Pretty trumped taste.
The wedding cake adventure actually started over a year ago, when Melissa of Masterpiece Weddings emailed me and asked, “will you pretty please come and be a judge for our wedding cake competition?”
Me? Wedding cakes?
I’ve only been married once, and don’t even remember what my wedding cake even looked like (though I do very much remember how it tasted! yum!), but then when Melissa said it was a fundraiser to benefit St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, of course I said yes.
So a couple of days ago, I drove up to Gainesville for the competition and let me tell you that I was not at all prepared for the world of food competitions. I wore a pretty dress, three-inch heels and a name tag that said “JUDGE.” What I should have worn was dark glasses, camoflauge and maybe even shoulda carried a shield. Wowzers, are those bakers fierce!
And guess who I was judging with…Food Network Challenge’s Kerry Vincent, the queen of wedding cake judging, you know, the woman who with one glance, sentence or stroke of pen can bring tears of joy or fear to a contestant. There were 35 cakes in total and I was in the group that judged the professional bakers. Each cake was set up on its own table, some of the cakes towering over four feet above the table and others so elaborately decorated you wonder if a team of twenty hovered over this baby for three days straight.
Judges: me, The honest and amazing Kerry Vincent; Executive Pastry Chef of Golden Ocala, and Internationally renowned Albert Barrett, Local TV 20, WCJB Anchor and Cake Aficionado Paige Beck, Front and Center, Danielle from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and cut off… Ludwig Gross, International Pastry Chef and just amazing guy! I gave my camera to a professional photographer from some news organization. PROFESSIONAL! And look. She cut Ludwig outta the photo. Not like there wasn’t room in the shot. Geez. Sorry Ludwig!
Kerry, Albert and Ludwig (my co-judges) went around each cake, and since this was my first time judging, I just mimicked what they did. And it was just like on TV!!! Each judge examined every. little. detail. of every swirl, swoop, flower and frill. So many little details that their trained eye caught! There was one particular cake that just took my heart away. It was a fairytale wedding cake, inspired by something Little Mermaid-ish. The cake was adorned with flawless candy shells and sea critters that look so real. The miniature sea anenomes were glittered with a fantastical rainbow of colors. I was in love. This was my #1 cake. This mermaid cake just HAD to win! I was in the middle of gushing about this cake to Albert when Kerry strolls on by, glanced at the cake and said, “Honey, it’s all mold.”
Apparently molds are easy. Plop your colored play-doh in, squeeze and out plops a perfect sea creature. No flaws.
Well, anyways, it was a very fun experience, and I think the highlight of the evening was when I tasted contestant #23’s cake, a moist, light, spongy cake with real buttercream frosting with bits of fruit jelly and homemade marshmallows. I wanted to grab the cake, crawl under the tablecloth and just devour the whole thing. You know, for me it’s all about the taste. It turned out that #23 was the lovely Chef Katie Codney from The Ritz Carlton in Naples. And then there was the moist carrot cake with just-right-sweet cream cheese frosting from Jaycel Adkins of Etiquette of Chocolate…oh baby, I’m gonna try to get a recipe for you guys from Jaycel. You can see the full list of winners and photos of the cake at Melissa’s blog.
Here’s Ludwig next to me! He’s teaching me what to look for in the design and execution. Don’t I look like I’m soooo professional? I even gots me a serious look on my face!
Oh, and by the way, as fierce as the Food Network makes Kerry Vincent look, she’s straightfoward and sincere. After the competition, Kerry made her rounds to each table, stopping by to coach and critique any of the bakers who wanted to know why they didn’t win and what they needed to improve upon. She’s respected not because she’s a celebrity on TV, but because she stands by what she says and took that extra two hours time after the event was over to coach. Yeah, we disagreed on some stuff, like the cake that won Best of Show was beautifully, flawelessly decorated, but tasted like rough cake mix, but that’s the world of wedding cake contests – technical design trumps taste. But honestly for me, as a lover of all things delicious, taste always trumps pretty.
Above: Best in Show award ($8000 prize package) went to Heavenly Cakes by Neil
Look at the freehand swirly swirls!
This was the mermaid cake that I loved…by Ms. Debbie
The Best in Show winner for Amateurs goes to this young woman (oops forgot her contact info! will find out) Yes, she’s an amateur and learned cake decorating just recently. Aren’t the flowers pretty?
Left: love the sugar origami…Right: delicate hand painted butterflies on sugar paper or rice paper (I don’t remember)
Left: ok so maybe not the most traditional of wedding cakes but let me tell you, Jaycel of Etiquette of Chocolate can bake the baddest carrot cake on earth. (pssst….Jaycel…would love recipe for your carrot cake! Kerry RAVED about your cake)
Left: Second runner up for design goes to Cakes by Lisa Menz. Thos tiny tassles on the cake are all hand made and out of sugar….Right: this couple was tooo stinkin’ adorable. He’s a cancer survivor and this was her 2nd cake ever made. She was in the amateur division…so much heart. They met in NYC, so their cake appropriately themed.
Left: Japanese cherry blossoms inspired this cake. I love the colors of this cake….Right: I don’t remember what inspired this creation. I think it’s Cinderella meets ???
And my favorite cake of all – was from Katie Codney of The Ritz Carlton, Naples. I wish I would have captured their individual cake that we tasted. But too late, it was alllll gone. I ate it all. That’s her husb next to her, who came to support her. I loved this cake, but while it won a “tastiest cake” it couldn’t win the Best of Show because of the design. According to the pros (i.e. all the other judges) Technically, it wasn’t a difficult design and the butterflies were way out of proportion to the flowers. Cake was too big for the flowers and some of the hand painted flowers needed more work. But I fought for them! There was still another layer under that blue striped layer– so you can imagine how big this cake was.
Help the kids!
Let’s Eat Cake is still accepting donations through til the end of the month!