“I created a birdcage cake for a wedding once and people tried to put their cards in it”: A Q&A with hyper-realistic dessert maker April Julian, runner-up on Netflix series Is It Cake?
By day, Philippines-born, Whitby-raised and Toronto-based April Julian works for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. By night, she bakes up hyper-realistic cakes that could fool even the keenest eye. “I basically don’t sleep,” says Julian. “After my day job, my toddler is my job. Once she’s asleep, I can put on an apron and start creating.” This sugar-packed passion brought her to the kitchen and stage of the latest baking show sensation Is It Cake? where pastry-chef contestants try to trick judges into thinking their cakes aren’t actually cake. (In the final episode, Julian’s very impressive vintage sewing machine cake was narrowly beaten by an edible suitcase.) She tells us about bringing her heritage to the screen, being too good at fooling people and her love for the IKEA monkey.
When did you get into baking?
I’ve been interested in baking since I was a little kid. Even before I was allowed to touch the oven, I’d take out my mom’s cake pans, put towels in them and pretend those were cakes. I didn’t have an Easy-Bake Oven, so that was my substitute. I didn’t start actually decorating cakes until 2007. That interest stemmed from seeing a famous cake chef, Ron Ben-Israel, make a sugar orchid for Martha Stewart. I was like, “Oh, I feel like I could do that,” so I boldly wrote to him. He wrote back to me saying he loved Toronto, and he gave me some resources I could access to learn more.
How did that lead to hyper-realistic cakes?
I think my first hyper-realistic cake was an Air Jordan sneaker, and it was a request from a groom. My husband is such a sneakerhead, so I wanted to impress him and try to make it as realistic as possible. This particular shoe had patent leather and regular leather, so lots of cool details. The thing about hyper-realistic cakes is that sometimes you run the risk of people ruining it because they don’t realize it’s a cake. I created a bird cage cake for a wedding once, and someone placed it on the table with the cards and gifts. People kept trying to put their cards inside my cake.
How do you balance your day job with your baking passion?
I don’t know if it’s balanced, but I make time for it. My job is pretty serious—we’re talking about protecting rights and freedoms, particularly of people who are part of vulnerable populations. Then at night, I make cakes that look like chicken wings. It’s unrelated and so silly, but I need it. When you’re talking and thinking about serious things all day, it’s nice to just turn off one side of your brain and do something different with the other side.
Where do you get the inspiration for what you make?
I try as much as possible to do stuff that people haven’t seen before or that will really mess with their brain. Several people have made chicken wing cakes, but mine included a cake that looked like a tray of raw chicken wings. During a video I made for TikTok, I picked one up and ate it. That made everybody just lose their minds. There’s shock value to it, the “Oh, wow, that really looks so much like the real thing, I can’t believe it.” But if I can gross people out, that’s also helpful.
What was it like when you heard from Netflix?
It was very strange. All the other bakers on the show had either been on TV already or they have well-established bakeries, so their social media following was already quite high. I, on the other hand, had like 300 followers—and they’re all my family members. When I got a DM from someone saying, “We think you’d be great for this show, you have to come out to L.A. for a month to film,” I just assumed it was too good to be true, like it was some kind of phishing scam. At first I ignored it, but they persisted. That’s how much I was unable to believe it was the real thing. There were a lot of people who responded to the casting call, applied and auditioned—and here I am trying to hide from the world.
I’m guessing you have more than 300 followers on Instagram now. How else have things changed for you?
This is true. And everything changed quite dramatically and very quickly. I’ve always been kind of modest about sharing my talents with the world. I also play piano but I never want to play for anyone. But now that there are people writing to me from all corners of the world, cheering me on, it’s made me a little bit more confident to put my work out there. Also, I’m more willing to answer my DMs instead of thinking they’re all phishing scams.
Have any of the DMs turned into new opportunities? What’s next for you?
I could never have imagined this was going to happen to me in a million years, so I don’t know what it means. I’m just seeing what can I do, balance that with my current job and seeing if that balance will shift eventually. It’s also given me such an incredible platform to represent Filipino Canadians. Some of the most touching messages I’ve received from around the world are from folks who appreciated how proud I was to show my heritage on the show. I’d love opportunities to bring more diversity and inclusivity to the world of TV food personalities. But also, I never really knew there was such an appetite for brands who want to have their products recreated as cakes.
Do you have a dream cake you’d like to make? Like your personal cake Everest?
Okay, so it’s going to sound super weird, and it’s so Toronto-specific. Do you remember the IKEA monkey? I don’t know why, but the image of that little monkey in IKEA with his shearling coat is burned into my brain. It’s the greatest thing that ever happened to Toronto.
How does your toddler react to your cakes?
It’s so funny. I was sitting in my office and she came in and asked, “Mommy, why is there an apple on your desk?” I said, “It’s not an apple, honey, it’s a cake.” And she was like “No no, it’s an apple.” She was really insistent that it wasn’t a cake until I turned it around and showed her the inside. She was very confused, and I managed to catch it on video.
Are you tired of hearing the word “cake”?
It should be a drinking game, right? No, not at all. I think it’s hilarious and it’s a nice counterpart to the seriousness of my regular job, so I’m all for it. I love to talk about cake, and I love people asking me about my cakes. I have people from all over the world sending me videos of their children crying because I didn’t win.
Last question: How do you feel about fondant?
Very controversial, this question you’re asking me. I don’t love how it tastes to be honest, it’s very sweet. Speaking technically, I don’t use fondant that much for my hyper-realistic cakes. I use modelling chocolate, which is actually tasty. Modelling chocolate is more like clay; you can kind of blend it, whereas fondant doesn’t allow you to do that. And it tastes like white chocolate, which I find delicious.