Sylvia Weinstock, Famed Luxury Wedding Cake Designer, Dead at 91
The food industry is mourning the loss of one of their most legendary stars.
Sylvia Weinstock died on Monday. She was 91.
The Brooklyn-born baker — whose skill at making intricate and extravagant confections earned her the title of the "Queen of Cakes" — died "peacefully in her home in Tribeca, surrounded by her loving family," a representative for the late star told PEOPLE in a statement.
Weinstock was a pioneer in the industry, and is credited with modernizing the traditional white-tiered wedding cakes thanks to her signature, towering, hand-crafted, sugar-flower work.
"We never count the flowers on a cake ... rather, we add, and add, and add until it pleases the eye," she told InStyle in 2014. "That could be hundreds, or thousands. To put it in perspective, one artist can create 100 roses in a typical (40-hour) week. They are all individually hand-crafted."
Weinstock often stressed that cake was more than just food. It was the centerpiece of an event and the last thing the guests would eat, so it had to be memorable.
Her work simply transformed the way wedding cakes were designed, and still has a lasting effect on the industry today.
That's especially impressive, considering Weinstock didn't start baking professionally until the age of 50, after surviving breast cancer. Up until that point, she had been working as an elementary school teacher and homemaker in Massapequa, New York. But while in recovery, she and her attorney husband Benjamin moved to Manhattan and soon thereafter, started their custom cake business.
She had perfected the art of baking during family ski trips to New York's Hunter Mountain over the years. As Ben would ski, Weinstock would stay behind and bake, testing out her recipes for the French chefs who worked on the mountain.
Eventually, Weinstock began selling her cakes to restaurants in Hunter, hopeful that she could keep her side-hustle small and contained. But the product was too good not to grow.
"[Famed dessert-maker] William Greenberg told me I should go into the cake business. So I did," she told The New York Times in 2019.
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Her first store in 1980 "did cakes by appointment in a little brownstone."
That business grew over the years as she catered to the city's top hotels and local elite. Weinstock's exquisite work made her one of the most in-demand wedding cake designers throughout the world.
"The store on Church Street, we had three floors and more than 15 staffers," Weinstock told The Times. "One floor was used to greet people and where the flowers were made. Baking, icing and cake structure was done on the third floor. The elevator would take the cakes to the basement, which we turned into a walk in refrigerator. I lived on the fourth and fifth floors."
Magical confections made by Weinstock appeared at weddings and celebrations in the United States, Japan, China, the Middle East, the Caribbean and Europe.
What made her work really stand out was her incredible attention to detail. All her cakes were covered in buttercream — not fondant as some bakers prefer — which often takes much longer to create a smooth finish.
"I hate fondant. It's cheap and easy," she told The Times. "We only use buttercream."
She learned to create her signature flowers by deconstructing real blooms, petal-by-petal, painstakingly reforming them in sugar dough by hand.
As the dessert designer to the stars, Weinstock has created elaborate cakes for everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Mariah Carey, Billy Joel, Robert De Niro, and Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. In 2015, she designed a dramatic, floral-studded stunner for Sofia Vergara and Joe Manganiello's Palm Beach, Fla. wedding.
It was common for Weinstock to create celebration cakes for a couple, their children, and their children's children, for all the milestones of their lives. "It has always been a delight, and an enormous honor, to work with you and your families during life's moments of joy and celebration," she wrote on her website.
Each one of her cakes was custom-designed for her brides.
"The mothers of the bride, who started thinking about their daughter's wedding the minute they had a girl, would bring tear sheets from magazines with wedding cakes on them," she recalled to The Times. "These could be 10 years old. I'd use them for inspiration and a jumping point. It gave me a good idea of their taste level. You never want to duplicate something. You always want to create your own. Then I'd sketch out their cake, maybe add watercolor to it. They usually kept this afterward. We'd also do a sampling of cakes. The one-time meeting would last an hour."
"I caution brides, 'You're the host. You want something that pleases the palate of your guests. If you do multilayers you can have multiple cakes," she continued. "You could do three different layers so everyone has a variety. If they can't eat one, they can eat the other. And if you have a cake with nuts, you need an alternative for the people who can't eat them.' "
Throughout her career, Weinstock said she made well over a thousand cakes a year, The Times reported. Slices cost between $15 to $100 per person.
Some of those requests have been unusual. "We've done carved cakes in the shape of a Bentley with the bride and groom figures sitting in it; a copy of the house the couple bought with a for sale sign saying, Just married; a wine crate with six wine bottles in it," Weinstock remembered. "We painted the wine labels, which said, From the estate of … with the parent's name and then the couple's name; a box with shoes inside for Steve Madden."
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In 2016, Weinstock revealed she was stepping away from full-time baking and focusing her attention on licensing and teaching her techniques to bakers around the country. "I am excited about other endeavors, public speaking and teaching among them," she wrote on her website at the time. "Remember, my first career was teaching!"
And teach she did. Weinstock nurtured generations of bakers and adoring fans through her numerous books and mentorship work. She made appearances as a guest judge on popular food competition shows like Bravo's Top Chef, Netflix's Nailed It! , and Food Network's Chopped Sweets.
She licensed her name and her technique to the French bakery Ladurée, too, explaining to Tribeca Citizen in 2015 that she knew they would preserve the quality of her vision. "Your product is an extension of you — it really is," she said.
Retirement also gave her more time to spend with her husband and love of her life, Ben. The two were married for 69 years before he died in 2018 at the age of 93.
Many in the food community mourned the loss of Weinstock on Tuesday.
"Sylvia and I always had rude private jokes," noted event planner Marcy Blum wrote on Instagram. "I will miss her terribly."
"Getting to know this incredible woman, pioneer and baking legend was the biggest blessing," Gates wrote in her post. "Sylvia, your zest for life, passion, creativity, and generosity will never be forgotten. We will be forever grateful for the gift you gave us in designing our dream wedding cake with @ladureeus."
Along with her amazing professional legacy, Weinstock leaves three daughters — Ellen Weldon, Amy Slavin, and Janet Weinstock Isa — as well as sons-in-law Keith Weldon and Barton Slavin, grandchildren Ben Weldon (wife Lila Miller), Dot Weldon, Hannah Slavin (husband Joel Puritz), Jeffrey Slavin, Dana Reilly and Evan Reilly.