I just got home from the Austin cake show (That Takes The Cake). One of the coolest parts of it for me were the sheer number of decorators who came up to me and said they entered because of my encouragement. They had read my blogs and realized that cake shows would die without people bringing cakes. One of the biggest questions I get is from people asking me what division they should enter. Are they Adult Advanced? Professional? Beginner?
Judging this weekend, I saw several instances of people entering below their skill level and/or below their professional level. Did they do it out of ignorance? Maybe. Did they do it out of fear that they weren’t really a “professional”? Maybe. Did they do it to win lots of awards? Makes me wonder….. I decided that maybe you guys needed help figuring out your divisions so that people don’t think you “entered down” in order to win.
Here are the divisions from the recent Austin show.
While the shows are similar, each show will have its own particular guidelines and you need to follow those. I want to walk you through reading these divisions so that you understand how to classify yourself.
In Austin, this means you have basic skills (think Wilton first class), have been decorating less than 2 years, have taken less than 30 hours of classes. If you exceed any of these three elements, you should probably move up. If you have only decorated six months, but are a natural and able to make cakes with very few flaws, you aren’t really a beginner in my eyes. I would not say that you had just basic decorating skills. For me, that is the most telling part of the qualifications. BASIC skills. If you know in your heart that your skills are beyond the entry level basics, you need to move up.
In Austin, this was for people with developing skills, 2-4 years of experience and and 30-60 hours of instruction. I judged this division. I was surprised at the people who entered this category, even though their skills were clearly beyond the “developing” stage. This is not a category for anyone who owns a bakery business or who makes most of their income from cakes. It is unfair to the people who really do have developing skills if you walk in with your refined skills and sweep the awards. If a doctor entered the science fair against your child, you would be pissed. Well I am the surrogate mother of the new, developing decorators and want them to only compete against others of comparable skills. “But I’ve only been decorating two years” you say. I understand. But the length of time you’ve been a decorator is not the only guideline. You cannot pick just that to focus on.
Developing skills means that you have moved beyond the Wilton yearbooks and are trying your own designs. You might do a thing or two pretty well, but your skills across the board are still developing. You know that you have a lot to learn and are willing to admit it. You look at the cakes in higher categories and study them to figure out how they did things, because that knowledge is just beyond you for now. If you can look at the work in higher divisions and realize that your work is equal or better than that…then it is time to move up.
This is where my “Are you my mother” symbolism comes in. Just like the little bird, you have to walk up to each category and say “is this the type of decorator I truly am”? Pay particular attention to the skill level descriptions and less to the number of years or hours of classes. I know people who have taken boatloads of classes, but still have developing skills. I know someone whose first cake in her life won Best of Show. I know people who are entirely self taught, yet incredibly brilliant. Those of you holding your hand out to a customer for money for your cakes, would you feel good justifying your price by saying that you have basic skills? Or developing skills? You should not “enter down” just to win a prize.
In Austin, this was for people with more refined skills, 4-6 years of experience and 60-90 hours of classes. These are folks who are considered good decorators by everyone who sees their work. They still do it for friends and family, not for a paycheck. They have really gotten the hang of several different techniques. At the lower divisions, someone might be a one trick pony…be good at just one aspect of decorating…not these folks.
Let’s also talk about classes. What counts towards your hours? Wilton classes and other beginner level classes taught at supply stores do not count. Online classes like Craftsy do not count. You only need to count classes with recognized teachers. An easy way to figure that out is to look at the ICES Approved Teacher list. That will give you a good starting list.
In Austin, this was for decorators with a high level of skill, who have decorated more than six years, have taken more than 90 hours of classes or who work as a decorator. My very first cake show, I had only taken the three Wilton classes and been at the grocery store bakery for a couple of weeks, but had to enter this level at the Oklahoma Show. Was it fair to make me jump all the other levels? Yes. It truly was. I took money for decorating and that made me a professional. I know my skill level wasn’t that high at that time, but it forced me to work harder to do work befitting that division. If you took money once or twice, I probably wouldn’t move you here, but if you get most of your income from doing cakes, you need to enter this division. I personally think that if you have a Facebook or web page dedicated to the solicitation of cake orders, you are a professional.
In Austin, this was reserved for teachers, authors and people considered experts in the sugar art field. This includes people with more than 120 hours of classes. These decorators are known to have mastered several aspects of sugar art. If you take people’s money as a teacher, we should see you here. I do not include Wilton instructors in this statement, just those teaching advanced sugar art skills. I personally think that if you have a CMSA certification, you need to be in this division. If you have DVDs for sale, this is you. If you sell tutorials online or filmed a Craftsy class, this is you.
I was looking at the Divisions for the upcoming North Texas Show and have to say that I love how they described the divisions. I wish I had seen it before I was almost finished with this blog…but they are awesome. Check them out at http://www.northtexascakeshow.com. They are common sense wordings!
North Texas includes hints for entering. They say that if the category seems like it would be too easy, even though you technically could fit there, then enter the next higher category. If the category seems too hard that you should be in, then enter one lower. You are allowed to move yourself higher at any time. You cannot enter lower than you did prior years.
In the end, you have to do what is right for you. If you aren’t sure, ask the show organizers or someone who regularly judges cake shows. In the end, you have to go with your gut.
I want to end telling you about two seventeen year olds at the Austin show. Tyler Gary entered a spectacular wedding cake in the teen division. Could he have entered a higher category? Yes. With his skill level, he could easily have placed in Adult Advanced or Professional. But he was ALLOWED to enter as a teen and he did. Sidney Galpern, also 17, entered Masters. Why? Because she looked at the categories and knew that it was the right place for her. She teaches internationally. She has her own product lines. She sells DVDs. She is exactly who needs to compete at the master level. The point of this story is that you must look beyond the surface to see where someone really fits. Think about what is fair to you and about what is fair to your competitors.
Wherever you fit, I am glad that you are entering. I cannot begin to tell you how amazing it felt as so many of you came to me at Austin and said you entered because of my encouragement. Together, we are keeping cake shows and the future of sugar art alive!