Few former baseball players and firefighters also have “cake decorator” on their resume.
Many have gawked over the cakes from Sweet T’s Bakery in Oxford. However, few know the story of the man behind them.
“I’m not your typical baker,” said Jeff Taylor, 47, who has been referred to as the “unicorn of the cake world.” He fights fires, builds cabinets, and creates highly recognizable cakes that have even been showcased on the Food Network’s “Cake Wars.”
Taylor and his wife Kathleen will make their third appearance on “Cake Wars” in November.
“I like the reaction,” Taylor said. “I love to give them something they’re not expecting.”
The Oxford native graduated from Lafayette High School, where he enjoyed playing sports. He attended Northwest Community College, Mississippi State University, and the University of Mississippi.
“My passion was playing baseball,” Taylor said. “That’s what I really wanted to do in college and further on.”
However, his baseball career did not take off. Instead, Taylor got a job with the Oxford Fire Department and started building and installing cabinets on the side.
His wife, Kathleen Taylor, was no stranger to baking. “As a child, I would sit on my little red stool and watch my mother as she cooked dinner for our family or as she baked us something special,” she said.
Taylor began decorating cakes after having her third child. She thought about paying someone to bake her children’s birthday cakes, but decided to do it herself.
“It didn’t look that hard,” she said. “I would learn to do them myself. So I bought a Wilton Yearbook and taught myself how to decorate cakes. That was 21 years ago.”
Jeff Taylor was still uninterested and inexperienced in the cake world. He made his first cake for Kathleen’s 30th birthday.
“It said ‘Happy Berfday’ in icing that merged from pink to green to blue because he didn’t have enough of any of the colors, so he just put them in a bag and went with it,” said Kathleen Taylor.
One thing started Jeff Taylor’s cake career – power tools. He saw competitors on the show “Ace of Cakes” using power tools, immediately became interested and decided to give it a try.
“Jeff has always been an artist,” Kathleen said, “so doing cakes for him was a natural transition. It was just a different medium to work with.”
The couple decided to embark on this new adventure. Jeff and Kathleen had previously worked in the cabinet industry together. Although baking cakes was a significantly different task, the two were not worried.
“We’ve always worked well together,” Jeff said. “Her strengths are my weaknesses, and my strengths are her weaknesses.”
Their partnership proved successful. The University of Mississippi asked them to make several cakes. One was a jersey for signing day, receiving an influx of compliments from students and fans.
The two also made a full body deer cake, which went viral after receiving attention from Mossy Oak Camouflage.
Sweet T’s has created a variety of cakes, from helmets to turkeys to “Game of Thrones” characters. They have even made cakes for the Manning family and Oxford celebrities. Once they made a groom’s cake, blending the scenes of the Ole Miss campus with New York City, letting the Grove meet Central Park.
“Every cake I do, I want to do it better next time,” said Jeff.
As the cake business picked up even more for the Taylors, Jeff had to find balance. He learned to only take cake orders around his schedule at the fire station. Occasionally, he even worked on the cakes at the station.
Then Sweet T’s decided to leap into competitive baking on Food Network’s “Cake Wars.” “I was just sitting at the fire department one night, scrolling on the internet, and I saw it. So I just sent in an application,” said Taylor.
The next thing he knew, the couple was headed to Los Angeles, where they won “Cake Wars” not once, but twice.
“‘Cake Wars’ was the most terrifying, exciting, nerve-wracking, thrilling, adrenaline-pumping experience I have ever been apart of,” said Kathleen.
Jeff found similarities between baking on “Cake Wars” and working back home for the Oxford Fire Department. “It’s the thrill and the adrenaline,” he said.
In addition to the fast-paced, thrilling side of firefighting, Jeff noticed how it has impacted his life. “It keeps you humble and makes you grateful for what you have. It puts a different perspective on your family life. Again, it makes you feel good that you are able to serve,” said Jeff Taylor.
Even though fighting fires is not easy, Jeff believes the cake business is definitely the most difficult.
“You would think firefighting would be the most stressful, but it’s relaxing for me,” he said. “With cakes though, it’s the deadlines . . . you cannot be late with a cake. You have to get a good quality cake done on time.”
Surprisingly, the heat of the fires does not compare to what Jeff Taylor experiences in the kitchen. The couple’s hard work has paid off. Not only did the Taylors win their first “Cake Wars” competition; they also won again during the “Champs Edition,” which includes only past “Cake Wars” winners.
Sweet T’s is now shifting its focus. Although they will continue making cakes, they will focus on the teaching side of the cake industry. They are working on making online tutorials and how-to videos, which show the entire process of their work.
Sweet T’s does not have a walk in shop now. Customers can learn about the business and place orders through the Facebook page, Sweet T’s Bakery.
Jeff and Kathleen want to teach others how to make cakes without as much trial and error. Although the business may have a slightly different focus for a while, Sweet T’s will not stop making their famous cakes. Jeff Taylor has found balance and learned he can stand the heat – both while firefighting and in the kitchen.
“The name of our company is ‘Sweet T’s . . . Baking Memories,” Kathleen Taylor said. “And that is what we try to do, [creating] cakes that our customers will fondly remember for years to come.”