The Cauliflower Cake Faker

Digital drawing. A split screen image of a man sitting behind a plain tabletop looking down at a plate of food. His forearms lie on the table with hands resting beside the plate. On the left side, the man’s mouth is open with teeth clenched. One brow is raised, the other pinched. His eyes are narrowed. On the plate are cauliflower florets. On the right side, the man’s mouth is open in a wide smile. His brows are raised and eyes more open. On the plate is a lava cake with chocolate “lava” spilling from an open side. Peeking behind the cake is a scoop of coffee-colored ice cream.

“I’m seeing needles,” Barry said.  He held up both hands.  “I’m out.”  He started backing up.

Carlos rushed forward, stilling holding the device in his hands.  Barry kept his gaze fixed on the device as he backed right up to the closed door of the small laboratory.  His gaze flicked up to Carlos, just as his hand reached behind and found the doorknob. 

“They’re not needles!” Carlos said.

Barry hesitated.

“They’re probes.”

Barry frowned.  He turned the knob.

“It’s cake!” Carlos said.

Barry hesitated again.

Carlos grinned.  “It makes everything taste like cake.”


It took a bit of mild coaxing—and the putting away of the device—but Barry agreed to sit down and hear Carlos out.

Carlos’s newest invention was a personal project that the company they both worked for was allowing him to pursue while they reviewed proposals for their next official project. 

Barry worked in marketing, and he too had a little break between campaigns. 

“I decided to focus on something people might want rather than need,” Carlos said, “but that would still help people lead healthy lives, without having to exert control or willpower.”

Barry raised a brow.  “Sounds shady.”

Carlos waved a hand at him.  “I know.  I know.  That’s because I got the idea a few years ago, when I was watching videos on…”  He frowned in thought, then shook his head.  “Whatever ‘superfood’ was trendy at the time.”      

“Ah, it’ll help you lose weight, provide all your daily vitamins and minerals, do your taxes for you…”

“Exactly,” Carlos said, chuckling.

He’d gone down the proverbial rabbit hole of supposedly “healthy” food trends.  Most of them seemed to be trying to give people a way to “cheat” on the classic but hard-to-maintain practice of eating healthy foods and exercising.  “Have your cake, and eat it too” was the adopted catch phrase of a team of bakers who challenged themselves to make cakes from every vegetable.  Aside from the cake part, it didn’t seem to have anything to do with the original meaning of the phrase.  But the concept sparked an idea in Carlos’s mind.  He started brainstorming, did some light research, and even reached out to some experts in the fields of food science and neurobiology. 

Fast forward several years, and what had started as a thought experiment had become a potentially viable device.  Carlos’s prototype was built upon existing technologies—including a teeth-whitening apparatus design, and a new kind of material that was being used to infuse timed release medicines into patches made for mucus membranes.

“It may feel weird at first,” Carlos said.  “Don’t worry about it if you need to spit it out. Might take a few tries.  But once you have it properly secured, you shouldn’t really feel it.  Oh, and it’s wireless.  The first one I made wasn’t.  Had a lot of issues with drool.  Anyway, the real magic will happen once you start eating.”

He grinned again, one of his typical open grins when he was excited about something he’d built.  He looked so much like a kid that it always made Barry’s skepticism soften.

With the device on, while eating a particular type of food—say a plate of healthy steamed veggies—the eater would get all the sensations of biting into, savoring, and eating a decadent two-layer cake, filled with custard and drenched with chocolatey ganache. 

By default, Carlos had set the device to his favorite dessert, Boston cream pie. 

He’d used it himself for about a month, which meant that he’d already gotten safety approvals.  Considering the only danger anyone found with the device was that it might not work, the approvals didn’t take long.  And considering Barry was already a company employee, and would only have to sign a few more releases to volunteer for the unofficial “trial,” Carlos had decided to recruit him for what he was calling, a “second opinion.”


“They approved that thing?”  Barry asked, when they were back in the lab and he’d allowed Carlos to show him the device again.  “Even with all those needles?”

“They’re only shaped that way to help make sure it’s harnessed properly.  They’re actually made of an edible resin that will melt in your mouth.”

Barry picked the device up.  “He promises cake.  Gives me resin.” 

“Oh, you’ll get cake.  Just wait…”

“You realize I haven’t agreed to this yet.  What’s my motivation for putting that retainer from a horror movie against my precious and delicate palate?”

“What if I tell you…I can make whatever you’re eating taste like lava cake with a scoop of coffee ice cream on top?” Carlos asked, wiggling his eyebrows.

Barry crossed his arms.  He inhaled deeply and narrowed his eyes.  “I’d like to see you try.”


Three days later, Barry was back in the device lab, sitting in a reclined chair that reminded him of being at the dentist.

Barry trusted Carlos, but he’d asked all the questions he could think of to ask, about how much electricity was going through the device, if there was any radiation hazard, or other energy waves, or toxic particles, or exotic molecules. 

Carlos had patiently answered all the questions.

He then demonstrated the device on himself, and demonstrated the automatic shutoff and other safety features he’d built in.  And he showed Barry the consultations he’d done with neurophysiologists and food scientists.  He seemed especially excited about, and impressed by, a paper he came across about a way to combine nerve conduction, meditation, and therapy to help those suffering from phobias.  Carlos wondered if he could adapt parts of that method for his device.

Finally, there was nothing left for Barry to do except change his mind or go ahead and be his best friend’s test subject.

Carlos narrated everything he was doing.  He’d needed the three days to make and calibrate those resin probes.  They seemed to be the key to the invention.  They received feedback, but also would provide it, without the need for an invasive needle sticking right into Barry’s brain.  The device would detect when he had taken a bite of whatever food was on his plate, then neutralize the sensations of what Carlos referred to as the “actual input” and convert them to the sensations of the “desired output.”  The probes would replicate the texture, temperature, smell, taste, even sound of a delicious cake. 

“The things I do for friendship,” Barry said, right before putting the device in his mouth.  It fit over his lips, wrapped around his tongue and teeth, and lay over both his upper and lower palate.

Standing over him, Carlos grinned absently, and patted him on the head.  “I love you too, buddy.”

Calibration of the device took almost thirty minutes, something Carlos had failed to mention.  He sent various individual sensations to Barry’s mouth and asked for feedback.  Barry simultaneously got used to speaking normally with the device on.  He had to admit, he really didn’t feel it after a while. 

At last, they were ready for the taste test.  Carlos put a plate in front of his friend.

“I don’t know why you think this is necessary,” Barry said.  “Broccoli already tastes good.”

“Not to everyone.”

Broccoli was one of Carlos’s most loathed vegetables.  It must have been a default setting or something that Carlos didn’t want to change at this point.  Likewise, Carlos hadn’t changed the cake setting yet.  When Barry closed his eyes just before forking a broccoli sprout into his mouth, he felt a burst of cool custard, the spongey sweetness of cake, and a velvet richness from a chocolate ganache.  As he chewed, the custard and ganache melted away and the cake went more slowly, crumbling and growing mushy in his saliva.  He swallowed, and the scents of chocolate, vanilla, and butter lingered. 

He opened his eyes.  He could feel Carlos watching him, but he wasn’t ready to say anything yet.  He kept his eyes open for the second bite, making sure it was broccoli on his fork, and that his friend hadn’t somehow learned a sleight of hand that allowed him to somehow switch broccoli for a bite of cake.  Barry could have sworn he’d felt a bit of custard on his lip.  He’d licked it off, but this time, he purposely brushed the broccoli against his lip.  He felt the custard again.  He wiped his lip with his finger.  It came back clean, of course.  There wasn’t any custard there. 

There was only broccoli.

He ate the broccoli.

He took another bite.

Carlos still said nothing, but Barry could feel his friend’s impatience as surely as he felt his teeth sinking into another layer of cake.

Barry finally looked up.  “How did you do this?”

“Did it work?” Carlos asked.  He glanced at his computer screen.  “I’m showing that everything is functioning as expected.”

Barry smiled.  He pointed his fork down at his plate.  “This is good cake,” he said.  “But when do I get to eat my favorite dessert?”


They celebrated.

Carlos joked that they should both eat a plate of steamed veggies with his device on.  After all, he now had two confirmed working prototypes. 

But Barry pointed out that they would only end up hungry again.  And that he deserved some comforting, rich food, after being good and eating his veggies.

So Barry treated his friend to a decadent dinner and drinks.

“I keep thinking of things to add to our preliminary observations,” Carlos said, pulling out his phone and recording yet another voice memo.

He then courteously reached for his wallet, but Barry held out his hand.  “We’re not done yet.”

Just then, the server came out and set a plate between them.  Lounging delectably on the plate was a three-layer chocolate cake, accompanied by a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream that was just beginning to melt at the bottom.

“Where’s yours?  We’re sharing?” Carlos looked down at the hunk of cake half the size of his head.

The server had made a thoughtful assumption and brought an extra fork.  Barry set the extra fork aside and pushed the plate toward his friend.

“I already had dessert, remember?  This one is all yours.”

Carlos shrugged and dove in, commenting on how much better the real cake was.  When he took a pause to record another voice memo, Barry ended up taking a bite with that extra fork.  He found Carlos was right.  Something was missing with the sensations that the veggie-to-cake device was delivering.  But he never would have noticed if he hadn’t had a piece of actual cake so soon after using the device.


“I made some minor tweaks to the output algorithm,” Carlos said the next day.  “And I brought in a piece of real cake so we can do comparison tests.”

“If I must,” Barry said, before putting the experimental device in his mouth.

His third use was when Carlos surprised him with a plate of cauliflower—Barry’s most loathed vegetable.  Even knowing that it would taste like cake, Barry had to brace himself.

And he was treated to the taste of a gooey lava cake, topped with a scoop of coffee ice cream. 

Barry gasped, declared Carlos a genius, and proceeded to do what he’d never before done in his life, finish eating a plate of steamed cauliflower.


After Barry had been using the device for a month, Carlos decided it was time to officially present the idea to his boss, who already knew everything but the details.

“What are you calling it?” Barry asked, over another celebratory dinner.

“In my write-up, I’ve temporarily designated it…what was it…uh, the oral consumption multi-sensory-modality experiential converter.”

Barry smiled and took a breath, halting when Carlos held up his hand.

“I know what you’re going to say,” said Carlos.  “‘It’s a mouthful.’”

“You’re faking the taste of cake,” Barry said.  “Call it a cake faker.  A cauliflower cake faker.  That’s even more impressive in my books.  Oh hey, what’s your boss’s least favorite vegetable?”

Carlos frowned.

“What?  What is it?”

“I’m not making vegetables out to be villains, am I?  I don’t want to do that.”

Barry raised his glass.  “Here’s hoping that’s the most serious moral and ethical dilemma you face with your new invention.”


On the day of Carlos’s meeting with his boss, Barry called the device lab.

“I have something new to report,” Barry said.

Carlos was reviewing his notes on the presentation he’d be giving his boss, and few other senior people in the company.  “Is this your excuse for calling to wish me good luck?”

“Can you confirm that you have both prototypes in the lab with you?”


“Because I made myself some eggs and toast for breakfast twenty minutes ago,” Barry said.  “And when I sat down to eat them…they tasted like lava cake and coffee ice cream, right down to the cold sensation of ice cream, instead of the hot scrambled eggs.”


“I stopped eating right away, but it took half a minute for me to realize I’d burned the roof of my mouth.”

Carlos blew out a breath.  “Can you come into the lab?”

“I’m already on my way,” Barry said.


Barry had packed up his breakfast and brought it to the lab with him.  In the meantime, Carlos had confirmed that both of his prototypes were in the safe assigned to him.

“I’ve never experienced any kind of residual effect before,” Carlos said, as Barry pulled his breakfast out. 

He’d taken a few more bites before calling Carlos.  He tried another bite right there in the lab.  He shook his head.  “No cold eggs.  No soggy toast.  I’m getting cake and ice cream.”

Carlos sighed.  His brows furrowed and his arms crossed as he plunked himself down on a stool.

“Terrible timing, huh?” Barry said, feeling a twinge of guilt.

Carlos’s forehead smoothed out and he looked at Barry.  “Great timing, I’d say.  If there’s a problem with the device, I need to cancel this afternoon’s meeting.  But first and foremost, we need to make sure you’re okay.  We need to do some testing.”  He pulled out his phone.

“What are you doing?” Barry asked.

“Ordering us some food.”


Everything tasted like cake.


A breakfast burrito.  Vending machine corn chips.  An apple from the cafeteria.  A banana from the cafeteria.

Carlos cancelled his meeting with his boss.

“The good news is you’re not in trouble nutrition-wise,” Carlos said, pacing.  “You’re eating actual food.  I’m more concerned about how you’re doing mentally.”

Barry nodded.  “Not gonna lie.  Feeling a little anxious already.  Like you said, I’ve eaten a good variety of food, some junk, some healthy stuff.  But my mind thinks I’ve been eating cake all morning.”

“Maybe it’s the slight tweaks I made to yours,” Carlos said.  “I didn’t think they would—“  He sighed.  “I didn’t think.”  He looked at Barry.  “It’s not the only difference, of course.  But it seems the most obvious starting point.  I don’t want to start trying random things that might make it worse.  I think it might be wise to wait for now, see if the effect goes away.”

“Wait for how long?”

Carlos shook his head.  “I’ll go over the raw data collected from your device.  See if I can spot anything.  And I’ll call a few of the people I consulted when I was designing the converter, the neuroscientists.”  He pulled out his phone.  “I hope I haven’t created some kind of stubborn sensory loop in your brain.”

“Maybe it would help if I start a food diary?” Barry suggested.  “If I describe what I’m eating in detail, maybe it will—I don’t know—realign my brainwave patterns or whatever?”

Carlos nodded.  “That’s a great idea.  I’ll ask about that when I make the calls.”  He drew in a deep breath.  “I’m sorry, Barry.”

Barry gave him a light slap on the arm.  “You’ve gotten me out of worse scrapes.”


Barry returned to his own desk.  Aside from feeling slightly queasy from all the sugar his mind thought he’d consumed, he was okay.  He didn’t think he needed to take a sick day.  And he’d get to the device lab faster if Carlos discovered something and called him down.

A few days later, Barry was still eating imaginary lava cakes.

“I look at the food,” he said.  “I talk myself through eating it.  I describe the ingredients.  It even smells like what it’s supposed to smell like, until I get it right up to my mouth and then…”  Barry sighed.

“I’ve got a few things we can try,” Carlos said.

“Reversing the polarity on the device?”

Carlos offered a sympathetic smile.  “Not the way I’d put it.  But it’s on the list.  However, I want to start with other, less experimental methods first.  And I don’t want to put you through any brain function tests until we try everything on this list.  Have you had any other symptoms?”

“Not since the last time you asked me, which was when I walked in, remember?”

Carlos squeezed his eyes shut.  “Right, sorry.”

Barry sighed again.  “Have you been working on this non-stop?  Do I have to nag you to sleep and take breaks?  I don’t know if I can handle that.  Because everything tastes like cake and I’m stressed out.”

His eyes still closed, Carlos began to chuckle, then laugh.  He laughed so hard that it made Barry smile and begin to laugh too.

When their laughing fit subsided, Carlos handed Barry the list of potential solutions.  Barry wasn’t surprised that his friend’s idea of a “few” ideas amounted to fifteen items.  One of them was already crossed out—Barry’s food diary, which despite not seeming to work, he was still keeping.

The overarching strategy was to reset whatever sensory loops were involved in producing Barry’s sensation of eating food.

The first idea was to reset the entire sensory system from the physical inputs to nerve conduction to central processing, by shutting down the perception of all sensation altogether. 

Barry went into a sensory deprivation tank. 

Carlos was worried about putting his friend through even more mental distress, but it turned out Barry found the tank quite restful.  He fell asleep within fifteen minutes of being submerged. 

He came out feeling relaxed and hungry.

Even the baked chicken breast, seasoned only with salt, looked amazing to him…until he brought it to his lips and felt the all-too-familiar sensation of cake, and caught a whiff of chocolate.

Another idea was to reset Barry’s senses by temporarily confusing them all.

Carlos explained.  “There’s this exercise you can do that has been shown—in only one small study mind you—to temporarily imitate a condition called ‘synesthesia.’  Some people have this naturally.  They might see the color blue with their eyes, and say that the color feels sharp.  Or they’ll touch the cloth of a jacket and smell the scent of limes.”

“Great,” Barry said.  “Now triangles will taste like cake.  Dogs barking will taste like cake.  The color orange…will taste like cake.”

Carlos winced.  “We can skip to the next thing if you want to.”

Barry shook his head.  “Let’s follow your plan.”

“Thanks for having faith in my plan, especially since my original plan got you into this mess in the first place.”

Barry sucked his breath in through his teeth.  “I wasn’t going to say anything, but…”

Carlos chuckled, and they started the synesthesia plan.

Thankfully, Barry did not start tasting cake when he looked at the color orange or heard dogs barking.

But he still tasted cake when he tried eating a bag of curly fries.  And he still tasted cake when he tried munching on a handful of carrot sticks.

They continued on down the list.

“So, we tried resetting your system by effectively shutting all the senses down by depriving them,” Carlos said.  “Now we’re going to try shutting them down by overloading them, just for a second, and well within safe limits for what the sense organs can handle.  The idea is the same as giving the heart a shock of electricity.  I’m hoping your sensory system will start back up again at baseline.”

Whatever Carlos did to “overload” Barry’s senses may not have been intense enough.  The flash in his eyes was pretty much what he experienced during eye exams.  The beep in his ear was nothing compared to the volume of his neighbor’s entertainment system when he held movie nights at his place.  Barry had a feeling that Carlos had hoped, maybe expected, an earlier method to work, and had only put the sensory overload idea on the list out of thoroughness.

At last, the only ideas left were the ones that involved the converter device.


“Okay…reversing ‘polarity,’” Carlos said with a weak attempt at an impish smile.

Barry was glad to see any kind of smile on his friend’s face.  He was himself miserable of course, after a week of eating food that tasted like cake.  (A week that felt a lot longer.)  But he’d started worrying more about Carlos.  For both their sakes, he hoped the device could undo what it had done.

Carlos had flipped the input and output parameters on his device.  So he was having Barry eat an actual lava cake with coffee ice cream, which should then output as the taste and texture of cauliflower. 

When that didn’t work, Carlos programmed the device to make the outputs more robust, harder textures and stronger flavors, radishes, onions, even garlic. 

None of it worked.

“Maybe we should give it a few days again,” Barry said, slipping off the stool and stretching his shoulders at the end of another day.  “Never thought I’d ever hear myself say that I hope to taste cauliflower soon.”

Carlos had his arms crossed over the desk where he was monitoring the device’s functions.  He propped his chin on his hand and looked over.

“You know, I haven’t really gone in reverse yet,” he said, his eyes half-closed.  “I’ve been thinking about so many solutions using the devices, I haven’t gotten the obvious one out of the way.”

“Isn’t that what we’re doing?”

Barry expected a dismissive wave of the hand.  But Carlos hung his head and his shoulders before nodding and looking back up at Barry.

Barry waved his hand instead.  “It’s only been a week,” he said.

“A week of eating caking.”

“Some people would call that heaven.”

Carlos pointed to him.  “But you know better.”  He turned back to his computer and typed in a few commands.  “It’s ready if you want to try now, but if you want to call it quits…”

Barry shrugged and sat back down.  He hadn’t yet removed the device.  He felt the slight vibration of the device receiving the new commands that Carlos sent.

“So, we’re back to eating steamed cauliflower but getting the sensation of lava cake,” Carlos said.

He messaged the cafeteria to bring over some steamed vegetables.  The staff was familiar with his requests after a week of receiving them.  It was a breezy five minutes before they had a steaming plate of cauliflower.

Barry waited for it to cool a bit.  “I think my system might be getting used to it,” he said.

Carlos tried to smile, but seemed uncertain if that was the appropriate response.  He glanced down and squeezed his eyes shut, something he did to “squeeze out” distracting thoughts.

“Any news on new projects?” Barry asked, blowing on a forkful of cauliflower.

Carlos nodded.  “I’ll probably be assigned something once a few more people get back from their vacations.”  He looked up, his shoulders straightening.  “But I’m going to keep at it with the device, until you’re good.”

“I know.”

“I haven’t even brought in other people yet, so we still have several options.”

Barry took a bite of the cauliflower.  He smiled.  “A part of me is glad this doesn’t taste like cauliflower.”

He took two more bites, per Carlos’s protocol.  Then cleansed his palate with water.  Drinks thankfully, had not been affected by the device, except if Barry tried to make too thick of a smoothie. 

After the requisite wait time, Carlos keyed in the new parameters, the original parameters, and he slid the plate of broccoli over.

It had gotten quiet again.  Barry opted for some mischief.  “So, Sheila is one of the people who went on vacation right?  You guys still dating or…?”  He popped the broccoli in his mouth.

Carlos turned to him just as he starting chewing the broccoli.

Barry’s eyes went wide.  “Whoa…”

Carlos’s expression was professionally neutral.  “Does it taste like broccoli?”

“No, it tastes like cake, or pie, or whatever it is.”  Barry snapped his fingers.  “The Boston cream.”

Carlos raised his brows.  “That’s different.”

“Yeah.”  He took another forkful of broccoli.  He tasted the custard, the sweet spongey cake—yellow cake, and a hint of chocolate from the velvety ganache.  But it was still cake.

Carlos stared at the monitor.  “Okay, that’s some progress.  Let’s do a palate cleanse and take off the device.”

Barry drank some water.  He took off the device.  Drank some more water.

With the taste of cake still fading from his mouth, Barry took another bite of broccoli and gasped.

Carlos stood up from his chair. 

Neither spoke.

A smile bloomed on Barry’s face.

“What?” Carlos said.  “What does that mean?”

“It means broccoli, baby!”

Carlos gaped.  “Really?”

Barry shoveled two sprouts into his mouth.  “Wow, no salt or anything.  This is so good.  So good!”

Carlos laughed and threw his arms up. 

Barry stopped eating and looked at him mid-chew.

Carlos stopped smiling and dropped his arms.  “What is it?”

“Do you think the cafeteria is still open?”

Carlos checked the time.  “Maybe, if I message them, and we run for it.  What do you need?”

Barry licked his lips, smelling broccoli on his tongue.  He pointed down to the plate with his fork.  “It’s good.  Very good.  But just…maybe a little cheese sauce.”

Carlos beamed.  He walked over, and put a hand on Barry’s shoulder.  “Sure, buddy.  Let’s go get you some cheese sauce.”

Copyright © 2023  Nila L. Patel

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