The server was explaining this and that about the dessert tray at Truluck's in Fort Lauderdale when I made some comment about how perfect they all looked. "They're not real," he said. Then he slapped the chocolate cake. It made a sound like smacking a basketball.
I swear, I had no idea. My wife and I, dining there recently to write a review for Thursday's New Times, started poking the carrot cake and key lime pie. Sure enough, it had the feel of a Nerf football.
A couple of days later, I called back to Truluck's to see what's up with their dessert display. I've seen plastic desserts at places like cheap Chinese food joints, but they've always looked like something that might pop out of a Fisher Price oven.
Truluck's gave away its secret.
The woman taking reservations during the afternoon, a few hours before
the place was to open, explained that they get their desserts from a
business called Fax Foods of Vista, California.
Fax Foods owner Judy Prestin answered the phone when I called. I told
her about marveling at one of her fake dessert trays here in Fort
"You must have been at Truluck's," she said right off.
She does all ten Truluck's nationwide. And not just the dessert tray.
Her company also makes fake crabs for the tray servers to bring around at
the start of the meal.
Prestin explained how it works: Restaurants send her
food to replicate via overnight mail. She creates molds for them using
a process she wasn't willing to reveal. She would say that it's made of
a plastic material called plastisol, which she said is approved by the
FDA to be around food. "These are some trade secrets we have," she
said. "We are the best that you'll find here in the States."
Each item on the dessert tray costs $55 to $90, but Prestin said a
restaurant can save thousands a year by using the fakes. Most
restaurants make two or three dessert trays throughout the night to
keep them looking fresh, so the plastic versions save on time and
materials every day.
Prestin's company also makes fake food for Disney, Princess Cruises,
and Subway, which uses her molds to build the six-food catering subs
you see sitting around in the shops.
But one of her most frequent orders is for the kale and lettuce
that restaurants use to dress up salad bars. Yep, that stuff is fake too. "Our
fake lettuces we have are used in deli cases, salad bars, and all kinds
of buffets," she said. "You'd never guess it." Besides, Prestin points
out that much of the kale and lettuce imported from Mexico is treated
with DDT, something you don't want in your salad bar.
The only problem with the fake stuff that Prestin was willing to reveal
is theft. Somebody recently stole the replica of the "chocolate sack"
dessert from a Truluck's. Luckily, Prestin had the mold on