Flora Aghababyan, the cake artist
Photo: Alex Karvounis
There’s nary a wish that can’t be granted at a Wynn resort, especially if it’s of the culinary kind. The chefs in the restaurants and kitchens of Wynn Las Vegas and Encore exceed guests’ expectations in everything from appetizers to desserts. Cake artist Flora Aghababyan is especially adamant that one word doesn’t exist when it comes to multilayered confectionary requests. “I’ll do whatever they want,” says effervescent and ever-enthusiastic Aghababyan. “I never say no.”
Photo: Alex Karvounis
Aghababyan and her staff of five work seven days a week creating masterpieces of sponge cake and buttercream, chocolate crunch and rum mousse, red velvet and cream cheese. On one May weekday in the cake command center, they’re busy preparing the pièces de résistance for seven weddings—six towering creations custom-made for their respective brides and grooms, and 30 small cakes specially requested for one post-ceremony celebration. Large, freshly baked round layers are being trimmed and shaped into the form of a golf bag on a table in the center of the room, while clubs made from molding chocolate and sculpted sugar are being manufactured on a counter several feet away.
On the shelves above the counter sit models of past edible triumphs—cakes in the form of a three-snowman totem pole, a winter castle, a Thanksgiving turkey, a pumpkin patch. Aghababyan and her crew can do anything, and a nearby computer monitor serves as both research tool and online archive of past glories long digested by guests. Yankee Stadium, a life-size skeleton, slot machines and gaming tables, Gucci bags, fire trucks, Porsches, Ferraris, Maseratis and taxis have all been ordered through Wynn Las Vegas’s cake hotline. Bachelor parties request burlesque girls. Animals both real and animated (Winnie the Pooh and Hello Kitty are favorites), as well as dinosaurs have been models for cakes. Delicate, ornate butterflies can show up anywhere from red velvet and chocolate gift boxes to wedding cakes.
“I think this is something that has to be in you,” says Aghababyan. “This is not something you can learn. I can teach all the techniques, but you have to be an artist to create this kind of stuff because we never repeat what we do. This time it’s a golf bag, next time it’s a Gucci purse. The next day it will be something else that you have to find in your imagination.”
Aghababyan’s imagination once conjured a “divorce cake” for model-actress Shanna Moakler, with a solitary bride at the top and a groom crumpled at the bottom, suggesting a fall down the layers. It’s hardly the kind of creation she expected to be making in her future when she discovered her knack for baking as a girl in Armenia. The budding cake artist’s works became popular in her hometown, and she began selling them. She also studied painting and sculpture before working for an extended period in Russia, then accepting a job offer in California. A connection in Las Vegas led to a position at Bellagio, fluency in English, and eventually the cake command center at Wynn. Eighty to 100 cakes are made each week. Some designs for sugar-and-frosting sculptures are made with molds, but many require raw artistic talent. Examples of the most elaborate and intricate designs can be seen in display cases outside of Sugar & Ice at the Esplanade at Wynn.
The work is very demanding of Aghababyan and her assistants. “They have to understand what they’re doing, even for the small cakes,” says Aghababyan, who challenges new employees with skill-developing tasks such as creating 500 butterflies in one sitting. “Some places only give you two or three choices and you need to copy the models, but I always leave my assistants free,” she says. “I want them to have their own creations. If I’m not happy, I’ll ask them to change it, but I will give them opportunity to grow and do their own thing. If they’re not free they can’t be creative. It’s fun—you bake, you paint, you airbrush, and this is the result.”
To order a custom-designed creation, call 702-770-CAKE.