05/04/10 — CBA Student meets "Ace of Cakes" star

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CBA Student meets "Ace of Cakes" star

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 4, 2010 1:46 PM

Brooke Butts is an honor roll student, a varsity tennis player and a gifted artist.

She is also autistic.

She can go through an entire school day without talking to anyone except for teachers when they ask her a question, says her dad, Michael Butts.

"There is hardly any back-and-forth dialogue," he said. "She prefers to eat lunch alone and usually spends any idle time reading a book or stippling in her art book. ... She can usually spend hours on a project uninterrupted, usually with amazing results."

His girlfriend and now-wife Mikki took notice of Brooke's abilities, suggesting they might translate well to cake decorating.

"I thought that was a good idea. I like to cook," Brooke said.

Under Mikki's guidance -- she used to decorate and sell cakes out of her home until developing tendonitis -- Brooke has developed her own techniques and since September, has created more than 50 cakes, mostly for family and friends.

She even made her dad and Mikki's wedding cake when the couple married April 3.

But the icing on the cake for the Charles B. Aycock High School junior happened several days later, when she turned 18 on April 8.

Knowing what a "huge fan" Brooke had become of TV shows "Cake Boss" on TLC and "Ace of Cakes" on the Food Network, Butts set out to order his daughter's birthday cake from one of the celebrity bakers.

Charm City Cakes, home of "Ace of Cakes" in Baltimore, Md., was already booked for that day so he attempted to contact Carlo's Bake Shop in Hoboken, N.J., where "Cake Boss" is filmed.

Mikki designed the cake, but because of the possibility of pictures getting lost in the mail, they decided to make a trip to New Jersey to hand-deliver their order.

As luck would have it, while there one of the show's co-stars happened upon their conversation.

"Maura Castano, from Carlo's Bake Shop, was moved by Brooke's story ... and the fact that we came all the way up to New Jersey to order her cake," he said. "He insisted on making her cake and agreed to meet her and deliver it to her in person. Usually people involved with the show stay on the second floor where the show is filmed and not on the main floor where the actual bakery is. ... He said, 'I'm going to do the cake for her' and gave me his personal cell phone number so I could call him and (he'd) break away when we got there."

And it didn't stop there. Butts decided to incorporate a road trip to pick up the cake and surprise his youngest daughter.

He and Mikki took an abbreviated honeymoon trip before gathering four of their six children -- two older ones are grown and Mrs. Butts' three younger sons live with the newlyweds and Brooke.

Prior to the trip, though, Butts decided to pursue the possibility of also making a pit-stop at Charm City Cakes. He wrote them a letter, along with pictures of Brooke and some of her cake decorating projects.

"I said, 'We'll be passing through on this time frame.' On their Web site, they're pretty restrictive; they don't give tours. I wrote that if they could just come outside and meet her, I would give them a $100 bill," he said with a smile.

It was a long-shot, he admits. But while the family was on a ferry going to the Statue of Liberty, the PR person from "Ace of Cakes" called to invite them to stop on their way through.

"He said, 'As long as you bring cannolis from Carlo's Bakery," Butts said. "We told Carlo's Bakery what we were doing and they fixed us up with a nice spread to take."

And all of it was a well-guarded surprise from Brooke. Although she did have her suspicions.

"Before we went to Carlo's Bakery, I knew it was in New Jersey," Brooke said.

Even though her dad parked a short distance away and had told her the stop was "to go sight-seeing," she didn't quite buy it.

"I wondered if we were going to Carlo's," she said, adding, "I thought they were up to something."

The bakery was packed, Butts said. Probably about 30 to 40 people sandwiched inside the main downstairs area. And the crowd erupted when Mario came down to give Brooke her cake.

"She was Queen for a Day," Butts said.

"I was excited. It looked so cute," Brooke said of her customized birthday cake, featuring a depiction of her that was spot-on -- "they got my ponytail right," she noted.

The excitement did not end there, though. When they went to Charm City Cakes, Duff Goldman, owner/baker and star of "Ace of Cakes," gave the family a tour of the business after filming wrapped that day. Then he invited Brooke to assist on some fondant decorations he was making for a cake.

He even signed her chef's coat -- "Keep baking and stay sweet."

"It was pretty cool," Brooke said. "I was very excited that I got to meet Duff and other people from Charm City Cakes. It was cool to look around and see the cakes that they do."

As if she weren't enthused enough about her newfound interest, the recent visit has solidified Brooke's future plans.

"I want to go to pastry school and learn more stuff," she said. "I really want to open a bakery somewhere around here and probably make cakes like Chef Duff."

"It has changed -- she used to want to do more of veterinary, something to do with animals. She does volunteer work with the Humane Society," said her mother, Melinda Mercer. "We had to get permission to change her graduation project."

The project will now be more centered around the cake decorating theme, Brooke says.

For her family, though, it's been worth changing an ingredient or two to make sure her future is bright.

"Anybody that has an autistic child and has the same questions that we did -- knowing that they're not going to be able to function completely in the world, to be able to find their niche, is important," Butts said. "I think she has found hers."