CakeStruck: Sugar Heroes and Idols

Every one of us has someone we look up to. Sometimes it is the person from Food Network Challenge. Sometimes it is the author of your favorite cake books. Sometimes it is the person who routinely wins the top prize at cake shows. These people inspire us to do cakes, to be more than we are.

One of my friends was talking to my travel buddy Susan Carberry the other day about the first time she met Susan. She said “I was starstruck….no, cakestruck.”. I loved that term! She talked about how nice Susan was and how meeting her reinforced her image of Susan.

I remember the year at the Maryland Cake Show when Duff Goldman showed up. People were crawling all over themselves to get near him and take a picture with him. Someone decided to introduce him to Geraldine Randlesome from Creative Cutters. I remember that the person attempting the introduction was so disappointed because Duff didn’t know who Geraldine was and didn’t really care. Duff wasn’t attempting to be insulting…he did not know her or her contribution. We cannot expect everyone to have the same sugar heroes.

I know that my sugar heroes may not be yours. For me, it was never the television personalities. My two main heroes were JoEllen Simon and Cheri Elder. Why? They were the only two people I could find who could do whimsical cakes and elegant string work cakes equally well. They were (and are) the most well rounded decorators I have ever found. I have always aspired to be like them and made sure that I did not solely focus on one aspect of decorating.

Many of us forget that our sugar heroes are just like us. Many of the people you know from TV are some of the shyest people I know. I hear people comment that some of them are stuck up or arrogant because they don’t mingle with the masses at cake shows. The truth is that they are painfully shy and uncomfortable around people they do not know. Some of the TV folks are just as insecure about their work or appearance as you are. We all have demons. Admire them, but cut them some slack if they do not seem like you expect.

One of the things that I think sugar heroes forget is that people are always watching them. They are role models for the majority of decorators. I was at a show recently when a sugar hero to many got up and walked off when the challenge results were announced. Maybe they only had to go to the rest room, but the timing was terrible and gave everyone the impression that they were upset with the judges’ decision. I wonder if the person would have acted differently if they realized how many eyes were on them.

If you are a TV personality, author or well known sugar artist, remember that you have become role models for numerous cake decorators and sugar artists. Remember that posing for the picture, signing the apron or pausing to admire someone’s cake with them can make someone’s day. It is often the smallest gestures that mean the most. Don’t forget to congratulate people who beat you…even if you think you should have won. It is good sportsmanship. And maybe the person that beat you wants to hear a kind word from you even more than they wanted to win.

I would also like to note that just because someone has been on TV does not give them the right to act superior to everyone else. If your work is better than everyone else’s, your work will speak for itself. There is no reason to build yourself up by tearing others down. Luckily, I find this attitude to be the exception and remember that I saw this behavior in at least one person long before TV came their way. TV doesn’t change who people are…it just makes it easier to see the flaws and virtues of the people who go on the shows. I have been delighted to meet and become friends with many of the TV personalities and have to say that almost every one of them has been incredibly kind and quick to answer any question I had. They are supportive of the new decorators and treat everyone with respect.

I remember one night at a cake show when a big group of us went to eat. A newer decorator was in the group and kept going on and on about how it was the best night of her life. At first, I didn’t understand. Then I looked around and realized that the people I counted as my dear friends were sugar heroes to her. A night I would have taken for granted took on a new importance when I saw it through her eyes.

As with all things, we should strive to learn more about people worthy of our admiration. My suggestion is that you look through the ICES Hall of Fame list to see who you do not know. Go learn about these incredible people who paved the way for what we do every day. You just may find a new sugar hero.

If you see someone not on the ICES Hall of Fame list that you think should be there, nominate them! Your hero could inspire many others. So, who is your sugar hero and why?


7 thoughts on “CakeStruck: Sugar Heroes and Idols

  1. Thanks Ruth for pointing out that there are many unsung cake heroes out there, who do not ever make it to the TV screen or youtube. The ICES halls are full of them- genuine folks who just love learning and sharing what they know. The teacher who inspired me most taught a night class at a junior high school- her work was occasionally submitted to Mail Box News. To this day I think of her when I see fine stringwork, chocolate painting or panoramic eggs- she mastered it all from royal to buttercream to fondant and gum paste. She demanded the best from her students, and didn’t mind correcting us to help us achieve better results- trust me, I know. 🙂 Though she passed recently at 88, she was and is my idol. Thank you Stella, and all the rest of you who inspire us to give our best to sugar work!

  2. I really appreciate the reminder today that cake heroes and “celebrities” are people just like me.
    Before I ever got to my first show, attended by well-known cakers, I was cake-struck by so many! Then I got to meet and talk with a handful of them. Not only did it bring them into a more human focus, off the pedestals we often times perch them on, but I took the time to really listen to what they had to say about everything, not just about cake. That made all the difference!
    Now, I meet people in the craft that I admire, like you, Kathleen, and Carol (to name just a few), and though I might be gun-shy being a “new kid on the block”, I welcome the new friendship possibilities! We’re all part of the same family, in the best ways possible.
    Those who share their love of the craft, keeping it “real”, without the pomp and circumstance of their celebrity status, are ALL heroes to me. And you my friend, are certainly one of them 🙂

  3. My cake star is Kerry Vincent. I didn’t know who she was until I saw her on Cake Challenge. I must say, she didn’t seem like a person I would like to know personally. The show portrayed her as arrogant and cruel. One day I saw her posting on FaceBook and just said hello for the heck of it. I was surprised when she answered back. I wrote a few more words and before long we became cyber friends. We now send emails, talkon the phone and communicate mostly through her fan page called Fantourage and Facebook. She has turned out to be a lovely talented lady with whom I feel very comfortable. I am only a novice cake designer. I have never showed her my work and we rarely talk cake. She has a wicked sense of humor and is wise in so many other areas besides the sugar arts. So, as you said in your article. Don’t judge a person by what you see portrayed in the press. If I had done that I would not have meet my sweet friend Kerry.

  4. Ruth, another great and thoughtful article!
    I too am amazed by the wonderful talent that surrounds us at ICES, and many cake shows. I am lucky enough to have had a plethora of great artist who have inspired and encouraged me. I am thankful for each one, and even more thrilled to call them friend.
    As I continue on my journey as a sugar artist, I am excited to meet other sugar artist, see their work, and what I can learn from them. My student and new artists astounded me with their skills and knowledge.
    I also love and cherish my memories of friends and artists who have past, and hope that I am able to help share them with others, while being lucky enough to do what I love.

  5. Well said Ruth! This topic comes up a lot between and my “cake-buds” and myself! I have a lot of respect for those who put themselves on TV if only that it does change your life for the good and bad and then you do have to watch everything you do and say – always being under scrutiny isn’t easy! But my biggest hero is a woman named Diane Paglia from Warwick RI – she has taught me not only wonderful decorating techniques (She is such a wealth of information!) she has taught me, how to enter a show cake, baking tips, business tips, professionalism, and has become a very dear friend – someone I cherish! I have taken classes with many people and she is one of the BEST teachers I’ve ever had! She also was president of ICES when it was in it’s infancy in the late 70’s. I feel very blessed having her in my life!

  6. I know, I know.. it took me over a week to post a response… I’m blessedly busy!!

    I’m happy to say that you, Ruth, are one of my cake idols. We met back at Wedding cake wars and accepted my facebook friend request DURING the competition!! That’s NUTS! And Super sweet… and exactly what I would have done if I wasn’t freaking out. Then I find out that you work on cake projects in the CAR… on the way to the competitions??? It’s like finding my long lost cake sister. =) Then you take the time to answer my stupid questions, encourage me when i was scared silly about opening a shop and to this day, answer silly posts on FB, chat when you can, and you didn’t even smack me when I caught you at the ABE making a mad dash to the car while on the phone. =) I admire your work, I admire your willingness to share, and I love your blog posts because they’re written from the standpoint of “been there done that”….. the one about “Who doesn’t love cake?” It’s my new mantra… Say NO. it’s allowed. =)

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