Interview with Lee Goldberg, Pancake Artist!

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Posted August 21, 2017 by Marshall Bruno in Nerdy Bits

You’ve seen the videos on Facebook, Instagram and twitter. Someone drizzles some batter on a griddle before flipping it to reveal that what you just saw was no mere pancake. Instead, it turns out to be that character you love. You know the one.

Pancake art is growing in popularity online. It’s something that everyone enjoys to watch, and for the people out there making the art, they then get to eat pancakes, so it’s a win-win for them. Lee Goldberg, an aspiring pancake artist and apprentice to Dancakes explained to We The Nerdy all about the art, and how it’s led to some awesome times for him and the pancaking community… and yes there is a pancaking community!

WTN: Hey Lee, thanks for joining me today. You are a pancake artist, I guess that is how people are starting to know you as, so tell us in your words what you’d say you are.

Lee Goldberg: My name is Lee Goldberg, and as you said I am a pancake artist. I am an apprentice to Dr Dancakes, and they are the first of their kind, ya know, the first pancake artists that travel to do jobs. We just did the Disney D23. They just announced recently that they are going to be at the Chicago Comic Con, so the company is growing a lot and I’m one of three apprentices. Basically what the apprentices are is where the artist is with them, and they give us tips and pointers and things like that. They’ve provided me with a ton of new equipment. That’s why I’ve been doing some really detailed stuff lately, using a bunch of new tubes and colors. They are going to be getting me a kit with a screen and a camera so that when I do brunches and college gigs, I’ll be able to kind of tether it so you can watch me. That’s basically what I am, I’m aspiring to do more traveling gigs and stuff for them, but for now I’m doing a ton of practice of different types. We’ve got a speed palette which is going to be your ROYGBIV with brown, tan, and normal batter. It’s kind of like if some of the stuff I do that you’ve seen were a painting, this is like a really good sketch. When you’re at an event that has a line of people waiting to get pancakes, you can’t take 15-20 minutes per.

WTN: A question a lot of people have when they hear the term “pancake artist” is why pancakes?

LG: I’ve been cooking with my dad since I was like, four. There’s a picture of me stirring up a pot of pasta sauce with him and I’ve just always really liked cooking. Recently I got a job as a cook at a drug and alcohol residential treatment facility and I’ve always been artistically inclined in general so once day I was making sunny-side up eggs and to me they just looked like eyeballs so I put sausage pieces as pupils, I did a hash brown nose, bacon eyebrows, ya know, I just made a face out of it. The guy got a kick out of it. The person that was helping me serve that day was like, “hey did you know pancake art is a thing?” So then I looked it up and it was really cool. I used coffee filters as piping bags, put pancake batter in, poked a hole and was using my flattop griddle at work and thought it was kind of fun and kind of cool. I just sort of went from there, putting cinnamon in another batch so that I was now piping out white and brown… and all the while I’m looking on youtube at the really sped up time lapsed, because it would take too long to just watch someone make an elaborate pancake, but I started to figure out what they were doing. I had a few friends that were like, “yeah maybe it’s this, maybe it’s that.” And so it kind of progressed, ya know? I went to Walmart and got those empty ketchup condiment bottles and started filling those up so I could draw with them. Then I started to put food coloring in, so it just progressed as it came. I was just taken with it. It’s not like it’s a super difficult medium to technically do. I mean, you could do smiley faces and things like that without any kind of training or practice. That’s not hard, but the nuances are like doing a painting where the things that you put down first are what will be there. If you put a line down, and then cross over it with another line of pancake batter, whatever went first is what you’re going to see. You’ve also got a griddle that is always cooking; your temperature may be low, but it is still cooking while you’re painting. It’s just really interesting.

WTN: How did you get in touch with Dr Dancakes?

LG: That’s really interesting, too. When I started getting good enough that the things I was making looked close enough to what they were supposed to be – a lot of those were burnt and the colors weren’t what they were supposed to be – but if I did a Batman, you could get a rough estimate that I was making Batman. Now I can do one where it’s like, “oh hey, that’s Adam West’s Batman,” so that’s a cool progression. Around the same time I was starting, they were beginning to pick up steam and go full time into what they were doing, so I went on Facebook one day and it was around the time that he just did the Avengers pancakes for Age of Ultron. That was one of the first of his videos that really went viral. People started posting on my page, “hey can you do this?” I looked at it and went, “no! No I can’t! I never will be able to, so thanks for crushing any dreams I had. I just had a Batman that kind of looked like Batman.” But the thing is, I decided instead of just being like, “oh well I’ll never be that good,” I let it inspire me. I just kept working and working, figuring out new techniques. Eventually I went on Instagram, because my girlfriend told me I needed to be on Instagram. When I first got on there, I was looking up other pancake artists. There’s this one guy in Japan who does what’s called Heat Toning where it’s all one batter but you put it on a pan and let it cook, then you take it off the heat, do the next layer, let that cook for a little less time so it kind of tones with the actual heat. That’s really fun to do, but really hard to get an even cook. I just looked at a bunch, and Dan was the guy that did the Avenger’s pancakes that everyone told me about and his page was just so cool. It followed a lot of my own geek culture [interests]. The Doctor from Doctor Who, X-Men, Yu-Gi-Oh! – he just does all kinds of stuff like that. I pretty much reached out to everyone that was doing pancake art at some point, sending a message like, “hey, I’m doing this as well, but your stuff is really great,” kind of like, hey I’m part of this community of people that like to paint with pancakes – and Dan responded. He was really supportive, you know? He was really cool about it. He gave me some pointers and tips on how to mix colors well. We started up a back and forth relationship that way. Nothing put down on paper or anything, but he was like, mentoring me before it was an official thing. I once donated a pancake party to a raffle and I messaged him to say that I was about to do my first live thing, and he was just like, “yeah do this, do this….” After a while I got a phone call from him where he told me that they wanted to fly me out to St. Louis to have me sign to be one of their apprentices. That’s when I was officially a part of it. It’s funny too, because when people hear pancake art they always go, “oh yeah there’s this one guy on Facebook that is really cool,” so I get to say, “Yeah that guy is my boss. No big deal.” It’s really cool too, because the company itself is amazing.

When my brother Jesse passed, I was already a part of this, and that’s something that’s really sad about this. Jesse was one of the most amazing artists that I have ever and probably will have meet and he was really supportive of what I was doing, so now when I get celebrities following me, or have events happening, it’s like bittersweet because I’m super happy about it, but then I get a little bit sad that I can’t share it with him. But Dan did a really elaborate pancake of Jesse which was super cool. Jesse’s art and his life may not have ever gotten to be known to the world, but he got the same kind of memorial pancake as Prince did, as Bowie did. In that regard, Jesse is among giants.

WTN: That’s very awesome! You mention some celebrities that are following you now, and you’ve had some interactions with celebrities from doing this. Which of those stick out to you right now?

LG: I grew up with Mr. Show with Bob and David, so I’ve known who Brian Posehn is for a long time. He has a podcast where he plays Dungeons & Dragons with his friends. When I was going through a pretty dark time in my life, that was a podcast that I listened to and really liked. The way I think of it is that Dungeons & Dragons was such a huge part of my childhood, I just never knew about it. Like, it was just so much of who I am would have been perfect for it. One day I did all of the cast from it and there was a response! People liked it. I never really used Twitter but now I’m getting these likes and retweets, and I’m like, “what the heck?” [They have] a Patreon, and if you subscribe to their podcast, you get everything a day early and a bunch of bonus episodes. They had a a bonus episode with Joe Manganiello on it, another huge DnD nerd, and in this episode there is a part where they stop for a solid thirty seconds to a minute, just stop what they’re doing and talk about my pancake! One thing you never get tired of hearing people say in this is, “that’s a pancake?!” So to hear Joe say that’s a pancake, I had a grin that was from ear to ear. That led me deeper down the Dungeons & Dragons hole, and I’ve made a lot more pancakes about it. The senior director of Dungeons & Dragons, Nathan Stewart, has been really supportive and cool about it. He’s a few times even emailed me photo references. There’s a show on twitch called Force Grey and I made all their characters in pancakes. Also getting to be a part of Dan making the voice of Mickey Mouse his own Mickey Mouse shaped pancake, that was really cool.

WTN: That happened at D23?

LG: Yeah, it was August 14th through the 16th we were at the Anaheim Convention Center. Dan was doing the pancakes. What I thought I was going to be doing was mixing his batters, mixing the colors, making sure he never ran out of stuff, then standing away from it. What was awesome was after the very first show we did, our handler was like, “hey do you wanna be on mic?” And I was like, “why yes I absolutely do thank you.” So it made me part of the show. Dan and I were joking around back and forth, I was answering questions, we worked really well together right off the cuff because our personalities are really similar. It was a really fun time. I remember I was outside [the convention] and this couple comes up to me while I’m wearing my Dancakes chef coat to ask for a picture. I was like, “oh no I’m not the one that was making the pancakes, you want Dan.” But they said, “yeah I know you were hilarious, you guys were great together.” That felt really awesome.

WTN: With pancake art, are there colors that are harder to do? Are some colors easier to work with than others? 

LG: Frankly with the griddle that you’re using, you don’t spray any nonstick, you don’t put any oil down, ’cause you kind of want it to stick, otherwise you lines are going to curl from the heat and you’re going to lose it, so with white it’s the easiest color – don’t do anything to your pancake batter. One of the things when you’re doing this to consider is to use bags of “just add water,” because it’s so much easier to do that than to worry about dairy and eggs. Colors are a thing that I really enjoy doing, I like to figure out the colors, but your standard color wheel is really just red, yellow, green, blue. You know, the standard colors you’d find in a box of colored pencils. You just make your tubes of color. In one of them you may do a couple drops of, let’s say red. That will be your true red. Then you do another tube where you do the same amount of red, but you do a drop of like, chocolate brown to get a really deep, dark red. Then take your true red, then squeeze that into a third tube for about five seconds to get a really light red. What’s nice about this you’re not trying to figure out how to make three different reds, you’re just using the same red and making gradients out of it so that it will naturally work together. The other day, for another DnD guy, he had this tiefling warlock – which is kind of like a demonic person – I looked at the photo reference he gave me and it was almost like a peach-grey. I remember saying, “alright man you’re up next. By the way, I’ve discovered your character is Dusty Rose,” ’cause that’s what worked with it. Really it’s just a matter of playing around. Colors are fairly easy to come across.

WTN: None of them burn quicker than others?

LG: You know, I will say, a lot of that has to do withe the griddle you’re using. I use an electronic griddle and the heating element is a square around the edges so the middle takes longer to cook. Because of that, the edges will burn. It is really about even temperature control. If you have it below 200 degrees, it may take a while to cook, but you won’t lose any of your colors. If you’re doing any contrasting, you don’t want the colors to be too close to one another or you will lose that contrast. It’s also really important to simplify. The first time I ever tried to do a face, I tried to put in every tone change I saw, every shadow, every single thing, but it looked like I took a really detailed plastic action figure and just melted it. It just didn’t come out right. It looked really blotchy. It’s hard because you can’t blend the colors easily. You need that contrast. The human eye wants things to work right so if you have a hint of a really light color, just one little dab of light red goo, that when I flip it, it will bring out a cheek or a jawline perfectly. That’s a really cool thing to achieve, having this thing that you don’t know what it will look like until you flip it over. It can be rewarding, or it can be terrible. Except that even when you mess up in pancakes, it tastes delicious.

WTN: Great consolation prize! Even if it doesn’t turn out, you get to eat it!

LG: Yeah, and that’s one of the things that’s cool about Dancakes as a company, and Dan as a person, is… if you’re a musician trying to break into the industry and you go to some of the top musicians and say, “hey, I also want to do this,” you know, you’re competition to them. They don’t really want you to succeed. Dan never had that. He tries to make sure that people get lifted up. So one of the things that’s great about what they do is that they teach this. When we were doing D23, we were teaching people; we were telling them what we were doing, as he was making them. He would ask if people had any questions. Just like you’re asking about the colors and things like that, we’re open books about it. They will even teach classes of it, it’s really cool.

WTN: When you’re doing these conventions and cooking pancakes for people watching, do those people then take them and eat them?

LG: That depends on the venue. The Disney thing that we did was more of a demo. A lot of what we do are parties, colleges, things like that where yeah, you’re making them so people can eat them. With Disney, there was a bit of a difference in that it was for demonstration purposes basically it was just for people to take a look, take pictures, but they were not going out. 90% of what we do is so people can eat them.

WTN: Are there any other events coming up that you will be a part of?

LG: As of right now there is a possibility of something in October that will actually be letting the apprentices showcase what we do. I have nothing tentatively on the books at the point. I’m trying to land a repeating Saturday brunch event; come in for a couple hours so I can train for events by doing events. Right now I’m just working on making sure I get my skill up, my speed up, and making sure I’m ready to be in front of a crowd so people will be getting their money’s worth.

WTN: If people want to follow you online, where can they find you?

LG: I am on Twitter and Instagram, @goldberg337. Dancakes is @drdancake on both. If you go to dancakes.com, it’s super easy to book us for events, parties, bar mitzvahs, birthdays, all kinds of things.

Dancakes is also currently running a kickstarter campaign for a new tabletop game called Anthromancer.

The Anthromancer is a mysterious artifact, seamlessly blending a strategy game, tarot system, and concept album in a simple but elegant package. Beautiful art and hidden messages permeate the experiences contained within. Can you unlock the riddle of the Anthromancer?

 


About the Author

Marshall Bruno

Nostalgia obsessed nerd with poetic tendencies.