From Fashion Model to Martha Stewart Cake Designer
Dashing from Paris runways to TV shows with Martha Stewart, ICE alumna Wendy Kromer (Pastry, ‘94) settles along the quiet shores of Lake Erie to decorate masterful cakes.
The sleepy, Lake Erie town of Sandusky, Ohio, seems light-years removed from the high-couture runways of Paris and Tokyo. Wendy Kromer has traveled that route, however, carving out successful careers both as a fashion model and as a cake decorator while working with an array of industry superstars along the way.
Since 1995, Wendy has been a contributing editor for Martha Stewart Omnimedia. Dozens of Wendy’s cake designs have adorned the cover of Martha Stewart Weddings magazine, and she co-authored “Martha Stewart’s Wedding Cakes,” a book that includes more than 100 wedding cake designs and recipes.
“Wendy Kromer has been making cakes with us since day one,” says Martha Stewart on her website marthastewartweddings.com. “She is so good and so unbelievably creative.”
Wendy describes her style as “classic elegance, timeless.” She attended the Pastry & Baking Arts program at the Institute of Culinary Education when it was known as Peter Kump's New York Cooking School.
Before her storied career as a pastry chef, Wendy strolled catwalks in the epicenter of European fashion culture. It might seem like an odd transition, she acknowledges, as she pipes white icing through a star tip onto a white, layered cake at home in Ohio, but it’s an artistic endeavor that captures her personality and interests.
“It’s all about texture,” she says of the piping method, popularized in the 1920s by Pastry Chef Joseph Lambeth. “It reminds me of beautiful ceiling details.”
Similar details adorn her Queen Anne Victorian home in Sandusky, where she lives with her husband, Scott Schell. It’s the same house she grew up in. Her parents, Joan and Bob, bought the modest home, built with locally quarried limestone, in the early 1960s. Bob was a doctor and Joan a stay-at-home mom.
Joan was a self-taught cook, drawing from her Polish heritage. Wendy says her mother referenced back issues of gourmet magazines, basing ingredients on those she could purchase locally. "She kept the magazines and pored over them.”
Wendy says other culinary influences included her German grandmother, Celia. “She was one hell of a baker. She drove around in a light-blue Chevy Nova and delivered baked breads and kuchens to family and church friends.”
Wendy’s aunt, Evelyn, decorated cakes for birthdays and weddings, oftentimes multi-tiered showstoppers with staircases and buttercream roses.
“She knew how to do all of the baking,” Kromer says. “She was making decorated cakes for birthdays and weddings, and she became well-known in the 1950s. Her cakes were so pretty.”
Yet culinary arts was not the path Wendy followed as she began making her own way.
Stepping into Fashion
Wendy was the fifth of six children. It was a tight-knit family, so in 1983 she ventured to Paris, where an aunt and uncle lived, to begin a career as a runway model. It was a rough start. It took a year for Wendy to sign with an agent, and her initial experience with fashion houses was disappointing.
“Instead of giving you constructive criticism, they slammed your book shut, and out you went,” she says. “It took more of my savings to survive. I had to pay photographers to get nicer photos, but my cousins would encourage me to keep at it.”
Through her aunt and uncle, she got to know a director at Christian Dior, and that meeting opened the door.
“One of the agents who laughed me out a year before in the print division wanted me for the runway division.”
Wendy worked mostly as a backup to the “diva” models, doing trunk shows in department stores and otherwise traveling with the collections. The clothes were pret-a-porter, and the two seasons, fall and spring, led to a lot of yo-yo-dieting – not the lifestyle you’d think a pastry artist might have led.
Still, the experience was excellent, Wendy says, as she hopped from France to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Argentina, Japan and other foreign locales. Architectural details she saw in European cities, such as graceful crown molding and decorative plaster, later led to patterns on her cakes. Her international tastes came to influence her cake flavors, leading to her success as a world-renowned decorator. “Fashion gave you wings to see the world,” she says. “I absorbed everything.”
A Full-Flavored Transition
As she entered her early 30s, Wendy knew her success as a model would not last. She moved to New York at age 32 and worked in the fashion industry for a short time but knew it wasn’t going to be her career going forward. “I needed to do something after modeling, and I loved eating. Since I was in New York, I knew there were some cooking schools there.”
She enrolled at Peter Kump's, now ICE, to take pastry classes, and it was love at first bite.
“I couldn’t get enough of it; I was so immersed in it,” she says. “It was mostly people my age and older, career changers. It was a risk because we didn’t have our day jobs. I got a diploma in the pastry arts, and I was able to turn a lifetime hobby of making desserts into a career.”
ICE gave Wendy the knowledge to create the complicated desserts she had been exposed to during her career as a model. Laminated dough, European pastries, chocolate, blown sugar and many others suddenly became doable.
“Here was an opportunity to make them the way they were supposed to be made,” she says.
Working with Martha Stewart
As her cake decorating skills progressed, Wendy looked for opportunity. She had an externship with Colette Peters, the renowned baker and owner of Colette’s Cakes in New York. She ended up working with Peters for a year, learning how to pipe icing like Joseph Lambeth, now her signature style. Soon after, Wendy won a first-place prize for her sugar showpiece at the 1995 Culinary Art Show.
“Colette was a riot,” Wendy says. “I saw her push the boundaries on style and design. She would turn a wedding cake upside down in the shape of a dragon. I made a Mae West-sized corset cake. I was worried I overstepped the boundaries, but there was a line to see my cake.”
Wendy’s voluptuous cake drew the attention of Martha’s magazine editors, including Food Editor Susan Spungen. Wendy began helping with Martha Stewart Weddings magazine at its beginning in 1995. Susan asked Wendy if she were to run with the fourth issue of the magazine, what she would do. Fashion was at the forefront of society in the 1980s. She researched several styles. She produced six cakes for a couture cakes story.
She accompanied Martha on television and traveled with her on photo shoots. Wendy became a contributing editor to the wedding magazine.
“I worked with inspiring and inspired people,” she says. “You had to have passion. People stayed however long it took to make the shot beautiful. You were there to create beauty, and there was no textbook on what was beautiful. I didn’t want to let people down.”
Martha Stewart Weddings magazines are stacked in a shelf in Wendy’s parlor, her cakes gracing the covers. Back then the magazine was published quarterly; it's now published twice a year. The cake designs are the results of cakes she uses to teach specific techniques to students. Others are visions that she had in her head that she wanted to see come to life.
Returning Home to Ohio
Despite success in New York, home in Ohio called. Wendy and Scott moved into her family home with the dream of turning it into a bed and breakfast. They also hoped to revitalize downtown Sandusky, which had fallen on hard economic times. “Everything near water is prime real estate in New York. It was drying up. I didn't hesitate to move back.”
She opened Wendy Kromer Confections & Academy in downtown Sandusky in 2003, where she cooked, baked and offered retail items. In July 2018, a wind storm blew the roof off the bakery, but it was only a temporary setback.
Now she runs her cake business from her home independently. She makes custom cakes for weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and even everyday buttercream pastry cakes. She’s also an online instructor for Blueprint, teaching home chefs how to whip up perfect royal icing or how to nail a showstopper wedding cake that’s fit for the cover of a bridal magazine.
May through November is wedding season. Brides and grooms come to her house for tastings, starting in January. They discuss what they envision for their wedding cakes. Many clients live elsewhere and return home, like she did, to Sandusky to get married and celebrate on the Lake Erie islands. Scott helps deliver cakes there by boat.
“There are so many different styles,” says Wendy, standing beside an example cake in her home parlor. A steady stream of brides and grooms will visit for tastings from May through November. “The plain, white wedding cake was thrown out the window 25 years ago.”
Learn to make more than plain cakes in Pastry & Baking Arts or The Art of Cake Decorating.
Submitted by HollyBeth Anderson on May 14, 2019 12:15pm
SO beautiful and talented!
Your Advice on a wedding Cake
Submitted by Marie on August 14, 2020 3:10pm
I actually get joy out of seeing you decorate that cake. It look like you are in peace and that is just how I want to be. Cake baking and icing brings such peace to me, but the only thing I get. a little messy at times. My daughter is getting married and I wanted to try to bake her cake. Looking to do a 3 tier wedding cake. First Layer amazing carrot cake I make, second tier I was think Red Velvet and the upper final tier just yellow cake. What is your though 1) the icing would be buttercream / cream cheese/ almond paste. But its going to be outdoors so what icing you think is best. Use Veg Shortening because full buttercream will get soft in the heat.
Please advise. Do you do virtual classes?
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