Cake decorating is an art like no other that requires acute attention to detail, out of this world creativity and, of course, a sweet tooth. Bakersfield native Justin Salinas has all those under his apron.
He started out as a home baker, and in recent years, his creations have attracted hundreds to his local cake decorating classes, Cake Nite with Justin, and even the attention of television producers. But it wasn't a world he thought he would get a piece of, or so he thought.
He pursued a bachelor's degree in social work at Washington Adventist University, but soon realized something was missing.
"I didn’t really have a plan with that," Salinas said. "I love the world of social work and it inspires me, but it wasn’t my exact calling."
When he returned to Bakersfield, he decided to go back to his roots and work in local bakeries, such as Tastries, and even operated out of his home where he provided custom orders for patrons.
"It’s awesome. Cake decorating and art mix," he said. "I’ve always been a creative person and doing custom orders for people was a joy."
After being a cake decorator for 12 years, he wanted to share his talents and joy for the art with others. Last year, he began offering classes called Cake Nite with Justin, and the results have been sweet.
Set up like a workshop, interested participants sign up for as many classes as they want — there are typically four held every month on Mondays — where they try out different decorating techniques on cookies and cakes. Cake Nite provides everything the decorator would need: aprons, turntables, spatulas, pre-filled piping bags, sprinkle mixes, fondant, accessories and the cake or cookies.
"I've taken cake decorating classes from other people, but you can cut the curriculum out of it and get to the skills," he said. "Even at just one session students are picking up so much."
Cake Nite with Justin began in his parents' kitchen with six students, and now classes sell out every month with more than 25 students in each session held at the Prohibition Lounge. He also throws his personality into each class, making students laugh so they have a good time and keep coming back for more.
That charm and enthusiasm caught the attention of WOW Presents Plus, a streaming network from the creators of "RuPaul's Drag Race," a reality-competition show that aims to crown among nine contestants America's next Drag Queen Superstar. Producers wanted to highlight the baking talents of former contestant Shuga Cain in an original new show, "Gimme Some Shuga," and thought Salinas would be the perfect cohost.
"One of the production members reached out to me to see if I wanted to work with her and I was ecstatic," he said. "It happened very quickly. In two to three months the show was planned, details were figured out and filming took place in LA."
The two bakers recreate six iconic "RuPaul's Drag Race" runway looks and eat their sweet creations at the end. Each episode is about 10 to 15 minutes.
"We picked out some of our favorite looks and which ones we wanted to feature, and we were thinking about the different cake decorating techniques to showcase, and what to teach kids," Cain said. "Justin is a legit professional cake decorator. He was amazing. All of his techniques would surprise me."
Salinas said the on-screen chemistry with Cain was easy to capture because they both have similar upbringings as home bakers and are passionate about the craft.
Though many people might not be avid watchers of "RuPaul's Drag Race," or even know what it is, Cain said the reality-competition show and "Gimme Some Shuga" are for all viewers because they are about loving, expressing and enjoying oneself.
"We’re having a good time, we're teaching kids how to bake and you’re going to laugh at how silly we are, but you’ll see how passionate we are," Cain said. "Yes, I’m in drag, but there's so much more than that. You look beyond it."
Both Salinas and Cain hope there are additional seasons of their show because "there are so many queens, 11 seasons of 'RuPaul's Drag Race,' four seasons of 'RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars' and so many outfits to see."
Salinas also hopes Cain can make a surprise appearance at one of his classes, but until then, he is excited to kick off a new type of showing on the streaming service for so many to watch.
But the fame is not getting to his head. Whatever happens, he will continue his classes right here in Bakersfield that he is so passionate about.
"Bakersfield is my home. I stay where I’m supported," he said. "I have these back-to-back sold out classes, so I don’t think I’m going anywhere soon."