Sylvia Weinstock, famous for baking fairytale-worthy wedding cakes that can set you back the price of a high-end honeymoon, didn’t have much of a wedding herself.
She was 19 when she tied the knot with her own Prince Charming. They were both still in college. There wasn’t money for much.
“We served our guests a little honey cake and a glass of wine,” says the diminutive octogenarian. She travels the globe to deliver show-stopping cakes, often much taller than she is, to royalty, tycoons, celebs — even the average bride who covets a cake by Weinstock more than, say, a down payment on a starter apartment.
Though Weinstock insists that her cakes don’t have to cost tens of thousands of dollars. Starting price is about $20 per person.
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“It can be the least expensive item in a whole wedding. Maybe it costs more than the shoes,” Weinstock says.
Over the years, folks have pressed her to consider renewing her vows with a blowout ceremony of her own. But she doesn’t need the audience, she’ll say.
“Now that I’m in the wedding business, I would be embarrassed to have the fanfare. It’s too late. It was a moment that should have been. But I got away with the best guy in the world. We’ve been married 65 years,” Weinstock says over lunch at the St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort. She easily talks you into ordering a Bloody Mary to go with your salad.
The St. Regis, one of the top wedding destinations in South Florida, has just announced a partnership with Weinstock. Planning a wedding there? As part of your pricey package, you can have a couture cake flown down from Weinstock’s atelier in Tribeca. She might send staff, or come down herself to build one of her many-tiered butter cream creations, which have to be shipped in separate parts. It can take her staff weeks to produce enough of her famous sugar flowers for just one cake. They’re crafted petal by petal and painted by hand so they are indistinguishable from real flowers.
“Today, a wedding is the most expensive party a person will ever have. I got married in 1949. It was high society that had big weddings. Enormously wealthy people like the Vanderbilts and the Whitneys, people you read about the papers, had big weddings. The average working person got married in a business suit. My husband wore the most god-awful suit. We were coming out of the war. Nobody had fabric. I found some gray silk taffeta and had a strapless dress made. It had a long skirt and a jacket with a Peter Pan collar. I wore it for years.”
Weinstock, who raised three daughters with her husband in Massapequa, Long Island, was 50 and undergoing treatment for breast cancer when she started her wedding cake business.
“I was a baker. Our three daughters were out of the house. All of a sudden, the house was too big for us. My husband was 55 and he came to me and said, ‘I’m tired of practicing suburban law.’ I was in chemotherapy. But we sold the house and moved to the city and I started making cakes. It was word of mouth at first.”
Word spread. Weinstock’s clients over the years have included the Kennedys, the Rockefellers, Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Estee Lauder, Liza Minnelli, Maya Angelou, Martha Stewart, Annie Leibovitz, Robert DeNiro and many more names in bold.
Now she’s expanding to Tokyo, Kuwait, Qatar, Abu-Dhabi — the latest places where upscale brides are clamoring for her cakes.
“We have been flying cakes overseas for a long time. But now we’re talking about setting up a few outposts to relieve some of that flying. We’re opening a store in Tokyo. In Japan, they used fake Styrofoam cakes that they rolled out for pictures, then rolled away and had another dessert. Now with the Internet and access to bridal magazines and all of that, brides in many parts of Asia want more Western weddings. They want to have specially designed gowns and cakes and all of that. They want to express their individualism. They don’t want to be stamped out.”
Over the years, Weinstock has fine-tuned many skills. One of them is the ability to predict the success of a marriage just by spending a little time with the bride and groom when they come into her shop to order a cake for their big day.
“When someone comes in and it’s their second wedding, I’m always poking. What went wrong with the first marriage? What didn’t you see? Frequently, the women will say, ‘He changed.’ Or they’ll say, ‘I didn’t know him well enough.’ Or, ‘My parents were right.’ But I think it comes down to the fact that they confused love with passion. Real love simmers down a bit into a special warmth. When you look upon each other there is this inner glow that you get. You can see that in a couple.”
Her best advice for a successful marriage?
“Pick your battles. And stay an interesting person. Bring to the table your own career, your own thoughts. That keeps the intellectual spark and the emotional spark going. Maybe he does interesting medical research but she just wants to talk about the country club and the shopping. She’s boring.”
But what about those men who are threatened by women who have big careers, who prefer to marry women who will stay home to raise the kids and bake the chocolate chip cookies?
“That’s not our kind of man, that’s all.”
Weinstock can be cut-and-dried about a lot of things. Take fondant cakes, for instance.
The f-word? No, I don’t use that stuff. I use fresh butter, fresh cream, fresh fruit. Fondant is like a sugar clay. One you put it on a cake, you can’t even refrigerate it. It’ll weep and stretch. Fondant doesn’t taste good. You have to peel it off because you can’t really eat it.”
What’s her take on the cupcake craze?
“They’re great for a kid’s party. I have never had a good cupcake. They definitely don’t belong at a wedding. I think they’re OK in the backyard for a barbecue.”
Does she like any version of a store-bought cake?
“I don’t really eat junk food. Maybe french fries or chips. But no store-bought cakes. If I’m going to indulge in the calories, I’d rather have vodka.”