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After a fire in September caused roughly $250,000 worth of damage to its original building, the Phillips Collection will reopen the Phillips House next January in time to celebrate the museum’s 90th anniversary. There will be free admission (instead of the usual $10-12 weekend fare), free Champagne and birthday cake—but you (probably) can’t eat any.
Despite the complementary admission and booze, the Phillips will be keeping its several birthday cakes behind the velvet rope or encased in glass. Instead of springing for Carvel for the masses, the museum is commissioning some of the area’s more notable pastry chefs to whip up “work-of-art” desserts that “capture the spirit of the Phillips Collection,” a press release reads. And for a $1 donation, museum-goers, birthday celebrants and other well-wishers can vote for the best cake. (Based on my experiences, the spirit of the Phillips Collection involves shelling out $10 to squirm my way through overcrowded courtyards in hopes of plunking down an additional $5 for an underwhelming light beer.)
That the Phillips Collection is ordering itself some lavish cakes was not surprising. That each of the pastry chefs involved was deemed a “celebrity chef” was a bit intriguing. Executive chefs like 701’s Ashok Bajaj and Blue Duck Tavern’s Brian McBride are familiar enough, but the names of their end-of-meal counterparts (Melanie Parker and Peter Brett, respectively) might not spring to mind as quickly. Duff Goldman of Food Network’s Ace of Cakes is surely the country’s most famous pastry chef, but he’s up in Baltimore.
But considering Goldman’s rise to fame, perhaps we should be giving our dessert-makers more notoriety. I asked D.C. food blogger Tammy Gordon if pastry chefs could be considered “celebrity chefs.” She pointed to Top Chef: Just Desserts, a show that like the rest of the competition-based reality genre has a large following, including City Paper‘s Erin Petty.
I queried the Phillips Collection what will become of their birthday cakes after their one-weekend-only display during the Phillips House reopening. They are, after all, perishable food. They can’t sit out in the open forever. Will they be eaten after the party? Will the winning cake earn a reprieve à la a White House turkey? These are important questions.
I asked Gordon via Twitter about the ultimate fate of what will be some delectable works of craftsmanship.
“Some cakes are pure artwork,” she told me. But, “after being on exhibit for days around hundreds of people, I’m not sure I’d eat them though.”
Photo by Samdogs/Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License