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Seattle’s Depressed Cake Shop marries dessert and depression

This brain cake dazzled at last year's Depressed Cake Shop (Photo courtesy of NAMI Seattle)
LISTEN: Seattle's Depressed Cake Shop marries dessert and depression

I had cake for breakfast.

“My London Fog cake,” said Charlie Dunmire, the baker of the cake and owner of Georgetown’s Deep Sea Sugar and Salt. “It’s an earl gray cake soaked in earl gray syrup and honey with bergamot orange mascarpone cream filling and cream cheese frosting.”

Dunmire’s cake is just one of many that will be devoured this Saturday at the 5th annual Depressed Cake Shop, put on by NAMI Seattle, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“The Depressed Cake Shop is a popup bakery and we approach wonderful bakeries in our greater Seattle community and ask them to create and donate a custom confection,” said NAMI Seattle executive director Ashley Fontaine. “Whether that’s cupcakes, a cake, we’ve had people do great cookies. It’s supposed to be gray or otherwise darkly themed on the outside, representing depression. On the inside, it’s rainbow colored or some other bright creation. That is really to symbolize hope.”

One-hundred percent of the proceeds go to funding NAMI Seattle’s programming.

“Our mission is basically to fill gaps in our mental health system in Seattle,” Fontaine said. “We educate people about what mental health is, what mental illness is, and basically create a platform for people who are living in recovery to be able to share their own personal story and what that journey has been like for them. That’s really the best stigma reducer there is, is exposure, and we know that. There’s lots of research demonstrating that that’s the case.”

Depressed cake for a cause

The event coincides with Mental Illness Awareness Week, which is always the first week of October, and the cakes will match the event.

“The brain cake is great because, first of all, it really looks like a brain on the outside,” Fontaine said. “Secondly, when you cut into it, it’s all blue and yellow. It was meant to represent what it looks like if you get an MRI or a PET scan of your brain if you had taken one of those dyes where it kind of colors your brain fluids so they can see the different structures that are part of your brain. That’s probably the most literal, mental health-related creation that we’ve had and people loved it.”

Fontaine says it’s a special fundraiser because, unlike their other events, the creative desserts attract people who are unfamiliar with NAMI. The cakes become a catalyst for conversation about mental illness.

“People are definitely attracted by the sweets and cakes and wanting to see what creative things the bakers have come up with this year,” Fontaine said. “But many of the people who interact with the event on our Facebook page, or who send us messages with questions, a lot of them start out by saying, ‘I have a family member…’ or ‘I’m living with this particular illness’ or ‘I lost someone to suicide recently.’ So I think the beauty of this event is it really highlights how mental health affects everybody. You’re hard-pressed to find somebody who doesn’t have a personal connection to someone who deals with a mental health issue.”

Which is why Dunmire is happy to donate her gunmetal gray frosted earl gray cakes to the cause.

“I have had many family members and friends who have suffered from mental illness my entire life,” Dunmire said. “It’s so important, there’s not enough awareness. Whatever I can do, I’m happy I can make my business a part of the movement.”

The Depressed Cake Shop is from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 7 at Optimism Brewing in Capitol Hill in Seattle. Last year they completely sold out; 350 people gobbled up 900 confections, so arrive early to get the best selection

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