Tag Archive | cake shows

Lines Drawn in the Sand, an open letter to Cakes Decor

My heart is heavy right now and this is a very hard article to write.  An editorial appeared on Cakes Decor recently and has divided my little cake community in ways I never thought possible.  You can read that editorial here.  I am going to address each of the points made in the editorial giving my opinion on them.  And it will be just that:  my opinion.  I also intend to discuss the MANNER of the editorial.

Before I start, I guess I better give my background…just in case you haven’t read the “About Ruth” page or don’t know who I am.  After all, I was told today that I am just a writer and an attorney, not a “real caker.”

I started cake decorating around 1994.  I worked for Quail Plaza IGA, first as a cake decorator, then as the bakery manager.  In 1999, I was named top Bakery Manager in the world for all the IGA’s.  I then opened my bakery.  I started with just me in 400 square feet and it grew to 16 employees in 4000 square feet.  We made hundreds of cakes a week.  I closed my bakery at the end of 2011, to travel and teach advanced cake decorating.  I have made real cakes.  I have baked them.  I have made styrofoam cakes.  I have baked from home, worked for others and run my own commercial shop.  I truly have been in most every bakery/caking situation you can name.  I am a Certified Master Sugar Artist, one of very few in the world today.  I have won a ridiculous number of medals at cake shows.  I have been published in numerous magazines.  I’ve done the tv cake competitions and won.  I’m incredibly far from perfect, but feel like I have sufficient background to talk to you about this editorial.  Oh!  And before someone brings it up, yes, I practiced law for years.  I AM A CAKE DECORATOR.

fake

To begin, I want to talk about the tenor of the editorial.  This is America.  We have the right to free speech and to express our opinions.  I love that about America.  In law school, we were taught that our rights extended to the end of our fingertips, but not so far as to touch someone else.  And that is paramount.  Yes, we can say whatever we want…SO LONG AS WE DO NO HARM.  For instance, if I walk into a crowded theatre and yell “fire!”, inciting a panic and someone is harmed running out of the theatre, I would be liable for those injuries sustained.  It only makes sense.

In today’s world, cyber bullying has become all too real.  I wrote about it previously in my blog called Unsweetened.  The editor chose to use derogatory labels such as “faker caker” to put down people who do not offer cakes for retail sale.  Apparently, you are only a “REAL” caker if you sell your cakes.  Does this mean that your grandmother is not a real caker because she decorates just for family?  Does this mean that a retired bakery owner is no longer a real caker?  If your state or city prevents you from selling, did you just become a fake decorator?  And how many cakes does it take to be real?  If you get one order a year, are you real?

This happens from time to time in the athletic community.  People will say that you aren’t a real runner if you can’t run a certain time per mile.  Or you aren’t a real triathlete if you haven’t done a full ironman.  In the end, it is just an effort to put someone else down and to raise yourself up.  Here’s the problem with that:  when you try to make someone seem like less, you never ever make yourself look like more.  This is why I belong to several Facebook athletic groups that are inclusive of those #pathetic triathletes or #backofthepack runners.  If you run, you are a runner.  If you decorate cakes, real or styro, you are a cake decorator.  If you decorate cakes for the sheer joy and delight of it and make no money, you are a cake decorator.  If you teach cake decorating skills in person or online, you are a cake decorator.  Please, do not let this editorial make you feel unworthy.  You decorate.  Let’s celebrate that!!

Now to address the fallacies in the article.

Decorating a styrofoam cake is easier.

Sometimes, it IS easier.  Sometimes it is way harder.  The thing is, styrofoam is light and moves around on you.  The edges can be very sharp and tear your fondant.  Generally, I think it takes about the same amount of time to decorate the outside of a real cake vs. a styrofoam cake.  The decorating part is unchanged.  As we always told our customers at my shop who looked at our styrofoam displays…they were styro inside so that they could stay on display without drawing bugs, but every item on the outside was exactly as if we were decorating their cake.  It is true that the styrofoam cakes won’t bulge and are generally pretty stable when stacked.  If you work with the right cake and stacking techniques, the same is true for real cakes.  I have friends that have stacked real cakes 6 and 7 tiers high and driven with them on back country roads in Texas and Louisiana without any problems.

Classes should be taught in real cake.

Sure, when possible.  But it is not always possible.  Let me give some examples.  At many mini class events, they are held at facilities that have in-house food vendors.  Teachers are not allowed to bring in their own cake.  You must purchase cake from the vendor.  Those are often not the type of cakes you would use to carve and create structured cakes.  For that reason, a teacher may choose to use styrofoam.  Sometimes, students fly or drive to take a class.  Taking home a real cake on a plane, or shipping it home, is not always realistic or desired.  The better question is, did the teacher demo or provide info on how to do the project in real cake?  I have first hand knowledge of many teachers who teach structures and know that they do.

A few teachers, including the one who said I wasn’t a real caker,  posted that they only teach with real cake.  That is great!  I’m so glad it is something that you can do where you teach!  My Wilton classes always used real cake.  I am glad I learned with it…at the beginning.  Would I need to have it in real cake now to understand the process?  Probably not, but I’ve been caking for a long time.  If you are newer and NEED to see it done in real cake, then by all means look for those classes!  Read your class descriptions carefully and choose the ones that are right for you.

Designs done in styrofoam are not realistic to be done in real cake.

Didn’t we learn anything when a certain decorator belittled another on his gravity defying cube cake??  She said it was a nice piece of styrofoam, but couldn’t be done in cake…so he cut into his cake and proved her wrong.  I remember when the Topsy Turvy cakes were all the rage.  Colette Peters and Polly Schoonmaker pioneered these and everyone said it couldn’t be done in real cake.  But it could.  And across the country, it was!

I always think of cakes for competitions and photo shoots as your couture runway shows.  This isn’t the ready-to-wear commercial line of cakes…these are the dreams, the fantasies, the desire to explore the ultimate in possibilities.  While it is highly rare that one of those cakes is practical to be recreated for a customer, it is also true that many of our trends arise from them.  There is a difference between commercial cakes and competition cakes…I covered that before in this blog.  I know that sometimes it is hard to explain the difference to a customer, but that is part of your job:  educating your clients.  I had competition cakes in my display window and was always able to design a commercial approach to it for my customers.  That is your creative challenge.  If it simply isn’t possible or feasible for any reason, just be upfront with them.  Your customers deserve your honesty.

The fake cakes aren’t realistic to be done for customers.

You might think this is the same as above, but not really.  The editor said that the class designs were so “wonky” that they weren’t realistic for a customer’s budget.  The editorial implied that people should not take classes for cakes that they can’t turn around and resell.  I addressed the factors that help me decide whether to take a class here.  Many people do not take a class solely to recreate that project for retail sale.  Sometimes, they take class to meet the instructor.  Sometimes, they want to learn the techniques from that class to use on a different project.  Who really cares if a class is realistic for retail sale??  What if it is my child’s dream cake?  Can’t I take that class?  The project, in the end, is just the embodiment of the techniques taught in that class.  Let each student decide if it is right for them.

Cake shows should require all cake designs to be real cake.

The editor probably doesn’t know this, but one show tried that.  Cakes had to be real and you could only spend a limited amount of time working on them.  Awesome.  Then the cakes arrived.  And the work was very limited and commercial looking.  The show organizers were surprised, I think.  Those viewing the cakes were disappointed.  They didn’t want to see the cakes they could get at their local shops and grocery stores; they wanted to see the magical side of our art.

There are shows overseas that require the cake to be real.  There are chef organizations that require real cake.  There are divisions at cake shows for real cake.  If that is what you want to make, then please…enter those!  There are rarely enough sculpted cakes at shows.  If you do enter that division, grab my tips here.  I’ve looked at class projects and thought “I would never make that in a million years!”, but others looked at the same class and saw a project they couldn’t resist.  Who am I to say that they shouldn’t take it?  Often, they don’t recreate THAT project…they take the skills and knowledge gained in class to create something else.  And isn’t that what education is all about??!!

Fake cakes should be labeled as such.

So, this has been the biggie in all the Facebook groups.  Don’t act like it is a real cake if it is a fake one.  I honestly don’t recall anyone trying to mislead the public on this.  I’m not sure I even care.  I can look at a design and determine whether I personally am able to do it in cake or not.  I can’t look at it and determine whether or not YOU can do it.  I’ve seen cakes that seemed almost “too perfect” to be real, but then a slice was cut out of it and my jaw would drop.  There are people with skills far beyond mine.  I’m not threatened by that.  There are people with skills below mine.  I’m not better than them because of that.

I’ve seen work by many highly talented sugar artists and I cannot tell whether it is one of their real cakes or their fake cakes.  Why should they HAVE to tell people one is styrofoam?  What does it matter?  So many cake decorators said they felt better by the editorial because it made them feel ok about their work.  People, I want you to feel better about your work regardless!  You are creating an edible artform and doing it to the best of your ability today!  Don’t stress about whether someone else’s cake edges are sharper or their buttercream is smoother.  If you personally aren’t happy with how something looks, that’s different.  Take a class or practice on a dummy to improve.  No other artist’s work makes yours less.  Your customers, friends and family all love YOU.  They love your cakes.  Don’t be distracted by things outside your business or hobby that have no means to hurt you.

Don’t do fake cakes if you can’t do a real one.

This is where I felt like the editorial really missed the mark.  Are there actually a bunch of cake decorators running around making magnificent fake cakes who don’t know how to make a real cake?  I cannot think of a single one.  Not ONE.  Is there a community of cake artists out there teaching classes but they don’t know how to bake a cake?  Seriously??  No.  I can think of several decorators who work on styrofoam for projects, but also have numerous baking tutorials.  I would trust any of them to make me a cake.

Why was I hurt by this article?

This is a tough industry.  The hours are long and the pay really isn’t great.  As artists, we already second guess ourselves and our work every single day.  We know that when we post our work online, it is being judged by every set of eyes that sees it.  We need to find ways to build a strong, supportive community.  Dividing people into groups, especially with a derogatory term like “FAKER CAKER” is just a means to make someone feel less about themselves.  Why, oh why, would you want to try to hurt someone?  I know when the decorator told me today that I wasn’t a real caker, I was shocked and hurt.  I’m sad for her.  I left her group, so she won’t know that I have a really good background of information and could have been a helpful adviser in that group.

Today, I would like to celebrate all of you who make cakes.  Thank you for keeping this beautiful art form alive.  Thank you for sharing your talents with the world.  Just thank you.  

 

Why, Ruth, WHY???

Following my last blog on choosing your division for cake shows, people started asking me why I made certain comments. They started writing my friends to see whether they agreed with me and some wrote to tell me I was wrong. I decided that maybe you guys could use a little clarification on my opinions. And they are just that….MY OPINIONS. I am not saying this is the rule; rather, this is how I have interpreted things for my many years of competing. As I said in my last blog, to know for sure, you have to contact the show directors for the show you want to enter. Every show has different definitions of the divisions. Only the people who wrote the rules can tell you what they truly mean.

WHY DON’T YOU COUNT BEGINNER CLASSES LIKE WILTON?

I had people thinking I was bad mouthing Wilton teachers by saying this and nothing could be further from the truth. Let me start with where my opinions came from and go into more detail from there. When I was first starting to compete, I was talking with a well respected show director for one of the major US shows. She told me that for her show, she did not count demos, days of sharing, or beginning decorating classes like Wilton. Back when we had this conversation, there was no such thing as Internet videos and Online classes.

So why don’t we count these? Remember, we aren’t saying they aren’t valuable or that they aren’t good…we are saying not to count them in determining whether to move up a division. Many decorators have a great fear of being bumped up to the next division. They worry that they don’t have the skills to compete at that level. They consider it a bad thing to have to move to a higher division. Since people consider the classes as counting “against” them, we only want to count the classes that legitimately SHOULD push them higher.

The best way to think of it is that we only want to count the classes that give you more skills, that could enable you to compete at a higher level. Beginner classes just put you on the playing field as a beginner. For that reason, I personally do not count the first two Wilton classes and the introductory classes at many cake supply shops. They INTRODUCE you to the skills and techniques for cake decorating. Those beginning classes should not be used to move you up a division. If you continue on to Wilton 3 &4, you can count those hours towards moving up, since they are teaching you ADVANCED skills.

WHY DON’T YOU COUNT ONLINE CLASSES?

I have written before about online classes and how they can be incredibly helpful. Many of the ones today, especially those from Yummy Arts and Craftsy are well made with quality instructors. They are certainly worth your money. But, should they count “against” you to move you to a higher division? My personal opinion is that they should not. If you just watch the class, it is like watching a demo…you have not done the technique yourself. I have only seen a couple people post on Facebook that they worked alongside the video to create the class project. There is not a teacher there to correct you if you hold your hand the wrong way or do the technique wrong. No one is at your house to tell you if you got it or not. So, use these classes. Learn from them. But I don’t think you have to count them against your class hours when looking at cake show divisions.

WHY DO THEY HAVE TO BE ICES APPROVED TEACHERS?

Oh people, I did not say that…I said that was a STARTING place! You just want to be sure that you are counting classes from respected, knowledgable teachers. I don’t want you to feel like you have to count a class with a teacher that YOU thought was inadequate. I’ve read the students’ thoughts on teachers and know that some of you have taken classes that you believe were a complete waste of your money. For God’s sake, don’t count those. Count the classes that enhanced your skills as a decorator.

WHY DON’T YOU COUNT DEMOS AND YOUTUBE VIDEOS?

Just like with the online classes, you are just watching these things. You aren’t practicing under the supervision of an instructor. These are great and valuable tools to use as a decorator…watch them all! I just don’t think you need to count them against you for moving up a division.

WHY SHOULD I MOVE UP?

You should compete against people at your same competency level. In my opinion, that is what you really want to focus on. If you have very rough, beginning skills, enter Beginner. If you are becoming proficient at several techniques, I think you should look at Intermediate or Advanced. If you are proficient at many skills or do cakes for a living, I think you should enter Professional. If you are a teacher, author or recognized expert, you need to be in Masters. In the end, you are answering to yourself and your conscience. Where do YOU realistically believe your skills fit?

WHO APPOINTED YOU THE PERSON TO TELL US WHAT TO DO?

Not a soul. I never said I was right, only that I was sharing my opinions based upon many years of competing. I know enough to know that I don’t know everything. I am always willing to listen and revise my opinions. I offered my opinions at the request of many people who told me they had trouble figuring out their division. I am just trying to be helpful. If you disagree with me – fine. Do your own thing. That is the beautiful thing about America!

In the end, I get back to my same old preach: enter the cake shows! Attend the cake shows. Support the sugar arts. And thank you for reading my blog and letting me express my opinions.

20130314-093952.jpg

An Ode to Vendors

I’ve been attending Days of Sharing, Cake Shows and the ICES Convention for years. I have shopped until I dropped. I have, at rare times, purchased nothing. I try to make a point of thanking the event organizers for all they do. I even try to thank volunteers. The group that I never fully appreciated until I became one, is the vendors. I am certain that I never thanked them for being there.

There is an old adage that you should never judge someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. I started to get a slight peek into the world after convention one year when I helped Nick Lodge and Scott Ewing load their van afterwards. There was a never ending line of vendors carrying boxes and displays and Lord knows what else out to their respective vehicles. That was when I started to pay attention.

I watched as Diego from Fiesta Cake lugged in several boxes and suitcases of goodies in CT. He was given a dolly with a nearly flat tire, but he persevered. I watch Susan Carberry weigh and reweigh her luggage to figure out what she could bring for sale. I watched Ximena from Cakes by Ximena spend hours setting up her products and all of her display pieces. I’ve watched Edward Frys from The Sugar Art come in and be pleasant and helpful to customers even though he drove all night to get to the event.

I never really thought about what it took to be a vendor. I remember a story that Scott Ewing told me once….a customer came up, pointed at an item, and said that she could get it cheaper online. She wanted Scott to lower his price. He said, I had to package and label this product, pack it, get it here, unpack it, display it and now you want me to sell it for less than I have it marked? What a huge point Scott made. The vendor is giving you the convenience of getting your item right then and there. That is worth something. It is unfair to make the vendor feel bad about what they have to charge. Remember, they didn’t have to just pay for the product. They also pay for the overhead at home and the cost of the booth there. They pay for the bag, the label, the shopping bag, the labor to price it/pack it/ unpack it. They may have paid shipping charges to receive it. They certainly had to pay to drive it or mail it to the event.

Think of it like your cake orders. Your customers rarely appreciate all the things that go into the cake on their table. Likewise, we shoppers don’t appreciate what the vendors do for us. I’ve now spent a little time walking in the shoes of a vendor and have so much appreciation for those who do it well. Beautiful booths take hard work and money. Ximena, Nick and Diane Simmons at Cake Connection always seem to go all out. It takes a day just to pack for shows sometimes…maybe even longer.

I have now taken over much of my house when it is time to pack. I spend days putting cutters and veiners into bags, making labels, filling them out and then trying to pack in an organized fashion. I’ve learned to pay for extra baggage fees and to gear up for long drives. I’ve accepted that I don’t get to shop at other booths or visit with friends as much as I used to…I need to be at the booth. So why on earth would I do this? Because my class prices are lower and my enrollment is often lower, so I may not break even if I don’t sell products.

So, since my eyes have been opened to the gifts from the vendors, I want to say Thank You. Thanks for being there when I really needed that tool, fondant or cutter. Thank you for all your hard work before, during and after the event. Thank you for supporting my addiction to sugar art and for always bringing out the latest products to inspire us. Thank you for all the free demonstrations on how to use the products. Thank you for your giveaways, for your newsletters and for your sponsorship of the events. I am grateful.

On a final note, to those of you who have shopped from me over the last year, thank you! You help me get to the locations to offer my classes, which is my true dream.

20130305-081803.jpg

Now Boarding

now boarding

I am embarking on my long series of flights to England for the Cake International show as I write this. As always, I seem to find myself writing blogs during this time. Someone commented to me that I must be really good at flying to events with cake things and that I should share my tips. I know I did my tips on Traveling to Cake Shows, but that was really written for people who drive, so I am going to share what I have learned over the past year of constant plane flights.

1. Get the app for your airline.
If you have a smartphone, download the app for Delta, Southwest or whichever airline you fly. It is a quick way to see what gate you fly into and which one the next flight leaves from. You can check in on it, book flights on it and check your mileage balance. For instance, today four of us are flying to Birmingham from three different airports. We all meet up in Minneapolis. I was able to check the gates for everyone, since they have tight layovers. They got my text and were able to head to the right gate area as soon as they landed.

2. Pack intelligently
We have all learned the hard way what we can and cannot pack. Here is what my sugar teaching sisters and I would recommend. All fondant, gumpaste, modeling chocolate must go in the checked luggage. Know that you will be inspected by the TSA if you carry these. The glycerin will make them go through your luggage. If you carry airbrush or liquigel colors, glaze or piping gel/glucose, you should double bag the items. I promise. Those leaks are terrible! I always bag my tools in ziplocks. I tend to wrap my large rolling pin inside my FondX mat, to keep it from getting beat up.

3. Introduce yourself.
For some reason, all these cake tools look like weapons to the TSA. Since we know they are going to open our bags, the smart choice is to let them know who you are and why you have this stuff. I have a sheet that includes my logo, explains who I am and that these cake tools are for my classes and demos. I include my cell phone number so that they can reach me quickly if they have any questions. I put the sheet inside a page protector and put one in every piece of luggage I check. I have never had a problem since I started doing this.

tsa letter for luggage blog

4. Fire bad.
If you use torches on isomalt or sugar, you have to make sure that the torch is completely empty. This means not just pouring out the liquid, but actually turning your torch on and letting the fuel burn dry. You cannot carry any of the fuel in your luggage. You must buy it at the destination. The TSA will call you to security if you don’t do what I wrote. Just ask Peggy Tucker! She is the one that shared the information with me. The fuel is considered combustible and they aren’t going to look friendly upon it in your suitcase.

5. Protect fragile items.
When I pack, I always put the heaviest items at the bottom of the suitcase, closest to the wheels. I see people lay their cases out flat and they put a full layer of heavy down then put other things on top. When they tilt the suitcase up to roll, the heavy things all push down towards the wheels and settle. They can damage your fragile items if you do that. I always put the icing down by the wheels, veiners and molds above that, then cutters on top. I want to be sure my cutters do not get bent.

6. Carry on my wayward son.
If you are taking an entry or display on a plane, it is almost always best to carry that onto the plane. If possible, use a plexiglass box or clear container so that the TSA can see what it is and why it cannot be turned on its side. You can create a carry strap for your box like Susan Carberry did

susan carry on

or buy a commercial one like Kathy Lange did.

IMG_7686

Often, I have to put the Tupperware into a rolling duffle because of how much I need to carry on. In that case, I fill the box so full of tissue, foam or packing material that my pieces cannot move no matter how I turn that box. My friend Kim Denis actually packed a cake so well in his checked luggage that it made it from London to Vancouver without damage! If you put your item in a regular box, consider cutting a peek hole on one side and taping Saran over the hole so that the TSA can see inside without completely unpacking the box.

7. Tears for tiers.
Usually, single tier cakes are best for airline travel. Some folks have been brave and check the tiered cakes inside a large box. They mark what side is up and think it will be fine. Unfortunately, the guys moving your luggage around are usually in a hurry and may not handle your piece the way you ask. I have been at the Oklahoma show several years where people opened up their checked wedding cake entries only to find shattered messes. This might be a good time for the Cake Safe! Barb Evans flew to the Virginia show one year and put her cakes in photography (Pelican) cases, lined with industrial foam. She had ridiculous oriental string work safely fly to Virginia this way!

pelican case for blog

Mike McCarey ships real cakes across country. He advises a sturdy box with the peek hole. He says that choosing to ship cake orders or other supplies is an expensive proposition.  He is a “known shipper”, which means he has paid a fee and passed security tests.  He must ship a certain volume each year to maintain this status.  He can ship counter to counter, but it is only for those who know they will be doing this a LOT.  It is not cheap.

8. Southwest and Frontier are your friend.
Luggage costs money to check with most airlines. Southwest and Frontier are the real exceptions. If you are hauling a bunch of things to Cake Camp or a competition, you may cherish having up to 100 pounds of free luggage!

9. Bag in a bag.
When I go to convention or the NEC, I either take a larger suitcase than I need or I pack a smaller carryon inside my checked bag. You know you are going to buy things. You are. So plan ahead for it. At the NEC, they do not give out the awesome bags we get at convention, so I had to buy one last year. This year, I have two of the purple Choco Pan bags from ICES in my checked luggage. It will make it so much easier as I purchase items at the show. The plastic sacks just don’t hold up as well, especially if your purchases are heavy.

10. Cart it.
I never used to use the luggage carts. I was stubborn and certain that I could handle things. I remember pushing four bags and two carryons through the Orlando airport for Florida Mini Classes one year. What was I thinking?!!! It is worth the $4 or $5 to not kill yourself or damage a display.

11. If it fits, it ships.
Consider shipping item separately. If your hotel will allow it, it can make your life much easier! The day after convention, there is always a line of people shipping their purchases home.

I hope that some of these tips will help you.  I will see you on the road, or at an airport somewhere down the line!

Ruth’s Top Ten

I’ve been blessed to go to a whole lot of cake events in my decorating career. Decorators always ask for my opinions on “x” show or “y” show. I started thinking that others of you might wonder what I would put on my list of the Top Ten Cake Events. I thought it might be hard to make such a list, but it seemed to fall into place with no real effort. You might have a different list, but this is mine. If a decorator wanted to put together a bucket list of things to do before they die, I would include these ten things.

I am not presenting these in any particular order. Number ten is just as important as number one. I will try to explain why I ranked it and give you a fair assessment of each event. Please let me know your thoughts…even if you disagree. And let me know your number – how many have you attended? Did I miss a major event?

top ten

Number One: Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show.
Www.oksugarartists.com. September 28-29, 2013. Tulsa, OK
Long considered the preeminent cake show in the US, this show definitely has the largest prize packages anywhere. I once called it The Superbowl of cake. It would be closer to call it the Pro Bowl. Over the course of its history, the best of the best decorators have competed there. While the players change from year to year, you will always find some incredibly talented decorators there. The show was covered for four years by The Food Network in specials about the competitors and the event. The raffle ticket prizes for the entrants would make any decorator’s mouth water.

On the down side, the event is held in conjunction with the Tulsa State Fair. While thousands of people will see your entries, you will not be in an area with just decorators. Cakes have been damaged in the past by the turkey leg eating crowd. One year, a drunk lady in a scooter took out a table full of displays before they could even be judged. While the building is massive, it is often very crowded at the awards ceremony and sometimes hard to hear, due to the ambient noise of the building. There are very few vendors, due to the lack of space. There are amazing free demos, but only one hands on class. The class is usually with a “name” cake professional and will run the two days after the cake show.

I participated in this show for about ten years. When I first attended, it was held in a horse barn. The show has grown in size and prestige until it has become one of the “must attends” for many decorators. I was excited to receive a gold medal three times and to place repeatedly in the divisional portion of the show. I always encouraged my employees to attend and paid their entry fees. We took 42 cakes from my bakery one year. A lot of what I know about competing, I learned at Oklahoma.

Number Two: National Capital Area Cake Show.
Www.cakeshow.org. April 6-7, 2013. Fairfax, VA
This show is the largest show on the East coast. The show is always in private venues, where the public pays to view the cakes. You will only be around people legitimately interested in cake decorating. There will be vendors…great vendors. There are numerous great demos and mini classes. Even better, the best live challenges I have seen at a cake show have occurred here. While it isn’t exactly a tv challenge, you will find quality similar to the original Food Network Challenges everyone fell in love with. While you have to pay to watch these challenges, you will be glad you did.

The quality of the entries is outstanding. Many of the top decorators at this show either have won at Oklahoma or earned medals there. The prize money isn’t like Oklahoma, but is enough to tempt anyone to enter a cake. The divisional competition includes areas not typical in cake decorating circles like pastillage, chocolate and sugar show pieces. If you want the chance to really be around decorators, this is a great show. One of the cool things they do for the general public is to give “cake tours”. Volunteers walk the public around the event, explaining techniques and educating them on how exceptional the sugar art truly is.

I have never missed this show. It has grown in size and prestige. In some years, it has more cake entries than Oklahoma. I was honored to be named to The Sweet Life Hall of Fame at this show. It will always have a special place in my heart.

Number Three: That Takes The Cake Show
Www.thattakesthecake.org. February 23-24, 2013. Austin, TX
I love this show. I always call it “the fun show”. When I first attended, it was fairly small, but this show is now firmly established as one of the three American cake shows you have to attend. The show is at a private venue and, like Virginia, you are only around people who came to see cakes. They promote the show heavily and have a tremendous attendance from the general public. Thousands of people show up to see the cakes. I could not believe the lines.

The show has killer demos, mini classes and celebrity classes. You need to take a week to experience everything this show throws at you. Plus, you are in Austin, where the food and music are legendary. The neighborhood of the event may not be super cool, but it features a Chuy’s across the street, so you are always assured a good meal. They have a full house of top notch vendors. They celebrate showcakes. Instead of a Wedding Division like numerous other shows, they look for cakes for an event, more like you would see on a tv challenge. I have seen some of the most creative, jaw dropping work in this category. Like at Virginia, everywhere you turn, there is another cake celebrity. If you get high on cake, this is one of your Meccas.

My absolute favorite thing that they do is reserved for the children who enter. They do not select first, second and third. Instead, each child’s cake receives an award…Best Cake For Under The Sea, Best Use of M&Ms, Best whatever that celebrates one element of that child’s work. The ribbons at this show are actually medals, placed around your neck. I normally am in tears watching these children receive their medals with the most joy filled faces ever. I know that they are building the future generation of cake decorators through this program. I work never to miss this show and it replaced Oklahoma as the favorite for my bakery. My girls would pack up their cakes and a few of us would make the drive to Austin.

Number Four: ICES Convention
Www.ices.org. August 8-11, 2013. Lexington, KY
ICES is the International Cake Exploration Society. There are thousands of members from all over the world. Each year, they hold a national convention in a different city. The convention is in July or August each summer. Many of us feel like Convention is a family reunion. Each convention features the most impressive room of vendors I have seen outside of the NEC. There are vendors from all over the world with products you’ve never been able to buy before. It is intoxicating your first year! The vendors and authors plan to debut products there to maximize their exposure.

There are hundreds of demos at an incredibly low price for registered attendees. You can watch Mike McCarey build a stand, James Roselle make a flower and a British royal icing expert like Christine Flinn pipe extension work. There are some bilingual demos offered each year. For the last few years, ICES has also offered hands on classes. The teachers supply everything and the classes are only $75. You can get two hours of instruction from folks like Nick Lodge, Susan Carberry and Norm Davis. You can watch or participate in a live cake challenge.

The one thing that really draws people in, is the cake room. On a good year, there can be over 1000 cakes from every part of the world on display. It is a sharing only show, so no one has to worry about being judged. The inspiration in that room is dazzling. People pay just to go see the cakes. There are lots of other things at Convention, from certification testing, to awards, to elections, to celebrating with friends at the annual banquet. There is always a friend waiting for you at ICES.

Number Five: Cake International (the NEC)
Www.cakeinternational.co.uk. November 8-10, 2013. Birmingham, England
This show has been called the NEC for years by many of us in America. Its proper name is Cake International. The show hosts tens of thousands of people daily…who are there just to see the cakes and shop from the vendors. The event often sells out and there is sometimes a line waiting for people to leave so new people can go in. Incredible. This show has become so popular that it has expanded to Manchester and London, with other countries to follow.

The vendors portion is outstanding and you have the opportunity to shop from suppliers and authors that you could not find at other events. There are demos, but not as many as at ICES. There are touching tables where you can learn to work with different types of mediums like gumpaste and fondant. But the thing that always draws my attention is the incredible sugar art entries. The cake competition is outstanding and the level of work is often very high. There are displays from colleges, guilds and branches where cake decorating is taught. I have spent hours photographing the cakes during my two visits. This, for me, is the real reason to attend this show.

Number Six: Cake Camp
Www.cakecamp.com. July 19-21, 2013. Las Vegas, NV
Held every other year, this is a must for many decorators. Over the course of three days, there will be hundreds of hands on classes with many of the best teachers in the industry. People fly in from all over the world to study for one glorious weekend in beautiful Las Vegas. People save up for a year to take as many classes as they can schedule. The event is now held at the Green Valley Ranch Resort in Henderson, NV. This resort is nice and has the comfiest beds! I never had a bad meal there…and I don’t like anything!

The vendor room rivals that of the Virginia and Austin shows and has something for everyone. The majority of the teachers provide everything you need for the class. You just show up and create. Since you are in a popular destination spot, there is always something to do when you are not taking a class. But seriously, most of the folks forget to sleep and eat because they take so many classes! There are always new classes and techniques debuted at this event. I have been lucky to teach at Cake Camp for a number of years and have to say that it is incredibly well run and supported. Add this to your bucket list.

Number Seven: ICES Day of Sharing (DOS)
Www.ices.org. Check for your state chapter.
There are ICES chapters all over the world. Some chapters meet once or twice a year and some meet every couple of months. These are normally one day events where you pay a registration fee to come and see 4-7 demonstrations on sugar art techniques. Some states even do hands on demos. The chapter either includes lunch in the fee or people bring covered dishes to share. I have attended events as small as 12 and as large as 200 plus. This is a great time to meet people in your area and build a network of resources. Some shows have vendors and you can buy those tools you’ve been needing.

Some chapters have Weekends of Sharing, which offer you the chance to take classes or attend numerous demos for a small charge. Missouri has one of the biggest of these that I have attended. ICES is an invaluable resource and you only get the most of your membership if you attend the DOS. Non-members are welcome, but pay a slightly higher registration fee. Many chapters bring in a featured “name” decorator to headline the DOS. It is often the least expensive way to get to learn from these folks.

Number Eight: Regional Cake Show
See the list in my Newsletter and specifics mentioned below.
I feel like there are The Big Three cake shows (Oklahoma, Virginia and Austin), but there are also some absolutely wonderful smaller shows. I call them regional shows, because they typically draw in a more local crowd. Some of these definitely have people enter from outside the region, but just haven’t grown as large as the Big Three yet. I made a list of the cake shows I have attended over the years and was stunned to find that I had attended 23 different cake shows over the years. This year, I will be attending at least two new (to me) shows. I am hoping to make it to every show in the US before I am done traveling. I also hope to attend more international shows to expand my world view of the sugar art industry.

The benefits of these shows is that it is a great place to get your feet wet. There are not as many entrants, so decorators often feel less intimidated. These shows still do the cool things; don’t be fooled by me calling them regional. They have hands on classes, demos, live challenges and great prizes. Many have vendors and make it a weekend of fun. I highly, highly recommend these shows. We have lost one Regional Show this year (The Art of the Cake in Ohio) and have another that has to take 2013 off (KC CakeFest). I constantly update my list of shows and events in my newsletter. Here are the ones I know about:

Feb. 8-10 – Denver Cake Show – Colorado
Feb. 16 & 17 – Connecticut Cake Show – Hartford, CT
Feb. 23 – Panhandle Cake CRUMBS Show – Cantonment, FL
Mar. 2-4 – Mike Elder’s CakeFest – KC, MO – on hold…plan for huge show in 2014
Mar. 8-10 – Cake International – Manchester, England
Mar. 9-10 – Garden State Cake Show – NJ
Mar. 16-17 – San Diego Cake Show – SD, CA
Apr. 12-14 – Cake International – London, England
Apr. 27-28 – North Texas Cake Show – Dallas, TX
Apr. 27-28 – Washington State Cake Show – Everett, WA
May 5 – Kentucky Cake Show – Kentucky
July 13 – Quota’s Icing on the Cake – Shreveport, LA
July 20-21 – Florida ICED Cake Show, Ocala, FL
Aug. ?? – Cove County Cake Show – Bedford, PA

Sep. 5 – West Tennessee Sugar Artists Sugar Art Show

Sep. ? – Sweet Treats Cake Competition – NJ

Sep. 27-29 – River City Cake Show – Omaha

Oct. 6 – CNY Cake Show – Ithaca, NY

Oct. 19-20, 2013 – Great American Cake Show – Maryland

Oct. ?? – Cake Decorator’s of Tidewater Cake Show – Va. Beach

Oct. 26? –Montreal Cake Show – Canada

Nov. ? – White Rose Cake Show and PA DOS – York, PA

Nov. ? – National Gingerbread Competition – Asheville, NC

Did I miss your show? Send me a link and I will include it in all my Newsletters!

 

Number Nine: Mini Class Event
See the list in my Newsletter and specifics mentioned below.
I have to confess that I don’t know if Cake Camp was the first mini class event, but it seems to be the most widely known. It is not, however, your only choice for the opportunity to study with a bunch of teachers. Most of the mini class events are held biannually, but you should check each web site to see their schedule. I have taught at or attended most of these events. The general schedule is classes on Friday, a banquet Friday night, classes all day Saturday and then a shorter class day on Sunday. These are incredibly well run, organized events and offer the best and most affordable choices for classes in bulk.

These are the ones I know about: Florida Mini Classes, CakeLove Vancouver, Oregon Sweet Retreat, Branson Cake Retreat, Michigan Mini Classes, Daytona Florida Mini Classes. I love the mini class environment. You meet people from all over. You can shop from vendors. You get to really hang out with your sugar friends, often in cool locations. Find the one easiest for you to attend and start saving.

 

Number Ten: Local Cake Club Meeting
Check with supply shops in your area or ask around on Facebook
One of the great things about my travels is that I have gotten to attend local cake club meetings in Odessa, Dallas, Vancouver and Louisiana. Sometimes the group is tied to a cake supply shop. Sometimes, it is a group of sugar friends who decide to start a support group. These groups meet every month or two. They may have a yearly fee or a meeting fee. These groups usually do member driven demonstrations and sometimes prepare cookies or cakes for charity. They become your local lifeline! These are the people who can loan you a pan or cutters, step in to help if you have an emergency and can refer business to you when they are booked. I always wished for one in my area. Maybe someday….

Conclusion
You may not be able to make it to all these events, but even my husband agreed that it is a good list. Remember, you have a lifetime of sugar to explore. You don’t have to make it to everything on my list and you sure don’t have to make it in one year! This is more of a life goal of events that will all make you a better decorator. How many have you attended? What did I miss? Which is your favorite?

The Library. Quiet Please

I wrote this as I was flying home from attending Cake International at The NEC in Birmingham, England. I know that people will ask me about the experience and decided that I should share my thoughts with my blog readers.

Before I went the first time last year, friends told me that the crowds would shock me. More people than I had ever seen before at a cake event. They told me that the queues for the restrooms, for food and especially for shopping from vendors would be unbelievably deep. To some extent, that is true. I understand that it is worst on Saturday, so I have skipped Saturday both visits. Saturday commonly sells out, so you will deal with the maximum crowd that day. I found the late afternoons to be brilliant times to actually get to speak to the vendors and make purchases.

Despite the thousands of visitors, there are only a few demonstration rooms open at any time. Many of the demos repeated twice throughout the weekend – which is great if you cannot attend one , but is disappointing if you want to offer visitors the most possible choices. The only demonstrators are those decorators “sponsored” by a vendor. At ICES, you are not allowed to push your products during a demonstration – the demo is to be about the technique. But that is far from the largest difference. At Cake International, the demos can be more like a commercial and can really promote specific products and booths.

In England, the presenters must present their information without letting in too much personality, it seems. Presenters are shushed if giggles or laughter breaks out in the rooms. One of my friends was actually told NOT to be himself…the exuberant, funny guy that he naturally is. Even one of my quieter friends was told to keep it down. I cannot decide whether it is caused by the environment for the demos or if this is just how it is in England. The demo rooms are essentially temporary boxes, all connected by thin walls with no roof. You can sit in one and hear the demo on either side as well as the one you are attending. I hope that this is why you are made to feel like you are in a library.

I desperately hope that the British do not expect all classes and demonstrations to be serious and quiet. I have not had the honor of teaching or demonstrating there, but I hope to have the opportunity some day. Can I be my goofy self? I believe that humor and laughter relax students and make it easier to learn. Some of my friends and I worry about whether we would be accepted in England. Does the American teaching style buck too many traditions for the British?

I spoke with the organizers for the Cake International last year and expressed surprise that they did not offer true hands on classes and more demonstrations. At ICES, there will be 35 hands on classes and hundreds of demonstrations. At Cake Int., there were 42 demonstrations, of which 10 were duplicates. ICES has about 1000 -2000 attendees, while the Cake Int. has about 10,000 – 15,000 per day!! With those numbers, so much more could be possible! ICES has activities in the evenings, be it classes, demos, banquets or opportunities to socialize. They arrange for host hotels to house the attendees. At Cake Int., everyone starts leaving at about 4 each day. No hotel in the area is large enough to house the entire crowd, so people go their different ways.

What would my British friends like to see? Is this how you WANT it to be? My friends and I have considered trying to offer classes tied to Cake International, but would not want to offend long standing traditions. What are your thoughts?

Disco Fever

“Death to Disco”. For a time, it seemed that this was the fate of disco dust and glitters in the UK. Meanwhile, people clamor  for disco dust in the USA. I know friends who cannot imagine decorating a cake without adding some form of sparkle. I will admit it. Cake decorators love bling. We think it makes everything look “fancy” and that it has to go everywhere!!

The problem is, there are actually rules out there about disco dusts, glitters, metallics and such. In America, items that are FDA approved are acceptable for use on our cakes. For most manufacturers today, this means that our petal dusts, edible glitter, lusters and pearls are ok to put on the cake and all accent pieces. When I say edible glitter, I mean this kind:

Of course, you need to check your labels, but most of the ones I own are food approved.

Then we get to the items marked non-toxic, for decoration only or inedible.  In the US, in most states, we can use this on pieces that are put onto the cakes, but removed prior to serving. This includes every brand of sparkles, glitters and disco dust I personally own. There could be an FDA approved one out there, but I have not purchased one yet. Some sites say that their disco or glitter is edible. I would ask for a copy of their paperwork from the FDA before I threw it all over my cake. I spoke to one manufacturer who told me that each of the ingredients in his version of disco dust is FDA approved, but that the FDA will not approve them combined as he does. Why?  He would like to know, too.

What?  You are the disco queen and have been sprinkling this all over peoples’ cakes for years?  Have you just killed off the next generation of Americans?  Are you poisoning troupes of children every weekend?  Let’s hope not. The Dictionary says that non toxic items pass through the body without adding nutrients, but also without causing harm.

Adj.    1.    nontoxic – not producing or resulting from poison atoxic harmless – not causing or capable of causing harm; “harmless bacteria”; “rendered the bomb harmless” toxic – of or relating to or caused by a toxin or poison; “suffering from exposure to toxic substances”
2.    nontoxic – safe to eat non-poisonous, nonpoisonous comestible, eatable, edible – suitable for use as food

Even if a little might not harm your customer, wouldn’t you feel safer to use the disco dusts on something that would be taken off the cake before you serve it?

Metallics are either edible or not. I have to admit that the prettiest golds, silvers and bronzes are those that you are not supposed to eat. I accept that they are for accent pieces only. There are very pretty ( but slightly less amazing) edible metallic airbrush colors on the
market. There are FDA approved metallic lusters and pearl dusts. These are permitted to be used on the cake itself. You can also splurge on gold leaf for a true gold appearance that is edible.

I have a Glow in the Dark disco dust on my site. It says clearly that it is to be used on pieces that are removed from the cake. There are edible methods of making things glow (tonic water), so you need to look at what you are making and what is the best method of achieving the look.

One last note:  I feel exactly about glitter the way I do about the overuse of super pearl. A little bit goes a long way. Back in my single days, the fashionable girls at the country bar wore just a bit of sparkle – a rhinestone buckle or earrings or such. The accent set off their
smart looking outfit and caught everyone’s eye. Then there were the girls who tried a bit too hard. If a little shine was good, why not wear a beaded, sequin dress to the country bar, add sparkly shoes, a glitter bow in your hair and shiny jewelry?  I know in my heart that those girls thought they looked cute and fancy. They never understood that being a “glitter queen” meant only that people were looking at them -not admiring their outfits. When I see (or Lord forbid, judge) a cake that looks like the glitter truck backed up and dumped a load on it, I feel like the decorator is trying to hide things on their cake. If your work is clean and nice, you won’t feel the need to splatter it completely with glitter or disco. I promise that a few well placed touches of sparkle will create a prettier cake every time.

Decorate nicely and carry a small glitter shaker.