Published in Macalester Today
Veronica Descotte ’03 makes the world a better place for kids, one cake at a time.
BY LYNETTE LAMB > PHOTO BY DAVID J. TURNER
from Macalester Today, Spring 2012
ON A SNOWY JANUARY MORNING, the kitchen in the Minneapolis home of Veronica Descotte ’03 is warm and filled with light. It’s also scented with vanilla and sugar, for Descotte is wielding a knife full of raspberry whipped cream as she frosts a yellow birthday cake for a 5-year-old girl she’s never met.
But then she rarely meets the kids who eat her cakes. That’s because this pink sprinkled cake—like the dozen others Descotte bakes each month—is the product of her new nonprofit, Cakes on Wheels, whose goal is to provide a birthday cake for any kid who needs one.
Cakes on Wheels got its start last fall, when, while driving home from a meeting, Descotte heard a radio interview with a mother who couldn’t afford a birthday cake for her child. By the time Descotte arrived home an hour later, she’d mentally planned out her new nonprofit. “It was such a simple idea I couldn’t believe no one had thought of it before,” she laughs.
Since then, stories on local public radio, TV, and in the Minneapolis Star Tribune have yielded Descotte plenty more cake requests as well as hundreds of offers of help. By mid-winter she was pondering how to use all her potential assistants, and how best to help kids, too. A favorite idea: opening a bakery where she could teach kids pastry skills. “There’s a lot of science and math in baking,” Descotte says happily.
That’s just one attraction of the pastry business for Descotte, who has a background in chemistry and biology. The other is re-creating fond family memories made in the kitchen of her Argentinean home, her mother and grandmother by her side. “I grew up in the kitchen, so it’s very natural for me to be back in there baking for people, “ says Descotte, whose spends weekdays working for a Bay Area venture capital firm specializing in biotechnology. (Of Descotte’s time at Mac, biology professor Mary Montgomery says, “She burned with intellectual curiosity —a real dynamo and an incredibly caring person.”)
Back in the kitchen, Descotte painstakingly pipes an elegant frosting border, covers the layer cake with pink and red sprinkles, and carefully places five butterfly-style candles on top. She doesn’t believe inmessing with overly fancy Cake Boss-style decorations or elaborate fondant icings. “The most important thing is that the cakes taste good,” she says. “I use all organic ingredients, too.”
Flavors stay simple also, says Descotte, because that’s what kids like best. She sticks mostly with chocolate or vanilla cakes topped with chocolate or fruit-flavored whipped cream frostings. Sprinkles are a common finishing touch, though she changes that up sometimes: a Christmas-time confection was covered with broken bits of candy cane; a three-year-old boy’s birthday cake was topped with two toy cars.
“I try to stay in the background so the mother can give her child the cake,” she says. “It’s more special that way.”
Placing the 5-year-old girl’s cake on a scalloped pedestal, Descotte photographs it for her nonprofit’s Facebook page. She stops only once, to answer a phone call from the girl’s nervous mother, calling to check on the ETA. It’s the moms, mostly, whom Descotte meets in her new venture. “I try to stay in the background so the mother can give her child the cake,” she says. “It’s more special that way.”
Some of those mothers come to Cakes on Wheels directly, having heard about it from news stories. Others are referred by community social workers with whom Descotte has forged relationships. She often works with the nearby Cedar-Riverside neighborhood’s Brian Coyle Community Center.
Next she gently places the cake in a white bakery box, all set for transporting to north Minneapolis. Getting cakes to clients can be time consuming; Descotte has driven as far as Hastings, 30 miles to the south, to deliver a cake. She contemplates tapping into her volunteer network someday soon, connecting cake requests with nearby bakers.
Meanwhile, she’s happy to spend her mornings in the kitchen, making pint-sized birthdays so much nicer. “Mac taught me that we have a responsibility to those less fortunate than ourselves, and that
one person really can make a difference, big or small, in the world. That’s the lesson of Cakes on Wheels, too,” says Descotte.
“One cake at a time, I hope to make the world a better place.”
Macalester Today editor LYNETTE LAMB’s culinary education began with her first magazine job, testing recipes at Cuisine magazine.