Pass go, collect king cake: Inside an artist's Monopoly-inspired Mardi Gras game
Kate Clark’s love of king cake runs deep.
She still remembers eating her first slice in elementary school, a classic brioche with cinnamon. It was love at first bite.
“I was like, ‘This may be the greatest thing I’ve ever tasted,’” she recalls.
I meet Clark at one of her favorite New Orleans bakeries, Bittersweet Confections on Magazine Street. It’s mid-Carnival and next to us, there’s a table piled high with king cakes — just a tiny fraction of the more than 8,000 the bakery plans to make this season.
Clark is an attorney, but moonlights as an artist. And she has a surprise for the bakery. She walks up to the register with a stack of square papers.
“This is for y’all,” she says. “You made it on the board.”
The woman at the register squeals with delight, while her coworker looks over quizzically, as if to ask, “What is it?”
“It’s King Cake-opoly,” Clark replies.
Like Monopoly, the real estate board game. Clark has created a special version, where she’s subbed in local bakeries in place of the traditional properties.
Clark made a board for the first time last year. She says the project started out somewhat selfishly as a way for her to encourage coworkers to bring more king cake to the office. She even laminated the board so they could check off properties with a dry-erase marker.
“I joked that your reward was gaining ten pounds, because if you work all the way around, you’ve eaten a lot of king cake,” she says.
Bittersweet is on the side of the board with the higher-value properties. For Monopoly nerds, it’s in a green box, specifically, Pacific Avenue. It’s quite the compliment.
Clark has been giving the boards out for free this year, leaving them at bakeries and other spots around town. She likes to think of herself as a “king cake fairy.” And she kind of looks like one when we meet, dressed in a bright-pink frock with puffed sleeves.
The board starts at the Mediterranean Avenue of king cakes: Walmart. Next? It’s the airport gift store. Last year’s board included king cake from the freezer.
Clark is careful to point out that her game is a work of satire. She’s got to cover herself legally. Remember, she’s an attorney.
After the lowest rung cakes, the board moves on to the grocery store variety, like Rouses.
And then as you work your way around you get to what Clark considers to be the best of the best: Bittersweet, Haydel, Manny Randazzo, Dong Phuong and Hi-Do.
“It's very hard to rank those because they’re all a little different. But they’re all really good.”
She did rank them though. The Boardwalk of king cakes? It’s Hi-Do.
A lot of thought goes into Clark’s ranking. She considers the quality of the bake, as well as the icing. Bakeries get points for creativity, but also availability.
She says that’s why Hi-Do beat out Dong Phuong for the top spot this year.
After discussing all manner of king cakes, it’s time to eat Bittersweet’s. Clark cuts herself a slice and takes a big bite. Delight washes over her face as crystals of purple, green and gold sugar fall onto her lap.
“You know that moment in ‘Ratatouille,’ when the food critic tastes the ratatouille and it takes him back to childhood?”
She says that’s how she feels about Bittersweet’s king cake. It tastes like her mother’s cinnamon rolls. “That’s what makes this one so special to me.”
Clark loves this time of year because it brings out the city’s most whimsical side. The board is her contribution to the magic that is Mardi Gras.