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HomeNewsArchivesOn Island Profile: Keith 'De Cake Man' James

On Island Profile: Keith 'De Cake Man' James

March 15, 2009 — Keith James, known as De Cake Man, decided in elementary school he wanted to be a chef. His skills in the kitchen, honed as a child baking sugar cookies, have led to his baking award-winning Crucian cultural cakes.
"The first batch of cookies were a little on the hard side," James says. "I didn't think they were very good, but with practice they came out better."
His mother, Louise James, fostered his love of baking, helping him and buying him cookbooks so he could try different cake and cookie recipes.
"I liked the challenge of baking and getting it just right," James says.
Since those beginning days in the kitchen, he has developed his own recipes and versions of traditional Crucian cakes, such as the Caribbean black cake, a special-occasion cake similar to a fruitcake. It is made with raisins, currants, prunes, dates, cherries and citrons soaked for a year in liquor, plus the usual flour, sugar and eggs.
James says his black cake is not like the oft-maligned Christmas fruitcake that people joke about passing off to others.
"It is the fruitcake that makes only one stop at Christmas," he quips.
He apparently got the recipe for the black cake down pat: He has won numerous awards over the years, beginning with his first competition in the 1999 St. Croix Agricultural Fair, where he won first place. Since then he has won six first and four second-place awards for the black cake. The cakes are judged on presentation, taste and texture.
In the 2009 Agricultural Fair, he took home a first-place award for his plain cake (homemade yellow cake) and guavaberry tart, second for his Vienna and black cake and third for his coconut tart.
At the 2008 Crucian Christmas Cultural Food Fair, he introduced his new mango, tamarind and papaya-flavored tarts.
James says he can also cook and cater small events, but he doesn't do large-scale events.
He has done his family's Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for a dozen people the last 10 years.
"Of course the first question guests ask is, 'What's for dessert?'" James says, laughing. "Carrot cake is standard, and various pies. I like to try new dessert recipes every year."
The magazine Bon Appetit is the first place he looks for new recipes.
James sold his first plain cake at the age of 13 to friends. He baked and sold his cakes at bake sales all through high school and college. They were usually for fundraisers for Future Business Leaders of America and Phi Beta Lambda, of which he was a member.
People taste his made-to-order cakes at weddings, anniversaries and large events, James says, and recommend him to others by word of mouth.
"I am moving more towards doing culturally designed cakes such as the black, carrot and plain cakes for special events," he says. "My goal is to get the black cake back out there again. It is an untapped market."
The most difficult thing to deal with in special-event cakes, such as tiered wedding cakes, is transporting them, James says.
"With the potholes here, I have to drive really slow so I don't make a sudden move dodging a pothole," he says. Another challenge he has right now is finding reasonably priced butter.
James, who is from Frederiksted and the son of Louise and Samuel James, graduated with a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of the Virgin Islands. He works as a job analyst and program administrator.
"I have a passion and I'm blessed with the gift of baking," James says. "And I don't ever want to lose it."
James will have samples of his cakes in the Taste of St. Croix April 16 at Divi Carina Bay Resort. To order or to ask about his baked goods, call 1-877-241-6687.
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