Shauna Younge: Dessert tables to rescue special events

Don't get me wrong--it's not that we don't like babies. Babies are incredibly special. But when we show up at a baby shower with an authentic, organic, celebrity-endorsed Sophie the Giraffe for a friend's firstborn, we're hoping for more than buttercream mints and a game of pin the sperm on the egg.

Here to help is Shauna Younge of Shauna Younge Dessert Tables. Uninspired by typical special event fare (drab cupcakes, sheet cakes, and those damn buttercreams), Younge began creating high-end, custom dessert displays that are equal parts art and edible. Here she talks tea-infused Buddhas, couture dessert, and having sweet style.

You've studied art (and have won some drawing and painting awards)--at what point did you decide to use dessert as your medium? I continually saw dessert buffets that showcased lots of food but very little style. Whether the occasion was a corporate launch party or a baby shower, it seemed the only difference was the color of the linens or the cupcake frosting. In recognizing my own boredom with these buffets, I realized there was an unmet need for highly customized, design-centric dessert tables.

What do you "bring to the table" that people can't do on their own? I combine my particular design aesthetic with the resources I've gathered in my reference library. If I type "cake stands" into my database, it retrieves 22 different vendors. I can narrow this list by color, style, material, and customization options. If you want a tea-infused, dark chocolate miniature Buddha for a cultural ceremony or a gingerbread replica of your new home for a housewarming, I've got the perfect vendor a few keystrokes away. What is the average price for a designer dessert table? The starting price for a couture dessert table is $1,500, which includes the desserts, vessels, linens, design, setup, and tear-down for the event. Since each table is highly customized, I tailor a quote for the client before delving into the project. What is the process for ordering a designer table? More importantly--is there a tasting? After an initial consultation, I design an inspiration board to ensure that my interpretation of "preppy pretty" or "rustic elegance" matches the client's vision. Then I begin pulling swatches, sketching custom desserts, and mapping out the table's arrangement. To simplify tastings, I offer clients samples to demonstrate the level of quality I look for when hand-selecting their custom desserts.

Do you bake the desserts yourself or assemble them with store-bought goods? I can't excel at every type of dessert that I like to make available to my clients, so I focus on designing the desserts and finding talented artisans to bring the designs to life. By collaborating with several bakers and confectioners, I'm able to select only their best works and still provide clients and their guests with a lot of variety.

Whew. I was going to start calling you Martha. What are your favorite local candy stores and bakeries? I'm a big fan of Candyland and the candy counter at Macy's on Nicollet. I also have a sentimental fondness for Franklin Street Bakery--every year my husband surprises me with a different custom cake to celebrate our anniversary. If given complete free rein, what desserts would you include on a table? I think Mochi ice cream would be an unexpected addition to a modern yet soft design. And I recently sampled a salted tequila lime truffle that is hand-painted vibrant yellow. It would be perfect for a table designed to usher a couple off to their Mexican honeymoon destination.

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