By: Rebecca Feigelsohn
Alexandria Pellegrino is the ying to Jessica Smith’s yang. Pellegrino is a fashionista and art-aficionado who holds a Fine Arts degree from OCAD and can transform any blank fondant canvas into a wedding cake masterpiece. Smith, on the other hand, is a genius flavour-maker and pastry chef, who has created pastries at hot-spots such as Yauatcha in London and the Four Seasons’ Truffles Restaurant [now closed], and has received not one, but two national culinary awards from George Brown College’s Chef Training Program. The brunette/blonde duo bring out the best in one another and their skills work in harmony to create classic, yet current wedding cakes and pastry at their shop Cake Opera Co. located on Eglinton Ave. West.
Pellegrino and Smith met while studying at Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa, and bonded over their love of rock and roll and fondness for Parisian aesthetic, an unlikely combination that speaks volumes to the work that they create. They are spunky, personable and engaging, their self-assurance and energy exuding as they gush about cake. Their philosophy is simple: fearlessness, confidence, and customization, with a dash of theatrics; their shop isn’t named Cake Opera for nothing, after all. Pellegrino has always been interested in creating beauty, and after a year of what she can only refer to as “wedding cake boot camp” with Don Duong, her talented mentor, she decided to venture out on her own in 2007. Soon after, she realized the age-old ideology that ‘looks aren’t everything,’ and enlisted the help of Smith to guarantee that the inside of her cakes taste as good as the outside looks.
The two are in the business of making people happy, pouring their heart and soul into every custom designed cake they construct, always believing that anything is possible. Pellegrino’s endless design inspiration comes from both contemporary and traditional styles; she is influenced by the work of the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen, as well as Dutch still-life paintings, which balance beauty and dark absurdity. Having a mother who is a Martha Stewart fanatic certainly opened Pellegrino’s eyes to the world of baking, but it wasn’t until she moved to Bologna, the gastronomic center of Italy, that her love of food and cooking began.
Smith’s interest in making cakes comes from an entirely different place, her connection to pastry is sentimental and nostalgic as she recalls weekends during her childhood where she cut biscuits with her Grandma and watched Julia Child on the television screen. Her most recent mentor, Nadege Nourian, imparted a love of French pastry on Smith, and provided her with an intensive and challenging experience in the kitchen, a skill set that she puts to good use in her business.
With mouth-watering flavours such as pink velvet, banana caramel and lemon-blueberry, it’s no surprise Pellegrino and Smith have to turn customers away this wedding season, a task they say is the worst part of the job. In addition to their cakes, Cake Opera Co. serves exquisite petite gateaux fit for royalty, melt-in-your mouth macaron that Smith pet-named “the mac,” and Nougat Montelimar, a traditional French confection with candied fruit and nuts. Though their quaint shop and four person staff (including themselves) have served Pellegrino and Smith well thus far, they have future plans in the works and are just waiting for them to take shape.
Cake Opera Co. is located at 1136 Eglinton Ave. West cakeoperaco.com
Rebecca Feigelsohn is a Toronto based editorial intern for Good Food Revolution. She recently completed her BA in English at McGill University and loves all things sweet. Follow her as she profiles Toronto pastry chefs @GoodFoodRevInt