The Story Behind the Subway Cake Baker

Rachel Tepper Paley
February 26, 2014

Did you catch the video of a woman icing a cake, then doling out slices on the New York City subway? It’s made the rounds this week, and if you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s a real testament to how hardened city commuters can ignore just about anything—panhandlers, a flock of loud schoolchildren, “showtime”—but not a live cake-frosting. The reactions in the video are pretty priceless. We got the backstory:

The chef’s name is Bettina Behjat Banayan. She’s a graduate of the Parsons School of Design and will get her Certificate of Culinary Arts from the French Culinary Institute this spring. She is also, obviously, big on performance art.

"I wanted to do something that actually would be beneficial to the [people on the train]," Banayan told us. "Not only feeding them cake, but kind of allowing them to take an experience with them."

She explained that although people cram together on the subway, riding the train is a remarkably solitary experience. Banayan’s goal was to make people aware of each other and form a community, if only for a few moments. "My favorite part was when I asked if anyone wanted cake, and a group of people simultaneously laughed," Banayan recalled. "I was just so happy at that moment.”

Her community-building tool? Vanilla cake with chocolate frosting. And if you watch the video, you’ll see that it worked; more than one woman takes it upon herself to start passing around slices, as though the subway car is a tea party.

Our favorite moment of the whole performance comes at the very end, when a standoffish older gentleman sitting beside Banayan, who has resisted the lure of the subway sweets for several minutes, finally accepts a slice. “It’s good,” he said simply before digging in. “I’m glad you liked it,” she replies.