The Sweet Life
Written by: Carly Felton
Winner of the recent “Beauty and the Beauty Cakes” on the Food Network Challenge, Joshua John Russell is Atlanta’s own master pastry chef. At 29 years old, this Mississippi-born, Johnson & Wales-bred Southern boy has accomplished more than most dessert gurus could even dream of at his age. Known for his over-embellished yet chic piping work, Russell’s cakes have been featured in 11 episodes of the Food Network Challenge, the recent Katherine Heigl movie Life As We Know It, numerous magazines, and even a book, entitled Decadent Details. But he’s not stopping there.
“I always knew this was what I wanted to do,” Russell says. “I had an Easy-Bake Oven when I was little, baked and cooked in high school and worked in kitchens on the line. Culinary school was a no brainer for me.”
Russell enrolled at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, where he discovered that baking and pastry arts can be a major. “While my [old] friends were taking Lit 101, I was taking Introduction to Cakes, Tortes and Marzipans,” he says.
He began gathering inspiration from fashion and magazines and developing his style by trial and error. After graduation, he interned at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, creating master gingerbread houses and the like during what he describes as “the best Christmas of my life.” Meanwhile, his college roommate, now Food Network Challenge co-star Jason Ellis, had opened a cake store in New York and requested his assistance. Russell moved to the city briefly before deciding it wasn’t for him, but the duo stayed in close contact.
“We had all these ideas of grandeur back then — we wanted our own TV show by age 25,” Russell says. “We missed it by a few years, but not all bad.”
After leaving Manhattan, Russell ventured to Atlanta where he worked as a bartender at Twist while practicing fondant and honing his craft. He worked for Metrotainment briefly and as a pastry chef at Dantanna’s for two years.
Soon after, he and Ellis received the call that would fast track their careers — an invitation to be on the Food Network Challenge. Now 11 challenges later, Russell has sculpted Cirque du Soleil, Battle of the Brides and Disney characters from cake. He works as a pastry chef at Highland Bakery and teaches cake decorating at the Viking Cooking School and cake conferences in his downtime. He recently taught at the prestigious Oklahoma Sugar Art Show in North Carolina and he’s hoping to write a book, too.
But Russell says the coolest thing he’s done so far is working on the set of Life As We Know It. He made 1,000 cupcakes and one of his cakes appeared in the movie’s trailer. “It was intense, but a lot of fun,” he says.
With so much going on — including plans for his own show surfacing next year — Russell is certainly one to watch. Expect more sweet things from him in the future.