When you attend a cake show or participate in a live cake challenge, there is only one thing that I think you should never, ever do…yell at the judges and show organizers. Sadly, there has been a flurry of this activity over the years. Why is this the cardinal sin? Because it will rob YOU of your reputation in the cake community.
Many of us will remember the year at the Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show when several competitors unleashed all over the judges from England. The scores were low by American standards, but were completely normal by British standards. People were understandably disappointed when they did not receive the medal they hoped for. Some competitors were even mad. Even that is fine. You are allowed to be angry.
You are NOT allowed to scream and yell at the judges. In public. Making a scene. When I heard about this at the OSSAS that year, I felt so bad for the judges. They paid their way over from England to judge that show. They judged as a favor to the show organizers and for the goodness of the sugar arts. They did not write their comments to anger people; they wrote them to encourage people to make a better cake next time.
I thought that the Oklahoma incident was a one time occurrence, but no. At the Connecticut show in 2010, at least one competitor in the live challenge started blasting the show on Facebook after their team was disqualified for breaking a rule. But the worst incident I have encountered occurred at That Takes The Cake in Austin, TX in 2012. No less than six competitors and their spouses decided that it was okay to scream and yell at the judges for the Showcake competition. I’m not kidding. Screaming in the faces of the judges, wagging fingers and generally throwing a tantrum worthy of toddlers.
Are you kidding me? When did it become okay to not treat people with respect? Why couldn’t they have approached the judges privately to discuss their questions and issues? When did it become acceptable to act like you are on an episode of Maury Povich? The short answer is that it is not ok.
So, if you disagree with the judges, what do you do? You pull one or more of them aside and ask to speak with them. You calmly explain your issues with the judging. You LISTEN as they explain why your cake received the scores it did. You learn from the experience and take that knowledge with you as you compete in the future.
One competitor at Austin was very upset with her judging, but she made an effort to talk to a couple of the judges to find out why her cake was treated as it was. Her initial anger and upset turned to understanding as she learned how her cake was viewed. She wrote me recently to say that the time she took with the judges gave her back so much…she will be a stronger competitor for having taken the time to respectfully talk to the judges. I have so much respect for her and her attitude!
The people who acted out publicly lost so much credibility in the cake community. My goodness people….cakes come and go, but your reputation matters. You have got to act in a socially responsible manner. If not for your own personal dignity, then for the newbies at the cake show. What message do they receive when people throw a fit? There are children at the show – is that the way to behave in front of them? Does that make people get excited about entering the next show?
Remember also that judges are human. They make mistakes. They are generally volunteers who paid their way to a show and are just trying to do a good job. Judges do not always agree on what is the best cake or how a cake should be scored. They can learn from the competitors, if the competitors take the time to calmly explain what was missed.
I judge a lot of shows. I spend a lot of time on my judging comments to try to help people achieve their personal best. I have made mistakes before and am sure I will again. I have competed for nearly twenty years and have been disappointed in scores before. I took it as a life lesson to help me do better. One year I entered a clematis flower in a clematis category. I chose an unusual variety with 20+ petals. The entry was disqualified because the horticulture judge was not familiar with that variety. Why did I assume the judges would know this variety? No clue. The lesson to me was that under the table where my entry sat, I had a clematis book with that flower on the cover. But I did not leave that out for the judges. I did not write them any information to tell them about the variety. In short, I failed to do my job as a competitor so they could not properly do their job. Big lesson learned.
One final message…it is so hard for me to listen to people say they are “devastated” when they don’t win. Really? Devastated? I was devastated when I was diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer. I was devastated when my parents died. Please remember that it is just a cake. They are not judging you personally, just your work that particular day on that particular cake. Losing doesn’t make you a loser or an inferior decorator. It is just a decorating opportunity to do it even better the next time!