Custom baker Flora Aghababyan satisfies sophisticated sweet tooths with her custom-made Celebration Cakes.
Aghababyan’s Triple Tier Deco cake is flanked by two signature wrapped “gifts.”
It is a true artist who can capture every detail of a Henri Matisse painting with the deftest touch or recreate a Manolo Blahnik down to the designer’s label on the shoe’s sole, and yet another kind of artist altogether who can simulate these objects of desire… in cake. Flora Aghababyan is like a fairy godmother who can make any wish—birthday, wedding, or otherwise—come true in the form of pastry’s most supreme confection. Whipping up ornately artistic creations is second nature for the self-taught chef who started baking when she was 12 years old as a way to busy herself when she got home from school to an empty house.
“I like being challenged. Some people have to perform in a competition to win or lose, but every day is a competition for me,” explains the Armenian-born Aghababyan. “I am challenged every day in the pastry kitchen. I love that feeling because I can put my team and myself in a position to create something we’ve never done before.” When the kitchen door swings open to the workshop where Aghababyan concocts her unique brand of magic, essence of lemon is delicately hanging in the air. One of her assistants is expertly covering a cake shaped like a giant rubber duck with a large square of bright yellow fondant. Another assistant, with the nimblest of fingers, is carefully maneuvering a long piece of coppery brown ribbon made from modeling chocolate into a bow for the top of a cake that is an ornately wrapped gift.
This year’s fabulous gingerbread house at Wynn greets guests at The Buffet. The edible sculpture, crafted from 35 pounds of gingerbread, 30 pounds of fondant, and 25 pounds of chocolate, features the hotel nestled into an ice mountain topped with gifts, penguins in their holiday best, Santa’s sleigh, the Grinch, and a moving train.
The gift box-shaped cake with its pristine bow is Aghababyan’s signature and the inspiration behind Celebration Cakes, which makes her custom creations available for retail or carryout purchase at Wynn Las Vegas. “We created Celebration Cakes to give people the opportunity to commemorate even pop-up celebrations in the most personalized way,” she explains. Celebration Cakes, which puts the wonders of Aghababyan’s talents at the disposal of both Wynn and Encore guests as well as the city’s residents, requires 48 hours’ notice for one of her signature gift box cakes. More customized creations, such as an exact replica of this season’s trendiest Dior handbag or a convertible Maserati with golf clubs in the backseat require a minimum of five days’ notice.
Not only do Aghababyan and her staff of three fulfill the orders for the Celebration Cakes program, but they also handle the needs of the restaurants, nightclubs, and banquet requests for both Wynn and Encore, which number in the hundreds of cakes each week. Most of the time, people generally have an idea of what they want when they place their order, says Aghababyan, who notes that no order is impossible to create. “We never say no. Even if it’s tough, we don’t say no.” Aghababyan’s meticulous nature means she first draws a sketch of the creation she has in mind based on the customer’s request—which turns out more like a precise architectural rendering, every detail taken into account.
The Red Rose Fantasy cake, as precise as porcelain, is a delicious statement.
“When a customer is explaining what they want to create, I already have it in my mind and can envision the final product. I always draw before I start. I want everybody to understand, in black and white, exactly what I am going to make,” explains Aghababyan, who has been a cake artist at Wynn since 2007 and before that was the chief cake designer at Bellagio Las Vegas. “Once I have a drawing, now I have to build it. I take the image from my mind and make it come to life.”
Her ability to make things come to life is aptly illustrated in the masterpiece she is most proud of and is prominently displayed in the same kitchen where she works every day, almost as a reminder of her commitment to detail and artistic authenticity. Her face lights up as she points to the cake for which she won the grand prize at the 2010 Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show‚—an interpretation of the Ettal Abbey, a renowned Benedictine monastery in Bavaria, Germany.
But it’s not just her ability to create cakes, seemingly sprinkled with fairy dust, that evokes the kind of wide-eyed wonder requisite for any celebration—there are two other essential ingredients. “Good energy and love,” Aghababyan replies in response to the secret of making a delicious cake. “It’s the good energy that you put into it, combined with the love you have for what you’re doing.”