When it comes to art and creativity, Wilton Decorator Mark Malak doesn’t skimp on the details.
Since a young age, Malak has been involved with arts of every kind. He practiced a lot of baking and decorating while growing up because his mom took Wilton classes and made cakes for birthdays and holidays regularly. She taught Malak some of the basics and soon he started to practice and add his own twist.
His natural talent stretches beyond cake decorating to nearly every type of art medium. In high school, Malak took so many art classes that the teacher had to create some new studio courses just for him.
“I took every class the teacher offered: photography, leather, ceramics, drawing, painting with acrylics, oils and water colors,” he said. “I had a permanent pass to access the art room at any time, so I would leave study hall and sometimes even regular classes to go to the art room.”
Getting into the food world
Malak knew he had a passion for art, but he also didn’t like the idea of being a so-called “starving artist”, so he decided to focus on the food side and attended culinary school. He entertained the idea of working on a cruise ship to create elaborate food displays, but once he spoke with someone who actually worked on a cruise ship he learned the expectation would not live up to the reality.
After culinary school, Malak attended a food show at a Chicago convention center and discovered new styles of cake decorating.
“I saw all these really cool ways to decorate cakes that I never even knew existed, because culinary school was more focused on the baking aspect and not so much decorating,” he said. “After that show, I decided I would try to get into decorating.”
Malak found out about the Wilton School of Cake Decorating and signed up for as many classes as possible. Prior to starting those classes, he took Wilton courses 1, 2 and 3 simultaneously to build up a base of knowledge and prepare for the classes at the Wilton School.
“The instructor for those courses told me I wasn’t supposed to take all of them at the same time – they were supposed to build upon each other – but I did all three and I did very well,” he said.
Flowers and banquets
After completing all of the Wilton courses and numerous classes at the school, Malak stayed very busy as a freelancer for both cake decorating and floral arrangements.
“I worked banquets and at the end of the night there would be so many flowers left behind,” he said. “I would literally take them all home and sometimes have a bathtub full of flowers. I would then rearrange them into bigger, nicer arrangements, so I really had a lot of practice.”
Malak created wedding cakes and floral arrangements almost around the clock, sometimes completing three to four wedding cakes every weekend. Any time he wasn’t working on cakes, he was working on floral arrangements for funerals or for weddings. Sometimes he combined the two into extravagant displays for wedding receptions.
To this day, Malak still does flower arrangements and also does a lot of landscaping around his own home.
“I’m almost obsessed, my yard is completely buried in flowers and planters and I’ll spend hundreds on palm trees,” he said. “I start over with them every spring.”
Working at Wilton
When it comes to cake decorating, Malak enjoys all mediums – buttercream, royal icing, fondant, gum paste – much like he enjoys all forms of art.
“I really like the detailed stuff that no one else in their right mind would want to do,” he said. “I really go after the ‘work of art’ aspect and not necessarily the ‘I’m going to go home and make that’ aspect.”
Two of his most memorable cake projects include a replica of a 1957 Chevy that was decorated entirely in fondant. The cake order was for 1,000 guests, so Malak sculpted the car portion out of Styrofoam and covered it in fondant and surrounded the car with 1950’s style records, which were made of real cake.
Malak also made a replica of his church, SS. Cyril & Methodius in Lemont, Illinois, for two major anniversaries. While he was still in culinary school, he made the cake for the church’s 100th anniversary despite having no formal decorating training. 25 years later, the church reached out to him again for a cake for their 125th anniversary celebration.
Mary Gavenda, Senior Decorator at Wilton, assisted Malak with making the cake. They used photos of all the stained glass windows in the church and printed them on edible paper to make the cake look as much like the church as possible.
Malak doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon. He continues to take orders for floral arrangements, decorates people’s homes at Christmas and takes custom dessert orders.
“I’m always busy, I’m wide awake all the time with new ideas in my head and always adding to my to-do list,” he said. “I don’t know how to teach someone else what I do and I don’t know how to explain it – it really is a gift.”
All of the incredible cakes and sweet treats you see from Wilton come from our amazing decorating team! The Wilton Decorating Room creates about 2,600 decorating projects each year. These projects are used for photography for packaging, Wilton publications, Wilton.com, social media, in-store signage, Wilton course photography and more. Check back each Tuesday to learn more about one of Wilton’s decorators and what it’s like to create and decorate cakes and sweet treats every day. This is post 3 of 7.