reluctant to make that first cut.

“You’d be surprised how many people order these big cakes for like 50 people at a party, and I hear a week later, ‘so how long will an uncut cake keep because we couldn’t cut it?’ I hear it so much! Guys are more precious about them, just the look on their faces when they walk in the door. Especially if they know they are getting a truck cake, they walk in and quite often they’re just speechless. They just stand there and go ‘oh my god, I knew it would look cool, but oh my god’.


Photo: Old school cool.

“With one recent order, the guy’s wife had ordered it and he’d sent the pictures through and said, ‘as close as possible, whatever you can get’. When he walked in the first thing he said was ‘oh my god, you’ve even put the scrolls on it, like that’s IT you know’. It’s quite cool to see the reaction. The first thing he said was ‘excuse my language, but I’m not going to f***ing cut that!’ So you know that maybe you’ve got it right.” Fiona says one customer ended up throwing three parties because they couldn’t bear to cut their cake.
“It was meant to be morning tea, then they decided they’d have a party on the weekend, and then I think it went to another party, and it didn’t get cut for weeks!” Fiona’s business started off as Funky Cookies and Cakes, but since the vehicle cakes took off she no longer has time to make cookies.

“Because of social media, people will tag me personally on a lot of the truckie pages I’m on if someone is looking for a truck cake. No one can ever remember my business but I’ll get tagged 30 times on a truck page! A lot of my work is just word of mouth, so the business name isn’t as important. “A lot of what I do now is vehicle art. I don’t want to be pigeonholed into just doing vehicles, but at the same time it’s kind of stuck now. There was a week a while back where I did three trucks and four cars in a week.”

The most rewarding part for Fiona is seeing the reactions her cakes evoke. A cake modelled on a Studebaker used as a wedding car resulted in three separate calls – one from the groom, and one each from the mother of the bride and the groom – all going crazy over the cake. The groom’s mother said it got more attention than the bride! “So that was really cool to get all that feedback. It was the grandfather’s car, and they went in the Studebaker to the venue. They put the cake on top of the car and took a photo. Apparently the grandfather was in tears when he saw it. It’s the whole sentiment you get when you’re doing the orders; it was lovely.”