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Beaverton resident and Artisan Cake Company Owner Liz Marek makes elaborate cakes that landed her on Food Network's "Duff Till Dawn"



Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Artisan Cake Company owner Liz Marek poses with her daughter Avalon and her cakes in her Beaverton kitchen.An unassuming black sign hangs on the front of a brown house in Beaverton. “Artisan Cake Company,” it reads in what appears to be white chalk. The sign is intricate yet simple, and it’s the first glimpse into the mind of cake decorator Liz Marek.

If you didn’t know what you were looking for, you’d assume your GPS took you to the wrong place again. Based on Marek’s rising status in the cake decorating world, thinking that Artisan would be a full-blown bakery would be an easy assumption. But the first few steps inside reveal a normal home with a sitting area and dining room table, and some baby toys tucked off to the side. But then you see the kitchen, and you catch a glimpse of the cakes.

“I never did open up a storefront because I just wanted to focus on being creative,” said Marek, 34. “So I call this my ‘cake studio,’ because a bakery sounds confusing. People come here and they’re like, ‘Where’s the store?’”

At one point over the past six years, Marek did consider opening a bakery. But the idea faded away as she realized that a bakery would mean constant production, having employees and less time for creativity. Since the need for creative freedom was what led Marek on this journey in the first place, she didn’t want to let it slip through her fingers again. Thus, the “cake studio.”

“You definitely have to have a personality for the job that you have, which I never really thought about,” she said. “Even the job that I have now, I just happen to be somebody who’s really self-motivated. I don’t need anybody to say ‘Wake up and work.’ I don’t need a 9-to-5 thing. I just wake up and I’m like, ‘I’ve got things to do! Projects to work on!’ and I’m excited about it, but not everyone is like that.”

A graphic designer by trade, Marek has always been an artist. Both of her backgrounds — what she learned from designing graphics for clients and the knowledge she stowed away from years of painting, drawing and sculpting — have contributed to her successes in the cake decorating industry, she said. Marek’s inspiration for her eventual career shift first came from watching shows such as “Ace of Cakes” to unwind after a stressful day at work.

“I wish I could have a job where I could just be creative and decorate cool cakes,” Marek said to her husband, Dan, one evening in 2008. “Why don’t you?” he said. Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Creating sugar flowers like these can take up to eight hours, according to Liz Marek, owner of Artisan Cake Company in Beaverton.

As Marek tells it, the seed was planted and there was no turning back. Today, her name is known in the industry and she’s still climbing up.

Among her successes so far was her first appearance on the Food Network in the new show “Duff Till Dawn,” which aired on Sunday, but will show again before the official premiere on Thursday, Jan. 29 at 10:30 p.m. For someone who’s only been in the industry for half a decade, it’s a feat that ranks high on her ladder of achievements — and it would probably rank high even if she’d been in the industry for multiple decades.

And it all happened because one of her decorator friends didn’t want to be on the show.

“I’m not a famous cake decorator in the eyes of the world. I haven’t been on TV. I haven’t been on the Food Network challenges, I’m just YouTube famous. That’s it,” said Marek, wearing a red headband in her hair and with her 5-month-old daugher, Avalon, on her lap. “A lot of cake decorators in the community are really wary of TV shows and things because it’s all about drama. It’s all about the cake falling over, and it usually ends up making the person look not very good ... Because enough people were kind of wary about it, they were like, ‘OK. We’ll go with the B decorators.’”

Marek said this with a laugh, perfectly content with her status in the cake world. And as it turned out, this show wasn’t about drama at all. Sure, drama came from the pressure of the competition and its associated time restraints, but the purpose was to make awesome cakes, not for one person to yell at another or for jealousy to brew. Coincidentally, this is exactly Marek’s style of tackling the world, too. Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Flowers? Nope, these are some of the sugar decorations creaked by Liz Marek of Artisan Cake Co.

A big factor in the decorator’s rise to cake stardom is her attitude. Marek is happy to share her secrets — whether they’re recipes or techniques or tutorials for new designs — because she wants other aspiring cake decorators to be able to learn from what she’s done. Since Marek came into the industry without any background in cooking or baking, she understands what it was like to not know anything, including how to bake a cake from scratch. She taught herself before ultimately going to Oregon Culinary Institute, and she doesn’t want others to constantly struggle with the trials and errors that she had to overcome.

So, from posting videos to her YouTube channel, The Sugar Geek Show, to describing techniques in her book “Artisan Cake Company’s Visual Guide to Cake Decorating,” which came out in December, Marek is constantly sharing her wealth of knowledge.

“I think empathy is a great motivation for just about anybody. It’s really easy to be like, ‘I want to share this information because I know what it feels like,’” she said. “It just feels cool to be constantly experimenting and trying to think of new and creative things that can spark imagination with other decorators and might be the next trend.”

Lining Marek’s kitchen are numerous cake designs, from a chalkboard cake whose image went viral online, to a cake in the shape of a woman’s head and bust, to a cake in the process of becoming a fawn, the final design of which she’ll take to Ireland for a class she’s teaching in November.

For the past year, it seems that Marek has been unstoppable — so unstoppable that she’s even had to limit the number of cakes she makes in a week because she simply doesn’t have the time after writing a book, teaching classes, being on a TV show, running a business and taking care of a baby. Not that her plate is full, or anything.

“It feels like everything happened this year that I’ve been striving for. So it’s like, ‘What now? What’s the next step?’ I think the things that are in store for me are so big that I can’t even know what they are, because things are already happening that way, where I never would have guessed this would have happened to me,” she said. “I don’t even know what’s out there for me. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m going to keep teaching, I’m going to keep experimenting, trying out new techniques, sharing knowledge. And who knows where that will lead?” Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Liz Marek was a graphic designer until she couldn't handle her creativity being stifled any longer. Decorating elaborate cakes gives her the creative freedom she always wanted.