Curtis and Cake


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About the Baker

Monica OConnell

As much as I love beautifully crafted sweets, I love what they symbolize and enable even more! It makes sense--my mother was not a great scratch baker. She used a Duncan Hines box mix to make her famous rum cake, for example. But she was a talented hostess and entertainer. I saw time and time again how her graciousness and hospitality engendered a sense of wellbeing, connectedness, and joy in our community. I want to bring this same sense of exuberant, everyday celebration, gratitude, and joy to others through Curtis & Cake.  

I learned so much about the true nature of hospitality from my mom directly but Curtis & Cake is also driven by an ongoing interest in Southern foodways in general. They have much to teach about connection, ritual, celebration and joy, seasonality, sustainability, and creativity. 


In a previous life, I studied these elements through the lens of music. I played French horn in college, hold a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from NYU and served as Executive Director of the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago for eight years.  Resigning from that position in 2015 and moving to Wisconsin to live with my ‘Sconnie husband afforded me the opportunity to explore a passion I’ve held since I was a kid helping my mom make that famous rum cake. 


Curtis & Cake

I founded Curtis & Cake in 2015 but building out my cake studio in 2018 has really given me the space to explore connections between passions: custom, handcrafted, detail-oriented work, recipes that let beautiful seasonal ingredients shine, heritage foodways, and design inspirations drawn from fashion, nature, and art. Alice Walker penned one of my favorite quotes: “In nature nothing is perfect and everything is perfect.” So with nature, with cakes, I think! I find beauty in the tension between the new and the aging, the classically balanced and the romantically assymetrical, restraint and wild abandon. I am always looking for the element that will bring out a cake’s personality. This can be an unexpected flavor combination or color, a beautifully aging sugar rose, or foraged greenery decoration. My signature cakes keep me grounded in sound construction and recipe development and working in custom helps me develop my aesthetic and avoid repeating myself. Seeking balance between the two helps me respond to my client’s needs and stay open to whatever the process reveals.

Who's Curtis?

While the ‘Cake’ in my business name is obvious, people always ask, “Who ‘s Curtis?” Curtis Mayfield, the great soul singer is our namesake—a nod to my love and interest in the arts, music, culture, and history. A nod to an early memory of eating my mom’s rum cake while watching the grown folks dance during a house party.  An important reminder that we connect where and when we celebrate each other.

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Let's Talk Cake.