Jessica Cook is good at keeping secrets.
The owner of Cake Couture, Cook knows whether it’s a boy or girl in advance of the gender reveal party.
She knows the theme of birthday parties, often before the invitations arrive in the mail.
She won’t post a picture of one of her cakes on Facebook until after a party, a safeguard so that someone who’s not invited doesn’t get wind of an event.
In short, people trust she will keep life’s momentous moments secret until its time to cut the cake.
So when her aunt asked her to bake a cake, she was prepared. But when her aunt couldn’t tell her the date she needed the cake, couldn’t tell her the number of servings she needed or even the required flavor, Cook was a little annoyed.
But she has come to expect that. After all, when you ask her aunt about her work, you are likely to get a smile that says, “I can’t talk about that.” Cook has seen that smile many times.
So have others in the region. It is a legendary smile that says Karlisa Parker, economic development director for Chester County, can’t tell you anything until others are ready to talk.
Yet, when Parker could talk to Cook, she made sure her niece was as tight-lipped as she. If Cook wanted to bake her cake, she had to sign a confidentiality agreement.
So did anyone else who worked on the cake, which included Cook’s husband, Keith, her parents, Bella and Walt Anderson, and her grandmothers, Pat Parker and Sue Anderson.
They were just six of the hundreds Karlisa Parker asked to sign confidentiality agreements. If you were in any way connected with Project Summer and knew its real identity, you signed.
Parker honored the company’s request that its name not be leaked before last Monday’s grand event, when Giti Tire Company announced it was coming to Chester.
Knowing the company’s name didn’t make Cook’s task any easier. Her aunt asked for a cake with the company’s logo, one that recreated the company’s 800 series tire tread, had a map of the world and was large enough for the expected standing-room-only crowd.
And, Parker said, I need it by June 16.
The deadline just happened to follow an already busy week. The Cooks celebrated their anniversary on the 13th. Sunday was Father’s Day, and there was also a wedding cake to deliver that day. One of her children’s birthdays was upcoming and “did I mention,” Cook said, “I’m 12 weeks pregnant with my third child?”
To add to the pressure, Cook knew that this cake could make or break her baking career. Her career is at a crossroads. She has been baking from home under the state law that allows certain “cottage” industries. If she wants to expand, she will need a permanent space and kitchen.
The answers to the questions about how to make this cake aren’t found in a cookbook.
How do create a wheel rim in cake and make it appear real?
What’s the best kind of cake for holding its shape, including the cutouts in the wheel rim?
How do you create a valve stem that incorporates an elephant into its design?
“It’s the unforeseen details that make a cake,” Cook said.
Her husband designed a mold for the tire rim. Her grandmothers made more than 48 pounds of vanilla butter cream icing.
For the cake recipe, Cook turned to Louise Farley, her grandmother, and her recipe for pound cake. The white almond sour cream cake with lemon curd filling “smelled up the house so good,” Cook said.
Then she turned to the team to bring everything together. It took about 40 hours to bake and make the cake, her team finishing at 5 a.m. Monday. She got an hour of sleep before delivering the cake to the Gateway Conference Center in Richburg.
Even that ride was nerve wracking, as the cake didn’t sit flat but was slightly buckled where her SUV’s seats hinged.
When they got the cake to center, she was afraid it might fall as they removed it from the SUV.
When they got the cake to L&C conference room, she finally could rest.
Her rest didn’t last too long, as officials from Giti wanted to sneak a peak at the cake. When they saw the results, they wanted photos. Not of themselves with the cake, but of themselves with the cake, the baker and her team.
When it came time to reveal the cake, the cart to move it was a little too small. Cook could see all her hard work sliding to the floor if there was a single miscue.
Thankfully, nothing went wrong. After cutting the cake, Giti managing director Lei Huai Chin shared a piece with Grace Lindsey, who lives next to Giti‘s new home, the mega site off S.C. 9.
Cook said she was both elated and relieved at the reception the cake got. But most of all, she was excited over the company’s announcement and her aunt’s role in the process.
“Yes,” Cook said, “finally one for team us!”
As Cook relaxed, the Giti officials and their guests did what people do to celebrate: They ate cake.