Gampp was a creative teenager, and considered applying to art school when she was done with high school. "I'm not that good a drawer," she says, "but I love working with my hands and building things. I wouldn't call myself a sculptor, really..." she trails off, trying to find the words.
"You sculpt a lot with your cakes," I offer.
"Yes!" she says. "Yes. In terms of cakes, I would call myself a sculptor."
She eventually decided on culinary school after graduation, but quickly learned that she wasn't into the fast pace required of restaurant kitchens. "Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed it," she says. "It taught me a lot. It taught me a lot of discipline. But I knew it wasn't for me." At the end of the program, when students were required to find an internship placement in a restaurant, she went to the dean and asked for permission to work in a bakery instead.
"They made tarts and cookies, all kinds of things," she says of the first bakery she worked at, reluctant to tell me the names of it and the school she went to, not finding them relevant to the work she does now. "When I started working there, I got to work at every single station and immediately loved cakes the most." One of her jobs was icing cakes, occasionally piping "Happy Birthday" on top of them. Eventually, she could ice up to 120 cakes a day. But she was drawn to decorating, a skill that wasn't exactly widely recognized in the late 1990s. One day, a customer brought in a picture of a cake decorated with fondant, the smooth sugar paste that novelty cake decorators use for its easily manipulation. The bakery was able to make a buttercream version of that cake for the customer, but the fondant had piqued Gampp's curiosity.
Gampp started to make cakes on the weekend for her own clientele, mostly friends and family members, experimenting with fondant. Around 2005, she was attracting enough customers that she was able to quit her bakery day job and instead focus on her own business. She worked out of her mother's kitchen while saving up to build nicer equipment when she could. She could only fit so much in the small oven at a time; more elaborate, tiered cakes could take up an entire day of baking, and she would frequently have to ask her mother not to buy groceries so she could fit her cakes in the fridge. This was pre-Instagram and YouTube, of course, so much of Gampp's popularity was built around word of mouth.
"It took me a long time to work up a portfolio of pictures of my work to prove what I could do," she says. "Sometimes I would have a photo that I wouldn't even want to show because I thought, 'If I did that now it would be so much better than if I did it then.'" She made lots of wedding cakes, which she admits were "not her favorite." Brides tended to be too stressed out on their big day to have any fun with the cake. "I'm a particular person, but when it comes down to, 'The napkin is ivory!' or 'It's diamond, it's not pearl!' it's not that creative, and so I never found it that fulfilling." Making cakes for bar and bat mitzvahs were much more exciting. Then, Gampp would collaborate with the child and their parents to come up with a novelty cake that represented the kid's interests, usually to their delight. Today, much of Gampp's most dedicated fan base include young teens and tweens, kids that treat her like a rock star when they see her in public.
I ask Gampp if she misses her old business working with clients, and she is quick to answer. "No," she says. She acknowledges that seeing people's reactions to her cakes was the best part, but the job was frequently frustrating. "I made cakes for clients for 15 years, and nobody realizes how long they take. It's very hard to get paid what you're worth in this business." Cakes are ephemeral, indulgent luxury items that nobody really needs, eaten in an evening. "But it doesn't change the fact that most of the cakes took me four, five, six days to make," she says. "I don't miss that at --" her kitchen timer beeps. "Sorry, I have to check my oven."