Chef Chat, Part 2: Jody Stevens of Jodycakes
Baker Jody Stevens went through several phases in her life before coming to Houston to establish her business, Jodycakes. In Part 1, we learned she went from college to serving in the Air Force during Operation Desert Storm, to Houston for a career in finance that spanned a decade, to Los Angeles and then back to Houston.
In this final part of our Chef Chat with her, we'll learn how she got her cake business up and running in Houston and about some of her specialties. We'll also discuss The Depressed Cake shop, an annual fundraiser that she established to raise money and awareness for mental health.
EOW: To this day, your baked goods are still placed at different businesses around town. If people want to go buy your products retail, where can they go?
JS: My No. 1 seller right now is Revival Market in the Heights. They carry gluten-free products right now, and hopefully maybe in the future, we'll expand to some of the vegan stuff.
EOW: Are there any other places?
JS: I am in negotiation with some other coffee shops in the Heights area. So, hopefully pretty soon I'm going to have more outlets on a retail basis.
EOW: What are some of your most commonly requested flavors?
JS: Red velvet is always a huge hit down here for some reason. In Los Angeles, nobody ate red velvet. It was weird. But here -- there's a debate on where it came, but red velvet is a Southern thing. Lemon is very popular and, of course, the ever-loved chocolate. You can't go wrong with chocolate.
Jody Stevens of Jodycakes
Photo by Phaedra Cook
EOW: What is the strangest order request you've ever had?
JS: Oh my gosh. Really? (laughs) I don't know if I want to say it. I have done a lot of strange things because I actually -- oh gosh, I'm blushing, I think.
This was while I was doing pastries for Barbara McKnight at Culinaire. I was her pastry chef for three years and I loved it because I worked alongside all these guys in the kitchen. She was so cool. She let me run my Jodycakes business while I was still doing her production.
So, I get a call and somebody said, "Hi, do you do dietary-restrictive cakes?" And I said, "Yeah, yeah." I'm working away and I'm running my station and doing my stuff. She said, "I was wondering if you could make a cake out of breast milk?" I said, "Breast milk?" and you heard knives just go across cutting boards.
I'm not making fun, because I do understand that there's a nurturing thing that moms are now doing differently, but that was pretty strange. I said, "I'd be happy to do that, but I don't feel really comfortable using it. I don't know how it bakes because I can tell you rice milk burns faster than soy milk. So, I have to say no." So, other than that, my naughty cakes, pretty much.
EOW: You make naughty cakes?
JS: I do naughty cakes! We call that "Jodycakes After Dark." I did a lot of those in Los Angeles for rap parties and for places like Vivid Entertainment. I've told this story before, but I called my mom because the Adult Video Network actually gave me a mention and a nod for Best New Novelty item for my naughty cakes. I called my mom and I said, "Hey, Ma, what would you think of your daughter who's out here in L.A. being in the porn industry?" She was like, "Well, it's not something we'd talk about on Sunday at Bible school!"
EOW: That's awesome. It sounds perfect for a bachelor or a bachelorette party.
JS: Exactly, and it's fun. Actually, that's where I got my start, if the truth must be told. I went to a party in college and there was a cake. This was well before Ace of Cakes and all of that almost very whimsical cakes that Duff Goldman does.
This cake was amazing. It was a man's chest with leather straps and all that stuff. I was like, "Whoa, that is so cool!" It was a gay birthday party, and all my little guy friends were just dying. I was like, "I want to do that one day," because everybody was so excited about it. It wasn't gross; it was whimsical and it was fun. I actually had the opportunity to go back a couple of years ago to Denver and I went down to the bakery who did that cake and I told the owner, "I'm now very successful in what I do in Houston, but I want to tell you thank you for inspiring me to do that." So he was really my inspiration.
EOW: That was awesome.
JS: I could've gone a different route with baking, but I really wanted to do cakes because of that.
EOW: So, you were able to fulfill your artistic streak as well.
EOW: Very cool. And you're completely self-taught, right?
JS: I am.
A cake donated for raffle from a prior Depressed Cake Shop
Photo by Chuck Cook Photography
EOW: Let's talk about the Depressed Cake Shop because that's a huge event that you do every year. How did you get involved with that?
JS: There was a woman in England who has her own PR firm and decided to raise awareness about depression. I happened to see it online through Twitter from [writer] Kat Kinsman when she was working at CNN under Eatocracy.
It grabbed me and shook me to the core. To do something and to raise awareness about mental illness and depression is something that's so very near and dear to my heart. My father struggled his entire life with severe depression. My paternal grandfather actually committed suicide, so this was very much part of my life. Then, I ended up living with someone for a very long time with severe depression.
The struggle is real. We make a joke and say that, "Hey, the struggle is real," but it really is. I thought it was so brilliant to do a raffle and a bake sale where everything's gray and sold to raise awareness of illness and depression.
People don't want to talk about things like that. We talk about men's libido and things like that -- all kinds of other things so openly and freely. Even AIDS now rolls off people's tongues where it didn't in the '80s. It was taboo. I find that we just sweep [depression] under the carpet. So yes, it's very much part of me. I really enjoy doing it and the fact that it's something that I think raises awareness and money in a fun way.
A past Depressed Cake Shop event held at Paulie's
Photo by Chuck Cook Photography
EOW: I think it is still very hard for people to go to a friend and say, "Hey, I'm not leaving my house. I'm not doing anything. I don't want to do anything." I think it's hard to say.
JS: It is. I'm not a psychologist. I'm not trained in any of that, but because of my own life experiences with that -- losing friends to suicide, and a family member, and having my father call me one night when he was on a business trip in Chicago to tell me basically good-bye and something stopped him from doing that -- I know it's something that's tough.
If I can raise awareness by doing that, I want to do whatever it takes. Every time that I've done this event, I have people call, email or text me and they'll say, "Oh my God, I want to say this out loud but I can't." It's amazing. It's a good discussion to have.
EOW: It's an excellent discussion. That event is a great icebreaker for people to actually start talking. This will be the third year of the Depressed Cake Shop again. It's in November, I think?
JS: We did it in September the last two years, but I'm thinking about maybe changing that. It's to be announced, but it's still going to be in the fall. All the details will come. The [dessert and cake] submissions that we had the first year were amazing. Last year was even better. The chefs in town that donated these cakes -- even the homemade stuff is so cool.
A train-themed cake for a child's birthday by Jody Stevens of Jodycakes.
Photo by Jody Stevens
EOW: It's a really worthy cause, because all that money raised goes to --
JS: The Montrose Center.
EOW: -- and they help people in the community as well. I think there are people who are very grateful to have that organization around.
JS: I love those guys. I don't know if people realize this, but they really do have free counseling for anybody. LGBT, it doesn't matter. It's for everyone, and I don't think people know that. I think that is so cool that they have staff that donate their time and energy to help. It's so amazing.
EOW: We certainly do not have enough mental health services in this country.
JS: I don't think so.
EOW: Invariably, especially on the weekends, we see a lot of wedding cake photos on your Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Is that a primary part of your business?
JS: It most certainly is. It's definitely grown over the last few years to be probably my No. 1 revenue source. It's amazing. We have such a humongous city. People get married every weekend and yes, I do a lot of weddings.
EOW: On average, how many cakes do you do a week?
JS: Anywhere from 15 to 30. It just depends. I'm constantly busy on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I'm so blessed.
EOW: What's the most elaborate cake you've ever had to do?
JS: Oh gosh. I've done two humongous weddings. I just did Georgia Pappas's wedding cake. She's gluten-free and it was for 750 people. It was massive, but it was amazing. It was such a big production and I was so honored to be chosen. They're one of Houston's top food families.
I do a lot of Indian weddings because of my egg-less cakes. And their weddings are generally very, very large -- anywhere from 250 to 800 people. I did a wedding for 800 people at the Bayou Civic Center, where AstroWorld used to be. They rented up the entire thing. That was probably the most humongous five-tier cake, and it was beautiful -- very beautiful lace work and design and different patterns on each tier. That was probably the largest one I've ever done.
EOW: I used to watch Ace of Cakes all the time, and the most traumatic point in every episode is when they're transporting those crazy cakes. How do you do that?
JS: It's such a nightmare. I actually wrecked a wedding cake once on the way to a wedding. It was awful, and there was nothing I could do about it. It's a little luck and a lot of slow driving. You can't really take a tiered cake. You have to take it in pieces and then construct some of them on-site, depending on the size.
And in Houston, we all know how everybody drives. Sometimes I'm driving with my blinkers and my hazards on and people are flipping me off and swearing. I'm yelling, "I've got a cake!" out my window. "Asshole!" I'm so mad. I'm like, "Go around!"
EOW: Right. People don't care.
JS: They don't care. I could probably have a banner plastered on my car saying "Delivering Cake" and they'd still do it. It's a lot of prayers. I put my rearview mirror down and seats down so I can see. If I'm going to Galveston or Texas City, it's always so nerve-wracking because it's so far away and it's 110 degrees outside and the sun's coming in. One day, hopefully, I can hire a driver with a refrigerator van.
EOW: Is there anything else that you'd like for Houston Press readers to know about you or your business?
JS: I always like to say, "Thank you," because I mean it from the bottom of my heart. If I didn't have my customers and the people that hold me high, which are my peers and the people that are in our community, I would not be here. I'd be in the rat race still and I don't want to do that. I want to live my dream, and that's what I'm doing. That's been made real by the readers, by the people and by my customers.
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