Tag Archive | ices

A Girlfriend’s Guide to ICES Certification

This is a guide I wrote shortly after taking the test. I plan an update soon.

You’ve taken the plunge and signed up for certification testing…now what? I’m going to share with you what I did, what I wish I had done and where I’ve seen others go wrong. This is by no means an official document, and you should always refer to the Candidate Handbook for the “real” answers to things. This is simply what I would tell my good friends about the experience.
First and foremost, read the Handbook. A lot of work went into it and it answers more questions than in prior years. After reading the rules and the Handbook through completely, go through the skills and mark every single one of them that you know how to do. Now, go back and put a star by the skills that you know you can do almost PERFECTLY. What are your strongest skills at cake competitions? What can you score an 8, 9, or 10 on? Those strengths must be included in your final plan! I first grabbed one skill from each of the point levels, to make sure I had that covered. Then, I started adding the other skills in order of how well I do them until I had 8 techniques that totaled 21 points. It’s ok to have 22 points, but if you start having totals of 23 or more points, you’ve probably overloaded yourself. You don’t get more credit for whipping out something that can score you 25 points. A plan that is heavy on the most difficult techniques means that you have a plan that is going to eat up time and you might not be able to finish it!!
Now comes the tricky part: designing the actual plan. In my experience, it is this element that will make or break whether you will get CMSA, CSA or not achieve certification. You cannot design a plan that will take you 8 hours – you won’t have that long. Something is going to go wrong…horribly, frustratingly wrong. Design a plan that will only take 6 to 6 ½ hours to do. That will give you a cushion so that you don’t panic when you have the problems on test day. If by some miracle everything goes perfectly for you and you have an extra hour, you are able to go back and make sure that everything you do is as close to perfect as possible.
Start with your 3 tier cake. This is your largest project and should probably show off the majority of your skills. I saw someone only use 2 skills on this…why?? You have the most cake surface to show off your work! You want your wow factors on this cake. I know that it is tempting to do a 6/8/10 for this cake, the bare minimum, but don’t forget that if you choose that set up, you’ve already given yourself a skinny, plain set up. Artistically, is that the best choice? I did a larger cake on the bottom so I could offset the tiers and have a “shelf” for my flowers. I don’t know how many times I saw people struggle to display flowers on a ½” ledge…give yourself a break and just go up a size.
You have to cover a cake in fondant, and most of us have done the middle tier as that portion of the test. Yes, it would be so cool to have intricate shaped cakes all stacked up, but if you suck at covering an odd shape, just do rounds!! This is not the time or place to tackle a hexagon or square if you aren’t great at covering them! Do not choose a marble for your background icing. It doesn’t show off how cleanly you covered the cake and it makes it hard to have other things look nice against it. Once you have your cakes covered, for God’s sake, stop! Don’t add designs, texture, paint or anything else! You don’t want to walk in and already be disqualified! Think about the board the cake is going on – have it ready to go. Put feet or lifts under the board so that you can easily move the cake once it is all together.
On my 3 tier, I had gumpaste flowers, painting, fabric effects, extension work and oriental stringwork – 5 of my techniques. You don’t have to go that far, but you want to be sure that the cake is a real representation of who you are! Think about color! I cannot tell you how blah cakes are that are just white on white – it might be beautiful for weddings, but this isn’t a wedding. The better scoring cakes over the past few years have had a white background with colored piping or the reverse of that. Think about the colors you introduce. Harsh contrasts are tough for the judges to swallow…sometimes it is better to make the colors a bit softer and more palatable. A stark white cake with one pop of deep red seems disjointed. On my cake, I had a white background with a medium purple piping, with flowers and painting that brought in that color range. It is incredibly hard to judge a white cake with white stringwork on it – some of us have old eyes and can’t see the beauty of your work!
Once you have a workable design for the 3 tier, think about the buttercream cake. You HAVE to ice it smoothly. You cannot cover that smooth surface totally with fondant, basketweave, etc. So, what the hell do you do if you don’t work with buttercream all the time? You better start practicing!! This is a great place to add your piping work that doesn’t have to be done in royal. You can add figures, flowers, modeling chocolate elements, etc. You can have fabric effects here. I saw a lot of people consider this their “throwaway” cake and just not put time or effort into it. This proved to be the downfall of many people. Don’t leave Styrofoam showing! If using real cake, don’t leave crumbs showing! If you suck at buttercream flowers, maybe you shouldn’t pick that! Or choose something other than a rose that might be more forgiving for you!
Last, but not least, you have to come up with a non-cake display piece. This has to go on a 10” board. I nearly put mine on too small of a board! READ THE RULES! I could have been disqualified if I hadn’t re-read the rules the night before! For this portion of the test, you want to think about what would go well just on a board. Is it a flower or pulled/blown sugar piece? Is it a brush embroidered or quilled design? What can be beautiful and be only one or two techniques? Yes, you can do more techniques, but it has worked out best for most people to just do one or two on this. This is another place where I have seen color take people down. Make sure that whatever you make is in a pleasing color and that it looks good on the board color! Don’t forget to embellish the board or make the piece look complete, not like something has just been plopped on it for no good reason.
So, now you have 3 pieces designed. Do you have any skills left over? You may have to do a 4th piece. That is fine. Make sure it is worth being a separate piece. You have total freedom here – it can be a sculpture, a single tier cake, a non-cake display, whatever. Once again, make sure that the piece can stand on its own. It has to look complete when you are finished with it – not like you had one more skill to put somewhere, so here’s a cake with a bow. You’ll get an artistic score on every single display piece.
I would love to tell you that I practiced the test over and over, but most of you know me and know that I wouldn’t do that. I did time myself on my sculpture to see how efficiently I could do it. I did choose designs that I was experienced with and knew I could do well and quickly. If you normally work slowly, you need to practice!! I’m used to whipping out a competition piece in an evening, so I knew I could work quickly enough to get this done. You know how you work.
Sketch out your designs and think about the artistic value of your cake as you design them. You want each of the techniques to be enhanced by whatever you put on each display. You are going to have some un-judged skills in each design – that is normal. Just make sure that they ADD to the look of the piece or don’t put them on it. As you design your 3 pieces, please think about sizing! The biggest, tallest display doesn’t win!! We don’t need to see a 5 tier cake. We don’t need a 24” x 24” sugar piece. I would much rather see something in the 10” to 14” range that is impeccably done than a massive piece that is only half finished! Watch out for “over-decoratoritis”! We don’t need to see 25 of the same thing to know that you can do it…can you simplify the design and still make it attractive?
Ok, so what else have I seen that led people astray? When you choose flowers (whatever kind), you do NOT need to do 6 or 8 different kinds…choose one and do it well. Think about coloring. Did you leave it a flat color or did you dust it to make it look better? Did you steam the flowers? Did you finish the flower with greenery or leaves? Does the color of the flower have anything to do with the display piece? Bring your colors together in harmony. DO NOT STICK THE FLOWERS IN YOUR CAKE.
I personally saved almost everyone I evaluated last year from disqualifying themselves. I cannot say this enough times: READ THE RULES!! Don’t pre-wire sprays. Don’t pre-dust flowers if it isn’t allowed. Don’t try to use arm molds. Don’t put non-edible things on your cake unless they are specifically authorized under the rules. Don’t let your assistant touch anything on the front table. Don’t put anything pre-made on your cake if you haven’t shown us how you made it. No one wants to disqualify someone for something stupid!! On test day, the adjudicators are not allowed to tell you that you are about to disqualify yourself – we have to find the Test Administrator who can bring it to your attention.
Leave “it’ll do” at home. Bring your “what would a Master do” mindset instead. I cannot tell you how frustrating it was to see people pipe a line that squiggled or went too short/long – only to NOT even fix it! This is a test to be recognized as a Master!! A Master would get rid of the points on dots, would make sure the border shells were consistent, would remove something that fell short of expectations and would do it again. The test isn’t about not having any errors, it is about recognizing that they are there and then either fixing them or altering your design to accommodate them and make them “work” in the design. This is the day to hide every error you can. This is the time to show the adjudicators that you KNOW when you deviate from Master level work, pull off the bad part and fix it!!
Conditions are going to suck. Like a lot. Do you get hot? Bring a fan. Do you need extra light, bring a lamp or two. Will the air conditioner vent being overhead affect you? Come up with a fix for that. Do you need reading glasses or a magnifying glass for some part of your work? Bring it! Do you get cold? Dress in layers.
How did I pack for the test? I scored top marks on cleanliness and work process. I brought in upholstery plastic and covered my whole front table with it. I could always wipe things down easily and have a clean, beautiful work surface in front of me. I made a list of every single tool I needed for each technique…not each cake, each skill. I put every tool for each skill in its own baggie. Yep, if I needed a rolling pin on 4 different techniques, I had 4 with me, each in the appropriate bag. When it was time for, say, flowers, I grabbed that baggie and every single thing I was going to need to make them was in it. When I was finished, everything went back into the baggie and I handed it to my assistant. Could I have had a bag of community tools? Of course, but this way I knew I had exactly what I needed when I needed it without searching everywhere. Clean up was a breeze and I was never losing time looking for anything.
Baby wipes, baby wipes, baby wipes!! I saw dirty hands handling pieces to be judged, sometimes getting dust or icing on something unintentionally. Baby wipes are so easy to travel with and can save you in many ways!
Hydrate! You are going to forget to drink. You will hold your breath when you pipe. You are going to get flushed when something goes wrong. Your assistant should be reminding you to take in water every 15 to 20 minutes.
Do what you know! Ok, so some people tackle a new skill for this test and it works out for them, but this is the exception to the rule. If you don’t feel 100% comfortable with a skill, take a class. Nick Lodge told me that before the first test his advanced royal icing piping class was nearly full of people who were testing for certification. That was smart! If you have to do a skill, but aren’t confident in that skill – get with someone that you know does it well and work on it. You need to walk in feeling like you own the 8 skills you’ve chosen.
This is not a cake competition. You do not have to beat anyone in the room. You only have to prove that you have mastered these 8 skills. Do not get side tracked into designing a piece worthy of a national wedding competition. You are not being judged in comparison to anyone else testing or against anyone who has tested in prior years. This is all about you and your work on this one particular day. The adjudicators may know that you do stunning, master level work at shows or at your shop, but they cannot take that into consideration that day. They can only evaluate what is on display.
Listen to the adjudicators. If they tell you something is fine and to move on, for God’s sake, do it!! If you allow yourself to get bogged down in over-thinking everything and re-doing things they’ve told you are fine, you will run out of time. We know most decorators are anal and have OCD tendencies…do your best to let that go! Strive for excellence, not perfection. You may not have time to get a 10 on every skill.
Bring more supplies than you think you’ll need. It was killing me to watch people running out of buttercream and royal icing and fondant!! When you start stretching your icing, you are going to end up with an inferior piece.
If you do a sculpture, think about the crumbs. Carve on plastic where it is easily cleanable. Put a trash bag out and put your cake board and cake “in” it, then carve. You can brush everything into the bag surrounding your cake, lift out the cake, toss the trash bag and have a spotless surface. One person had 8 pieces of parchment down. Every few minutes, she removed a piece of the paper and all crumbs/cake on that paper. Her area always looked clean and neat.
Talk to those who’ve gone before you. Before I took the test, I contacted as many adjudicators and candidates from the prior year as I could. I asked them for advice and recommendations. I took that information to heart. Once your plans have been submitted, the adjudicators can no longer talk to you about the test. From that point on, you can only talk to the Test Administrator about the test. The time to visit with people about things is BEFORE YOU SUBMIT YOUR PLAN. Once your plan is in, you become a number to the adjudicators and they are not allowed to know who designed what. I firmly believe that designing the plan is where people pass or fail. An unworkable or overambitious plan will doom you. An under designed plan will doom you. The plan is the key to a good day – spend your time and energy to make designs that put you in the best possible light!!
Believe in yourself. You can do this! Take each step as it comes and do what you know. If you design something that is “you”, the rest will usually take care of itself.

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I Walk the Line

Recently a student and a teacher had a disagreement. The student had taken a class from an ICES approved teacher, using an ICES scholarship they had been awarded. Part of the ICES scholarship rules say that you have to share one of the classes you take by demonstrating it at a Day of Sharing. The student did just that. The teacher was upset, because demonstrating the class meant that no one there would ever take that class. It was as though money was taken from the teacher’s pocket. The student felt they were only doing what was required. The teacher was hurt.

Recently a supply shop owner/teacher hosted a guest teacher, who taught several classes. The supply shop owner/teacher took every class. The supply shop owner then started teaching the guest teacher’s classes just months after the guest teacher visited. The exact classes. The guest teacher is aware of it and is hurt, but has not addressed the issue.

So where is the line? If you take a class, what are you allowed to do with that knowledge? If you are a teacher, what should you expect from your students? I’m not really sure I know, but I am going to try to answer. As always, this will just be my opinions, but I hope that they will have reason behind them.

The first question for me is whether the class is a technique class or a project class. No one can prevent someone else from demonstrating or teaching a specific technique. For example, if a class covers brush embroidery, that is a well known technique. Numerous people teach it. Many books cover it. If you take a class with me on brush embroidery, would it be ok for you to demo that?

My opinion is that you have free reign to demo or teach the technique itself. However, and this is a BIG HOWEVER, you have to come up with your own project, notes and instructions. You cannot copy the handouts from your teacher. You cannot use their pattern. You cannot demo or teach the exact project you learned. You need to put yourself into the technique. You need to design your own project and write your own handout. This is my opinion for how to handle long established, well known techniques.

So, what if it is a project class making a specific figure or something? The class may involve the use of numerous techniques in the creation of the project. Does that mean that the student can recreate it as a demo or in a class they teach? My opinion is that they cannot. Take, for example, Mike McCarey’s Big Bird class. If you take that class, you are not free to go demo his Big Bird. You are not free to teach his Big Bird. You are free to be INSPIRED and to teach a different project that YOU come up with, using the skills and techniques you learned.

What if the teacher is teaching a new technique or a new combination of techniques? If the teacher has come up with something totally new, I really don’t think you have any business demonstrating or teaching that. Are there new techniques? I’m not sure, but I see creative genius in my teacher and manufacturer friends all the time. I would tread most carefully here because this is something that everyone will identify with one particular person. If you try to teach it or demo it, you will look like a thief to people. If you name your class exactly what the teacher named theirs, it really looks bad.

A student recorded a class, then filmed a YouTube video repeating the class verbatim. A student copied a teacher’s entire handout and put their own name on it. If I asked enough teachers, I am sure I would hear of even more frightening things. Students need to remember that every time they share their class notes, demo a class they took or teach a project they learned, they have essentially just stolen from their teacher.

Some students will argue that it is ok because the teachers make tons of money on a class. (Isn’t this exactly what your customers think about your cake prices?). Most teachers I know barely get by teaching. Almost all supplement their income by doing cake orders, selling products, or working for manufacturers.

Some students will say that the people they teach wouldn’t have taken a class with that teacher anyway. Maybe not. But what about the folks THEY end up sharing with? This is almost like that ripple in the water in that it just keeps spreading. A student who then teaches the same exact class is going to affect the number of available students. Maybe the teacher had planned to do a DVD of the class or a paid tutorial. You stole part of that market.

Teachers expect you to take what they share and then recreate it for your customers, friends and family. Teachers expect you to make money from the class – just not from teaching it!

If you are asked to demo what you learned, just remember that you can show the technique but that you need to apply it to your own project. Be inspired. Make it your own. Be an original. And be kind to your teachers when you walk the line.

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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.

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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.

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Now Boarding

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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.

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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

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or buy a commercial one like Kathy Lange did.

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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?

And the Nominees Are…..

I have been a member of ICES, the International Cake Exploration Societe (www.ices.org) for quite some time.  One of my favorite times at convention is when they announce the winners of the ICES Hall of Fame awards.  They always try to be sneaky and start reading accolades about the person…who has NO IDEA that they have been nominated or selected.  I always try to figure out who the lucky person is before they actually say the name.

One year, I was asked to film a friend who was receiving the Wilbur Brand Award (another subject I will tackle soon).  As I got into position to film her surprise, I was listening to them talk about the person receiving Hall of Fame.  Oh my goodness, it was Earlene Moore and she was sitting at the same table I had just gotten into position to film.  I started the video and was blessed to capture the curiousity, then astonishment, then humbleness of the amazing Earlene Moore as she received the deserved award.  I was able to post this video on my Facebook page.

January 15, 2013 is the deadline for nominating people for the ICES Hall of Fame.  You do not have to be an ICES member to be selected to the Hall of Fame (HOF), but you DO have to be an ICES member to nominate someone.  The form is available at http://ices.org/internationals/hall-of-fame-award/.  I looked over the list of who has received the award and saw some names missing that I believe are worthy.  (You can find the list by clicking on the 2012 HOF winners link on the ICES page.)  I am submitting two names for HOF this year.  I am not going to tell you who these people are, because I would love for them to be surprised if they were selected.

HOF is an amazing way to recognize the contributions that people have made to the sugar arts industry in general and to ICES in particular.  So think it over…who was the first person to inspire you to do cakes?  What books did you grow up on as a decorator?  Who introduced you to new materials or techniques or helped you to stretch your limits?  If you were to pick someone for folks just starting out to look up to, who would that be?  While the people don’t have to be famous, they should probably be pretty well known and widely respected in our industry.  I’ve never served on the committee to choose the honorees, so I cannot give you insight on that.  I have written letters of support for people in the past and they were selected, but sometimes people don’t get it the first year they are nominated.

What? It isn’t “one and done?”  Yes!  Your nomination keeps that name “in play” for three years!!  Don’t fret if your person doesn’t make it the first year…some years there are a lot of names submitted and they simply cannot pick everyone…even if they all deserve it.  Sometimes, I think people need time to get to know more about your nominee…especially if they are not an ICES member.

Please join me in submitting a nomination for this prestigious honor this year.  I hope you’ll help me make the convention sweet for years to come for deserving artists.