2017-06-29 / News

Romash moves from politics to pastry

Former communications director eyes future as restaurant owner
BY RYAN GIBBS


Marla Romash, of Clinton Avenue, sells her cookies under the pavilion at the Fort Getty farmers market. The former Al Gore aide has baked for celebrities in the past, including Barbra Streisand. 
PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Marla Romash, of Clinton Avenue, sells her cookies under the pavilion at the Fort Getty farmers market. The former Al Gore aide has baked for celebrities in the past, including Barbra Streisand. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN It’s not yet known if Marla Romash moved to Clinton Avenue because Gore Street wasn’t available.

Romash, a Long Island native, is enjoying her inaugural season at Fort Getty, where she has been showcasing her hand-painted sugar cookies shaped like flags, bikinis and lobsters. Despite entering just her second summer in town, Romash already is being greeted by familiar faces at the vendor’s table she has manned for two Mondays.

“One of the things I really like about Jamestown is that sense of community,” she said. “At that first farmers market, I saw people who I knew.”

While Romash familiarizes herself with her neighbors, some politically astute townspeople already may recognize her face. That’s because Romash was a Democratic political consultant before she was a pastry chef, serving as Vice President Al Gore’s communications director during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

“My job was basically at the intersection of politics, policy and communications,” she said. “It was about taking complicated ideas and making sure people understood them.”

Going with Gore

A former newspaper reporter, Romash entered politics in 1980 when she joined the U.S. Senate campaigns of U.S. Sens. Christopher Dodd and then Joe Lieberman, both of Connecticut. It was in 1989 when Romash joined forces with Gore, a Tennessean who was serving his state in the U.S. Senate. When Clinton was named the Democratic nominee for the 1992 presidential election, he tabbed Gore as his VP. Romash was then asked by Gore to craft his message. In the forefront of that agenda was climate change.

“Gore saw global warming as a threat before anyone,” Romash said. “One of my proudest jobs was helping him be heard and amplify his voice.”

For the next four years, aside from the typical duties as spokeswoman for the second-most powerful man in the world, Romash continued to preach Gore’s environmental message. She spoke about the dangers of climate change and what needs to be done to prevent it.

Although Romash left Gore’s side to launch her own consulting firm in 1996, she still worked with him sporadically during Clinton’s second term. When Gore announced his candidacy for president, she returned as his press secretary during the failed 2000 presidential campaign.

Following Gore’s loss to George W. Bush in one of the closest calls in American history, Romash worked on a slate of other campaigns, including Myrth York’s bid for governor of Rhode Island in 2002.

A new direction

Although baking had been a longtime hobby of hers, Romash didn’t consider it professionally until York lost the gubernatorial race to Republican Don Carcieri. For the next 14 years, Romash performed a balancing act between politics and pastry.

“I thought it was time to do something different,” she said. “I had always loved to bake.”

Romash began baking while she was studying at the University of Connecticut in the 1970s, gifting her culinary creations to her friends. By the late 1990s, she was baking baskets full of cookies for her political clients during Christmas.

It wasn’t until 2003 when Romash established the Marla’s Magic baking company in the D.C. area. The company received considerable attention in late 2004 after New York Times food columnist Marian Burros featured her cookies in an article about mail-order holiday gifts.

“I don’t think I slept from the day the story ran until Christmas,” she said. “That convinced me that I could make a business out of it, but it also made me realize what I didn’t know. That was when I started looking around about going to school and getting more formal training.”

Following that holiday season, Romash took time off in 2005 and 2006 from her consulting job to study pastry arts at the L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland. After graduating, she interned with caterers in Washington before founding Dreamz Catering seven years ago.

Romash began working two jobs, a baker at night and political operative by day. When she launched Marla’s Magic, she promoted the company with a slogan: “Baked by the light of the moon.” Romash meant that literally.

“I didn’t sleep,” she said.

Romash became known for her elaborate personalized cakes, which she created for renowned Americans, from U.S. Sen. Ed Markey to Hollywood icon Barbra Streisand. The cake she made for Streisand’s 73rd birthday in 2015 was three layers and it took a week. It was a miniature version of the Emmy-Grammy- Oscar-Tony winner made of fondant that was placed on top of the Capitol dome, which sat above a film reel that included images from Streisand’s monumental career. The final layer included a reference to her work with the Women’s Heart Alliance.

Personalized touch

Apart from the eye-catching designs, Romash believes there is a combination of factors and personal touches that set her cakes apart.

“I always start by wanting to make a cake that tastes good,” she said. “I also want people to giggle a little. Most of my cakes aim to make people smile. I also want people to look at them and say, ‘Wow, how do you do that?’ ”

While operating Dreamz Catering and another culinary project, The Political Cookie Company, Romash has continued working with Democratic politicians. In 2012, she worked with Elizabeth Warren on her successful U.S. Senate bid in Massachusetts and consulted on Jeanne Shaheen’s New Hampshire campaigns in 2008 and 2014. Her role has been primarily in communications, highlighting what her clients’ care about, what they stand for and what they want to accomplish.

“I get hired to help candidates communicate,” she said, “to help them be heard by the people they want to represent.”

Romash lives in town with her husband, chef Marc Alexander. While she continues to balance her life between consulting and cooking, she chose to move to Rhode Island because many of her clients, including Warren and Shaheen, live in New England. Also, she has dreams of opening a restaurant along Narragansett Bay, which she fell in love with while visiting friends.

Romash, who has since consolidated her culinary endeavors under the Marla’s Magic trademark, looks forward to the future, especially the prospect of being a restaurant owner. Until then, she is having a blast baking her “big, crazy cakes.”

“I don’t think that there’s a thing I don’t like doing when it comes to something that requires butter, flour, sugar and eggs,” she said.

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