Top Shelf: Out of the Box

Feb 10, 2018 by Timothy MacDonald

Top Shelf: by Chef Tim MacDonald

4:30 p.m. … middle of nowhere … Tortola … late December … I am on my fifth coffee and trying to hack through 10 Caribbean lobsters for an 8 p.m. buffet, with a knife so blunt I would be better off turning it upside down.

Cracking open the head of the last lobster, the brains explode everywhere – and at that very same moment, in perfect sync, the head stew announces that he forgot to tell me about a birthday cake for tonight.

55m sole chefs. We all know this story – the pressure and the predicament that I am talking about.

Resisting the urge to add an 11th lobster to the pot (the head stew), I remember two pre-baked devil’s food cakes deep, deep, deep down in the wretched back corner of the freezer, in the bagels-with-everything box. We chefs all the know the box. It’s in the hardest to get at section, and everything has to come out to reach it.

It was under similar circumstances nine years ago on Charisma that the tiered chocolate cake was created for Dr. Phil. Over the years it has evolved, and now it’s more fake than cake!

But I always have the ingredients on hand just in case I am “Frasiered” – a term coined to describe a fellow chef who went down badly many years ago with a last-minute cake request.

Polystyrene fakes support a single, four-layered, Betty Crocker deluxe that, once finished, tricks the charterer into believing that the chef has spent all day and night concentrating on them and them alone.

It’s a moneymaker.

Out of the Box chocolate cake.


(Once given the preverbal minimum notice.)

Large standard yacht s/s tray

4 polystyrene fakes, various dimensions

2 12-inch Betty Crocker devil’s food cakes from the hard-to-get-at box

6 tubs of chocolate frosting

Berries, and lots of them

Chocolate curls

Method and Timing:

It’s very simple and only takes 40 minutes if you have the ingredients on hand. It’s simply a matter of slapping the tiers together, with the real cake sandwiched between the fakes.

The tubs of Betty Crocker frosting are slapped around the edges and, once frosted, a series of berries are layered along the ledges.

Always, and virtually just before serving, the chocolate curls are scraped and thrown on the crown.

Tim MacDonald ( has more than 20 years experience as a chef. He was named Concours de Chefs winner for Yachts over 160 feet at the 2011 Antigua Charter Yacht Show. His recipes are designed for the owner and guests. Comments are welcome below.