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Let Them Eat Cake. 'Nuff said.

How to win friends and influence people? Bake great desserts, extol the virtue of chocolate and hugs.

By ELISABETH DYER
Published February 4, 2007


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TAMPA - To prepare for Valentine's Day, Swiss-trained pastry chef Michael Baugh is ordering an extra pallet of Belgian chocolate.

Love is in the air.

"Honey, I put love in every bite," Baugh says of each of his creations made at his shop, Let Them Eat Cake, at 3805 S West Shore Blvd.

Baugh, 44, specializes in chocolate sculptures and never skimps on quality ingredients, like real vanilla and $4,000 in Belgian chocolate just for February.

Last week Baugh ignited a propane torch and leaned in toward a cake. Blue flame danced against a chocolate sculpture, a pirate ship for a wedding.

"Dang," said one of three wide-eyed girls from across the table. The girls had paraded past the front counter with their mothers to get a better look at the mammoth ship cake.

"You really made that in a day?" they wanted to know. He makes several cakes a day, he said.

Baugh took the names of the bride and groom, Scott and Laura, which he made of chocolate and sprinkled with 24-karat gold dust, and stuck them onto the softened chocolate.

Baugh is Tampa's ace of cakes.

"Bring me a picture or an idea and I'm MacGyver," he said. No cake has stumped him yet.

He makes delicious chocolate sculptures. A saxophone, seahorses and Salvador Dali's famous melting clocks. He once made a road kill cake, an opossum with its tongue out and tire tracks over its bloated body.

Yum.

"When someone comes to me for a cake, I have no preconceived idea," he said.

For a sky-diving couple, he shaped chocolate parachutes over inflated balloons that he later popped. Chocolate-dipped strawberries filled in for parachuters.

He pipes chocolate through a pastry bag into any shape he can dream. Molds just won't do.

For Baugh, chocolate isn't just food. It's the elixir of love. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine, one of the chemicals your body produces naturally when you're in love. It brings feelings of attraction, giddiness and euphoria.

Pair that with antioxidants that might reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, and you can almost justify the calories in one of Baugh's creations.

Swing music played in the background last week as Baugh worked at a 14-foot marble table he made of castoff marble slabs from the Bank of America building.

Behind him a sink and window give the feel of an Old World kitchen, with warm earth hues everywhere and glass jars of bay leaves, coffee beans and vanilla beans soaking in bourbon.

Baugh learned the trade as an apprentice 20 years ago in Michigan. He always loved food and, at 14, lied about his age to get a job as a dishwasher at the Hamburger Mansion in Detroit.

Baugh shares life's special events with his customers. Birthdays. Anniversaries. Bar mitzvahs. Weddings.

He makes brides feel special. Each gets a complimentary first anniversary cake.

And each gets a hug, he says.

Hell, everybody gets a hug.

Witness: Alfredo Garcia, general manager of the Dubliner Irish Pub, as he picks up dough for the pub's pizzas and downs a signature cookie made by southern chef Tricia Marvil, Baugh's co-worker.

Baugh eggs him on. "Manga, you look thin. Eat! Eat!" the chef says to Garcia, and they embrace.

Elisabeth Dyer can be reached at edyer@sptimes.com or 813 226-3321.

Fast Facts:

 

Michael Baugh

Gig: Pastry chef, chocolate sculptor and owner of Let Them Eat Cake.

Age: 44

Home: Roser Park in St. Petersburg, where he lives with partner Todd Chafins, fellow chef Tricia Marvil, five birds, four dogs and one cat.

Deep dark secret: 10 p.m. is chocolate time. Baugh samples truffles and bon bons and watches cooking shows. His favorite: Ace of Cakes.

Cloud nine: How he felt when French pastry chef Gaston Lenotre called his work tres formidable.

Celebrities served: Lee Iacocca, Boy George, Liza Minnelli, Mario Andretti and Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

Taste for yourself: Chef Baugh will put on a chocolate demonstration from 1 to 4 p.m. Feb. 11 at Wild Oats, 1548 N Dale Mabry Blvd.

[Last modified February 3, 2007, 20:39:21]


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