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Incredible (Kind of Creepy) Edibles

October 29, 2000|LESLEE KOMAIKO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Three years ago, Cassandra Rogers was wondering what to give her mother for Christmas. Rogers, a sculptor, traditionally made her a clay figure. But, she said, "I was looking for a new angle. One of my friends said, 'I don't know why you're agonizing over this. I always get my mom a box of chocolates.' I thought, 'Oh, a box of chocolates. That'd be fun.' "

Rogers, 26, who grew up in "famed Notting Hill," as she calls it, and studied mold making and bronze casting at the Martin School of Design in London (after earning a degree in child psychology at Sussex University), created a group of grumpy old men chocolate miniatures along with some chocolate baby faces. Each of the old men wore different expressions and had different fillings.

"All the fillings," said Rogers, "corresponded to the expressions on their faces." For instance, "the one with a scrunched-up, pouty face had a raspberry filling because he looked like he was blowing a raspberry." (The babies had candied ginger centers.)

"My mom loved them," said Rogers. "She photographed them endlessly and showed them to everyone who came in the house. She ate some of them, but only after I promised her I would replace them."

Not long after Rogers' first foray into chocolate, a medium she claims is not only user-friendly but which "picks up detail incredibly well," she brought several of her aluminum and resin designs--thumb-size head sculptures, cuff links featuring faces--to a West Hollywood boutique.

"On a whim I also took a box of chocolates in," said Rogers. "The owner went completely nutty over them."

And so began a career.

Rogers had moved to Los Angeles from London four years ago intending to work in the film industry, doing "special-effects sculpting and creature making." Although she had some success in the field creating, for example, "prosthetic hands for an android community," she has worked as a child-care provider, a job she intends to give up in December to focus entirely on artistic pursuits.

"It's a bit of sink or swim," she said, "because I'll have no alternative income after Christmas."

As it is, Rogers, whose one-woman company is called Candimation, easily spends 40 hours a week making chocolates. She works out of her Melrose Avenue-area home, usually late into the night. Perhaps it's these graveyard shifts that account, at least in part, for Rogers' tweaked designs. "I like to keep it slightly to one side of normal," she said. This means, for example, anatomically correct hearts for Valentine's Day and fried eggs with faces for Easter.

In anticipation of Thanksgiving, Rogers is contemplating a roast-turkey design, complete with those familiar white-chop frills. For Halloween, Rogers created a series of 2 1/2-inch chocolate figures in a rainbow of colors. They are all based on a Kewpie-doll design she fashioned for a past Valentine's Day. The series includes a black cat, a pumpkin, a werewolf, a ghost, a mummy and Rogers' favorite, a naked green Frankenstein.

As a concession to customers who asked why everything had to be scary, Rogers somewhat reluctantly created a ballerina and a sailor boy. The pieces, which weigh about an ounce, cost $8 each. They are sold, along with many of Rogers' other designs--such as her translucent water-nymph soap--at Zipper, a gift store in West Hollywood.

"Left to my own devices," said Rogers, "I would become more edgy and nonconventional." Some customers at Zipper, her main outlet, think she is already there. According to Elizabeth Cashour, one of the store's owners, "Some people think the chocolate babies are the most disgusting thing in the world. They think it's sick that [Rogers] makes these baby heads and old man heads you are supposed to eat."

But most people, said Cashour, "absolutely love the work and are mesmerized by it." Rock star Marilyn Manson, said Rogers, "bought my chocolates because he thought it was such a hoot to eat baby heads."

Rogers also does custom work (visit http://www.candimation.com). For instance, she created miniature chocolate paintings, including a takeoff of surrealist Rene Magritte titled "This is not a chocolate," for a gallery owner who wanted to give something special to his best clients. When a well-known celebrity asked Rogers to create a chocolate kidney for Steven Spielberg as a get-well offering following his surgery, Rogers got out her anatomy books and soon created a life-size edible organ. (Her sculpting fees start at $50.)

She also has created chocolate portraits of the famous and not so famous. "Custom work is my favorite stuff," said Rogers. "I actually have to use my brain and figure out how I am going to rise to the challenge. Ultimately, what I am trying to achieve is never having to say, 'I don't think that's going to work.' "

Rogers is guarded about her method. "In any profession," she said, "there's a certain level of trade secret you keep to yourself."

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