story by Jeela Ongley
photo by Sergio Goes
On stage, Otto thumps the strings of his bass and leans into the microphone to join the young, punk crowd in a chorus of “Oi, oi, oi, oi!” He’s been on the scene for years, playing in bands, promoting shows, encouraging up and coming musicians and … baking cheesecake. Yes, cheesecake. Incongruous as it seems, Otto is to many a local the hands-down champion of cheesecake. Otto (last name: Cake), whose tattoos and dark sunglasses make him look every part a rock star of pastry, bakes each creation from scratch.
“It’s an art thing for me. It’s not that I tried to start a business; that was a complete accident,” he says, recalling his first uneven attempts to make a cheesecake for his mother seventeen years ago. A strong word-of-mouth-driven following sprang up in the wake of his early successes, and some of his more elaborate creations have since found their way into local art galleries.
Since those early days, he’s boldly taken the cheesecake to places no cheesecake has gone before. He counts orange chocolate chip, peanut butter-and-jelly and key lime as among the crowd-pleasers in his repertoire, but he’s tried his whisk at more than eighty varieties. The holiday season is devoted to specialty flavors like cranberry, pumpkin and eggnog, but almost anything goes the rest of the year, from traditional plain to his newest confabulation, ice cream sandwich-inspired Neapolitan, launched in January 2008.
In addition to music and cheesecake, Otto has begun to channel his abundant creative energy into acting. Most recently, he starred as the angst-ridden East German transsexual Hedwig in an acclaimed local production of the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. As busy as he is, Otto Cake remains in production, though his cheesecake enjoys an undeserved if notoriety-enhancing reputation for being hard to find. Those who know where to look can find his cakes by the slice at Mocha Java in Ward Centre and at The Contemporary Museum café.
Otto is humble when discussing his process for making the notoriously fussy dessert (“I didn’t invent the recipe,” he says), but he hints at some proprietary know-how concerning the finer points of crust. “The crust is different for almost every cheesecake, whether it has coconut, nuts, crumbs of biscotti, or spices like cinnamon. There’s something in each one.” HH