Elise Fertwagner is a bit of a disrupter in the world of artistic baking, particularly in the Omaha area where she is an active member of the pop-up cuisine community (which seems to be rising in popularity faster than dough left to proof overnight). Her baked creations showcase her creativity, ingenuity, and love of nostalgia.
“My favorite thing about baking is—when you get everything right—you can invoke a memory,” Fertwagner says. Nostalgia has a lot to do with her love of baking since she has memories of cooking and baking with her family. “My earliest memory is of getting into the fridge and eating the sticks of butter,” she says, laughing.
Fertwagner is well-known as a baker who makes stunning creations, but also as a pastry chef who can make the most decadent indulgences a little more nutritionally dense and void of potential allergens. She has a knack for taking baked goods that people know and love and manipulating the ingredients and preparation to present goodies with a healthier twist.
She has worked as a pastry chef and decorator at a variety of places around Omaha, including bakeries and corporate settings. “When you’re making food for a bunch of people, you have to present it a different way,” she says, adding that not everyone is looking for a fancy, thought-provoking dessert to accompany their quick lunch at work.
“I’ve learned about creating a baseline,” she says. With a mischievous grin, she admits that she doesn’t always tell people that a pastry is vegan until after they’ve tasted it and already love it.
Surprisingly, her artistic creations from the oven don’t point toward additional artistic endeavors. “If you give me a baked good, I can do it,” she says. “But give me a paintbrush and a canvas, and I can’t do it.”
Her artistic process is fairly simple: baking involves blasting music and dancing around the kitchen, but decorating requires quiet concentration.
Though she attended the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu Institute in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, she doesn’t necessarily think culinary school is for everyone. “I’ve learned more from other people and from falling flat on my face.” She credits local chef Matt Parks as one of the most positive influences in her pastry chef career in Omaha. “He encouraged me, he believed in me, he challenged me, but also made me feel comfortable.”
A graduate of Marian High School, Fertwagner brings a lot to the table of her hometown’s culinary scene. She is the mother of two girls and hopes to someday open her own permanent bakery location. A firm believer in doing things at the right time, she turned down an opportunity to appear on a show on The Food Network because “the timing wasn’t right.”
“Everything hasn’t aligned yet to have a location,” she says. “With the right investors, the right space, and at the right time, it will happen.” Until then, keep a lookout for pop-up manifestations of her unique bakery brand—Cake and Destroy (an homage to the “Skate and Destroy” tagline of the skateboarding magazine Thrasher).
Visit @cakeanddestroy on Instagram and Facebook for more information.
This article was printed in the March/April 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.