Depression is no laughing matter, but Jody Stevens wants to let people know that it's okay to talk about it...with cake.
Inspired by the original Depressed Cake Shop in London, Stevens is hosting a bake sale to raise awareness of mental health issues and raise funds for the Montrose Center here in Houston.
The idea behind the Depressed Cake Shop is simple: With the theme of depression and other mental health problems in mind, local chefs and bakers are asked to create gray cakes and other baked goods that can be sold to raise money for charity. Depressed Cake Shops have been popping up all over the world since the first one opened in London this summer, and Houston's will premiere on September 22 at Paulie's from 2 to 5 p.m.
"I think that this is a really great opportunity to shine some light on a really dark subject," Stevens says. "This is something that affects many, many people, so I think people can benefit from bringing it out of the dark."
And why cake? Stevens, who owns local bakery Jodycakes, says that cake makes everyone happy. Since the Depressed Cake Shop became a phenomenon, many chefs have spoken out about their own battles with depression and about how baking can be a form of therapy. Something about being in control of the ingredients and working toward a goal can help people suffering from depression feel more at ease.
Samantha Mendoza, the executive pastry chef at Triniti and one of the Depressed Bake Shop's featured chefs, says that working in a kitchen was a stress reliever for her after difficult events that affected her family.
"I've never been depressed," Mendoza says, "but I can kind of relate to that in terms of being stuck in a bad place."
The issue of depression is also near and dear to Stevens's heart. When she was a child, her father suffered from clinical depression brought on by PTSD from his wartime experiences in Vietnam. She recalls getting a phone call from him one evening when he was away on a business trip in which he told her how much he loved her and instructed her to take care of her mother. He intended to commit suicide that night. He didn't, and died naturally years later, but Stevens continued to be surrounded by people suffering from mental health problems, including her maternal grandfather, who committed suicide, and a long-term boyfriend who endured bouts of depression so crippling he could not get out of bed in the morning.
"I find that there is such a stigma attached to it, that it gets swept under the carpet," Stevens writes on the event's Facebook page. "That those who don't understand the severity of such an illness sometimes say things like 'I don't understand why you can't just snap out of it...' or 'Come on, it can't be that bad...cheer up.'"
The Depressed Cake Shop is both a means of fundraising as well as a way to tell people they aren't weird or overreacting. And that they aren't alone.
In addition to the sale of gray baked goods donated by local bakers, 13 restaurants and chefs are participating in the Depressed Cake Shop and will make full-size cakes. Stevens from Jodycakes and Mendoza from Triniti will be joined by chefs from Uchi, The Pass & Provisions, Brooklyn Athletic Club, Bar Boheme, Eatsie Boys, Americas, Paulie's, Phoenicia Specialty Foods, Mr. Peeples and Underbelly. Ja'Nel Witt, winner of the latest season of the reality show Hell's Kitchen, will also be participating.
Mendoza says she's going black -- instead of gray -- and making a chocolate and raspberry cake with a crunchy chocolate feuilletine in the middle.
Kaz Edwards of Uchi is working on a cake with basic flavors of yuzu (similar to a sour mandarin) and blackberry, along with lime and lemon ash to create a gray color.
"There are a couple of elements that we're still kind of hashing out," Edwards says, "but we'll definitely do something with rainy clouds, and we toyed with the idea of incorporating Eeyore (from "Winnie the Pooh") somehow."
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Over at Boheme, chef Rishi Singh has created an Asian five-spice apple cake (we tried it, and it's delicious) that he plans to ice with a chai/cardamom cream cheese spread colored gray.
"I think you could say that cake is an antidepressant," Singh says. "Oh, and I think the cardamom in chai is mood-elevating as well!"
Small baked items will be available for sale at the event, but all the cakes that the participating chefs and restaurants produce will be raffled off. Tickets for the raffle can be purchased online now or at the event. You needn't to be present to win.
As if cakes and cookies (gray though they may be) aren't good enough, Deep Eddy Vodka is mixing up complimentary greyhound cocktails, and Phoenicia Specialty Foods will provide appetizers.