The first custom cake Dalana Fleming ever made resembled a cactus. Planted in a pot of graham cookie crumbs, the chocolate creation was coated in green icing and sprinkled with strips of mango to create its thorny texture. Created when Fleming was just 11 years old, this “ball of a cake” was unique, playful, and “super weird”—kind of like her.
At a striking six-foot-one, the Vancouver cake designer is the epitome of what a baker should be. She’s patient, funny, and sociable, kind of like the spotted, long-necked giraffe she’s named her business after—although she’s less than keen to admit it. “I’ve definitely never identified as a giraffe,” she admits with a laugh. “I have very long legs and a very short body. But I’m not very giraffe-y.”
As an only child born to artists, Fleming essentially inherited creativity. Before becoming a musician, her mother worked as an art teacher while her father pursued graphic design. Fleming knew from a young age that she wanted to follow their example and work independently, to be empowered by creating things with her hands—which she now enjoys doing at her solo baking company, The Cake and The Giraffe.
After winning a scholarship from Les Dames d’Escoffier to attend Bonnie Gordon—Toronto’s now-closed college of confectionery arts—Fleming was inspired by a discarded Sophie the Giraffe teething toy she spotted on the ground. “I needed something that stands out, that nobody has ever seen before, and that kind of represents my weird, quirky self,” Fleming explains. “I workshopped it with my dad for an hour on the phone over long-distance—way before long-distance plans existed. This was in 2009, and that’s when this was born.”
Despite the fact that today she enjoys success and recognition from wedding publications and showcases across North America, Fleming spent a long time in obscurity and doubt. Lacking connections, resources, and direction, she stretched herself between five jobs at one point in pursuit of her confectionery dreams. “From 2009 until 2014, that’s how long it took me to have not only the money but the courage to do it on my own,” she admits. “And not to have two, three, four jobs while also doing cakes.” Aside from her cake masterpieces, Fleming also makes cupcakes and cookies; she even sells frozen cookie dough at Cioffi’s so that customers can bake them fresh at home.
In the renovated kitchen of the former Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks on West 2nd near Burrard, Fleming shares a workspace with two other local businesses: The Uncommon Cake, a fellow cake artist, and Lavish Liquid, an event bar service. “Building a kitchen is hard and finding a location is hard,” says Fleming, who moved into the space in 2017. “When you’ve got a team that gets along really well—top notch.”
Within these walls, Fleming turns dessert dreams into delicious edible realities. From hand-painted classic buttercream floral cakes, to Mexican sugar skulls, to realistic steak and lobster dinners, Fleming has a talent for creating the unconventional and the whimsical. “Last year, I made a seven-tier carved Academy Award Oscar cake,” she says, demonstrating the cake’s narrow base with her fingers. “That was maybe one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve ever done.” Supported by a doweling system, the impressive gilded creation was safely delivered over bumpy bridges to its final destination in North Vancouver. According to their wedding planner, the couple cried tears of joy when they saw the final product.
“I love doing wacky stuff,” says Fleming. “I’m not necessarily the person who’s going to do just a white cake—I mean, I do love buttercream cakes with fresh flowers—but my real passion is crazy, wacky stuff. I’ve got a lot of clients this year that have been really amazing with letting the creativity fly.”
Although Fleming continues to lead a life of decorating benders and tight schedules, she takes great pleasure in her work, and it shows. In her kitchen, a Styrofoam cake model boasts her incredible handiwork: emerald lace details, jewels, and cascading folds borrowed from the haute couture gown it was inspired by.
“I’ll work here for 14 hours, and I’ll go home and do emails for three hours,” admits Fleming with a smile. “But it’s my baby. This is what I do. This is my life. The things that you love make you crazy all the time—like family. This is basically my family.” If that makes her the mother, then it’s safe to say she has done a great job raising her kids.
Enjoy sweet treats from around the world.