Mom wouldn’t bake this cake

By Meryl Fulinara

Sugar and rye, and all things punk “DIY” have made 36-year-old entrepreneur and do-it-yourself proponent Michelle Garcia, owner of Bleeding Heart Bakery in Chicago’s North Center, a baking success.

With the Aug. 9 opening of her second venture, Chaos Theory Cakes, 2961 N. Lincoln Ave., the Garcia empire is expanding its territory, taking cakes to a whole new tier.

Garcia, the tall, blue-haired mohawk-sporting pastry chef is decked out with tattoos of spatulas and wooden spoons that point out her passion for food and punk rock, which is exactly what this little bake shop is all about.

“It’s funky,” said Desiree Velazquez, the 22-year-old front-of-house associate at the cake shop. “Adults come in, and their eyes light up like children. They are really interested in what’s going on in here.”

At this establishment, decoration is not just for the cakes. The neon green walls are covered with graffiti and whimsical spray-painted images of cupcakes and pies that are just like the colorful cakes and tarts that fill the shops’ stainless steel display cases.

Seasonal flavors on display include a chocolate and curry cake with curry-milk-chocolate-ganache and a rosewater mousse. Chaos also offers cake concoctions like wildberry charlotte and mango.

While Bleeding Heart focuses more on quick-bite food that is kid-friendly, Chaos offers baked goods that cater to a more mature taste palate.

“I’m trying to bring a lot of playfulness to this place,” Garcia said, experimenting with a variety of different flavor combinations of savory and sweet. For example, her onion cake pairs a red onion mousse with green apple gelee.

“This is what I love [experimenting with flavors], this is what I used to sit in bed and dream about and kick myself for not having a place like this; it’s my hobby,” Garcia said. “The ingredients are a lot more complex [at Chaos]. Over at Bleeding Heart, it’s chocolate and peanut butter; here it’s avocado, lime and balsamic.”

Buildings, nature and farmers markets seem to be the muse for Garcia’s cake ideas. She also draws inspiration from her life experiences, places she’s lived and things that she likes.

“Chaos is almost more Michelle [Garcia] than Bleeding Heart Bakery, just in that she gets to be really wild with her flavor combinations and really challenge people with interesting, new [and] creative ideas,” said Natalie Slater, a friend of Garcia’s and the founder of Bake & Destroy, a punk rock blog and guide for baking and domestics. “Her favorite thing to do is challenge people to think about things they might take for granted.”

From studying at the French Pastry Institute in Chicago, Garcia honed her pastry skills but never forgot her love of savory flavors. Chaos Theory enables her to experiment and push the envelope with interesting ingredients.

“[Garcia] is almost searching for the punk rock gourmand,” Slater said.

“People that are willing to eat a cupcake that is so spicy that it makes your nose run, someone totally open to the idea of cilantro mousse; she is just searching for the adventurous eater.”

Garcia said Chaos Theory is actually brining in more steady business than Bleeding Heart was after being open a year. She said Chaos Theory is doing, “pretty well for being brand new.”

“We’ve got a lot to look forward to since we’ve worked so hard to get to this point with the bakery and we started at the point that worked over a year with this place,” Garcia said.

Garcia said she hopes Chaos Theory initiates a movement that shows Chicagoans and the food industry that food can be both fun and playful and still be child- and adult-friendly, while simultaneously incorporating organic and sustainable food.

“You have to convince people that organic is better,” Garcia said. “It doesn’t mean that things are vegan, which has been one of the biggest hurdles to get over, teaching people what organic really means. But it’s definitely gotten better since we opened our first store.”

Velazquez said Garcia’s customers are really concerned with the happenings in her life and her business and care about what she is doing. They call and ask questions about Garcia and how the business is going. “They are genuinely interested, they believe in what she is doing with her baking,” she said.

With her ideals of sustainability and buying organic materials, the prices for her concoctions can get a bit pricey. Individual cakes cost about $14 and larger cakes cost $36. Fruit tarts are $6, and cupcakes are $3.75. Chaos also sells marshmallows and brews coffee, tea and other beverages. On Tuesday, cupcakes and cakes are half-price.

Chaos Theory Cakes is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. For more information, call the shop at (773) 281-2353.