Tag Archive | sugar artist

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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Ruth’s Favorite Sugar Art Books

As an English major, I am mildly addicted to books.  I have a lovely library of cake decorating books, but have a select few that I seem to grab over and over for assistance.  These are 10 of my favorite books that I’ve owned for years.  There are many new books out there on the market, including books by Debbie Goard, Liz Marek, Shelly Baker and Valeri & Christina that I’m not including in this list today…not because they aren’t great, but because I’m focusing on the older books first!

Before you ask, yes, I have a first edition Lambeth book.  I have a Nirvana book.  I’m not including those, either.  Why?  Because they aren’t resources to which I frequently turn.  I’m glad I own them and maybe someday, I will use them.

So let’s get to the books that I would grab first if I had to grab books to save.  Some of these are discontinued.  Don’t get mad at me…search for them.  I see people selling books all the time.

 

The Art of Royal Icing by Eddie Spence, MBE

The Art of Royal Icing by Eddie Spence, MBE

 

1.  The Art of Royal Icing by Eddie Spence, MBE.

Oh how I adore Eddie Spence.  He is seriously the coolest decorator I’ve ever met.  This man has been crafting cakes for royalty in England since he was young.  He is a delightful 82 years young and I got to study with him this year.  He impressed me even more in a classroom setting.

This book is truly a bible on Royal Icing work.  He has recipes, tips, patterns, gorgeous cakes and more information than I can possibly absorb in my lifetime.  Eddie has hand tremors, but if you watch him pipe, his hands do not even hesitate.  He pipes exquisite straight lines.  His freehand artwork and piping literally blew me away in class.  Invest in this book, if none other that I list.  It is that good.

 

Delicate Sugarcraft from Japan by Naomi Yamamoto

Delicate Sugarcraft from Japan by Naomi Yamamoto

 

2.  Delicate Sugarcraft from Japan by Naomi Yamamoto

I don’t care if I can read a book, as long as the pictures are amazing.  This book is in Japanese, but the titles are in English.  The step by step photos are so great that I believe I could do everything in the book, just by looking.  This book is NOT cheap.  I don’t care.  The people that I’ve shown it to have fallen in love with it instantly.  Ask Dawn Parott.

This woman does great extension work.  Her flowers are breathtaking.  The photo gallery in this book is work the price!  I bought mine from Squires Kitchen in England.

Painting on Sugar by Lesley Herbert & Jean Hodgkinson

Painting on Sugar by Lesley Herbert & Jean Hodgkinson

 

3.  Painting on Sugar by Lesley Herbert & Jean Hodgkinson

I watched a demo by Betty Van Norstrand at ICES one year and fell in love with painting on cakes.  I’ve been doing it for over 20 years and have experimented with almost every style.  The best instructional resource I’ve found is this tiny little book.  It is part of the Sugarcraft Skills Series of books.  I have the entire collection and love all of them, but have a special place in my heart for this one.

The authors tell you how to do lots of types of paintings and give you great patterns.  This is an invaluable resource.

Sugarcraft Flowers Through the Four Seasons by Rosemary Merrills

Sugarcraft Flowers Through the Four Seasons by Rosemary Merrills

4.  Sugarcraft Flowers Through the Four Seasons by Rosemary Merrills

I love, love, LOVE these books.  They remind me of how I was taught by Eleanor Rielander from South Africa.  They are thin books, divided by season.  I found three of these rather quickly in my career and set out to find the last one.  The books had long been discontinued and I just couldn’t find one.  I walked past a booth at ICES and there it was, my lovely book!!

These books offer step by steps like Alan Dunn, but the steps are mostly done through drawings.  I don’t care.  I’ve used these books more than any other flower books I own.

Floral Wedding Cakes by Alan Dunn

Floral Wedding Cakes by Alan Dunn

5.  Floral Wedding Cakes by Alan Dunn

Since I was speaking of flowers, it seemed natural for me to list a book by Alan Dunn next.  I have all of his books.  I love his step by step instructions and the way that he colors his pieces.  I think that this is the best book to buy if you are only going to buy one.  It includes a wide variety of flowers that are popular in weddings.

I asked Alan what his favorite book was and he said it was his Tropical Flowers book.  Like Alan, I adore the tropical flowers.  I know that brides don’t order them as much, but they sure are great on competition cakes!  I think every flower artist should have at least one Alan Dunn book!

Sugar Flowers by Jill Maythem

Sugar Flowers by Jill Maythem

 

6.  Sugar Flowers by Jill Maythem

This is an old book.  There are hardly any color photos in it.  I love it anyway.  It has almost every flower that I’ve ever searched for.  It has excellent drawings of the steps.  It has great patterns.  Jill Maythem started JEM Cake Decorating Tools and has cutters that go along with many of the designs in this book.  Even without her cutters, I’ve been able to follow her instructions to create beautiful flowers.

International School of Sugarcraft by Nicholas Lodge

International School of Sugarcraft by Nicholas Lodge

7.  International School of Sugarcraft books by Nicholas Lodge

I can’t leave Nick Lodge out!!  These four books were really invaluable as I was first starting my career.  He covers virtually every technique you need to know about.  He has great photos and patterns included.  It is kind of amazing that I now get to call Nick a friend!  I absolutely recommend these books!

Cake Design by Geraldine Randalsome

Cake Design by Geraldine Randalsome

8.  Techniques in Cake Design by Geraldine Randalsome

Geraldine owns Creative Cutters (www.creativecutters.com) and I buy many tools from her.  I always take her demo at the ICES convention when it is on piping.  She makes piping look ridiculously easy.  Geraldine has several books on the market, but this is one of my favorites.  It takes extension work to a new level.  If you can master the things in this book, you are a true rock star!

Cartoon Cakes by Debbie Brown

Cartoon Cakes by Debbie Brown

 

9.  Cartoon Cakes by Debbie Brown

Actually, any book by Debbie Brown!!  Debbie makes figure modeling and small sculpted cakes very, very simple.  She does everything from sweet cakes for children to naughty cakes for adults (some of my favorite books!).  Debbie is one of the nicest folks you will meet and she truly loves what she does.  That love shows in every book.  If you struggle with modeling figures, let Debbie teach you about proportions, shapes and color.  Whichever book you purchase, you cannot go wrong.

The Well Decorated Cake by Toba Garrett

The Well Decorated Cake by Toba Garrett

10.  The Well Decorated Cake by Toba Garrett

Toba Garrett has been a long time teacher and she has inspired many young decorators.  While I have all her books, I consider this one the best.  The steps are beautifully written and the projects are exciting.  Most of us won’t get to study with Toba, but we can all take her knowledge home.

Colette's Cakes by Colette Peters

Colette’s Cakes by Colette Peters

11.  Colette’s Cakes by Colette Peters

Colette’s books were the first I ever bought.  I’ve tried to recreate several cakes from her various books.  One of my first competition cakes came from her Christmas Cakes book – before I knew that you DON’T copy cakes from books for competition!  I’m still not sure why Colette isn’t in the ICES Hall of Fame.  She was the inspiration for a couple generations of cake decorators.  She is also incredibly sweet and humble.  Her creative approach to life is evident in every book.

 

What are your favorite books?  The ones you grab when you need an answer?  What kind of book do you wish was out there?  Who should write it?

The Cake Muggles

At orientation for law school, the professor warned us that we were stepping into a black hole for the next three years. We all laughed, but it turned out to be true. To do well there, we had to eat, sleep and breathe the law. So we did.

When I moved into the baking field, it was just for fun…at first. It was a hobby that let me do cool cakes for my step son and for my coworkers. When it becomes your profession, especially if you work for yourself, the black hole opens up and swallows you. I knew when I started my own bakery that it would take long hours. I underestimated. I was easily working 12-18 hour days, six to seven days a week. I insanely thought that I would never turn down an order, so I took everything that came in the door…even if that meant I didn’t get to sleep that night. It became a source of pride to brag about how many hours straight I had been working.

Unless my friends or family helped at the bakery, they simply did not understand how the bakery life goes. Family get-togethers were invariably planned for 2 pm on Saturday…right in the middle of wedding deliveries and birthday pickups. They planned the family Christmas Eve party for Christmas Eve Eve several years in a row. That is the single busiest night of the year for a bakery like mine. Everyone picks up their orders for Christmas Eve. I was blessed that my family were not critical to my face, but I could tell I disappointed them when I fell asleep on the couch at the parties. (We decorators know that as soon as you stop moving, you are toast!).

I visit with a lot of decorators who ask me how to get their family to understand. I wish I had the answer. I really do. It is so difficult for an artist to explain their passion.

With respect to a spouse, you simply have to keep at it and negotiate a compromise that works for both of you. It could be that they let you go to Cake Camp if you let them go on a hunting trip. Or that you only do cakes every other weekend so that you leave time for family. When you do cakes from home, I think that it is harder for friends and family to look upon it as a business. To them, you are at home playing. You and I know that it is the hardest “playing” you ever did!

I decided that it is a bit like Harry Potter’s world. The Muggles don’t understand. They haven’t been exposed to the wizarding world and cannot begin to comprehend what makes the wizards tick. Your family is the same way. They haven’t experienced the rush of making the first buttercream rose you don’t hate or the first figurine that looks like what it is supposed to be! They don’t get a rush when someone posts a new Craftsy class or when your dream teacher is coming to a city near you. They don’t mean to hurt your feelings…they just don’t understand.

You have to be the one to educate them, cajole them and ply them with sweets until they offer you their support. Sometimes they are just waiting to see if this is a temporary fad. Once they see your level of commitment to making a career of cakes, they often will become your biggest supporter.

Besides, cake is still cool. My dad never bragged or got that excited about my law career. And I had a decent one…won some awards, won most every hearing, was in the paper…it wasn’t tangible to him. But put me on a cake TV challenge, have me give him sweets for his Sunday School class or let me do a cake with his race car on it, and I was brag worthy! The poor nurses at the hospital – they all had to hear about me right up until the day he died.

So my message to you is to remember that YOU are the one with the superpowers, so you have to help your family fall in love with your talents. Over and over, I have seen families embrace and support their decorators once they fully understand. Don’t give up on the cake Muggles….they’re just like us, just less “Sweet”.

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When the Lights Go Out

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Yesterday, the organizers of The Art of The Cake Show announced that, due to low registrations, they were canceling the show. They didn’t just cancel the 2013 show, they canceled it forever. Many of us who have supported this show were heartbroken. Not all shows are created equal. Each has something that sets it apart from the others for me. For Art of the Cake (AotC), it was their “Most Artistic” category.

While they judged the cakes on technical merits like every other show, they wanted to reward someone who designed a cake in a non-traditional way that really showed off the ART in sugar art. Becky Rink and Anna Weisand, organizers of the show, are both well known for being inspiringly creative, out of the box designers. They brought their passion to their show. They brought their love of sugar to the competition and encouraged everyone who entered. They honored traditions of old with their buttercream only live competition and they kept their show on the forefront by bringing in teachers that were not on the “sugar art teaching circuit”.

The people who have been to this show know what a loss this is for the sugar art community. In our current world of “let me tell you what you did wrong” mentality, people wrote them emails telling them how they messed up. Seriously? Who does that? These two fabulous women just had to lay to rest one of their dreams and people take this opportunity to judge them? So wrong and sad.

Yes, there are lots of shows, but there have been for a while. Yes, the economy is tight, but it has been for a while. Yes, cake tv has changed the landscape of sugar art, but that started years ago. The plain and simple truth is that everyone loves to go look at the cakes, but few are willing to bring their cakes. I have written several blogs about why we need to enter cake shows. I still believe it to be true. If no one brings a cake, there is nothing to look at.

People thought this was about low class enrollment (which might have also been true), but the simple fact is that there weren’t enough cake registrations to make the show break even. They offered goody bags and prizes and other incentives to get people to sign up by the date when they HAD to know whether the show was viable. On the last day of registration, there were still bags available, which means that less than 50 people had registered. There were more people planning to enter. For some reason, we cannot seem to register early for things. I wrote about this the other day in my Pot Calling Kettle blog. We cannot procrastinate. Shows, cake classes and events have hard deadlines for when they look to see if the event should take place. With money so tight, organizers cannot take a chance that the numbers will improve. Because sometimes they don’t and the event will take a loss.

Someone wrote me saying that it was too expensive to enter without wanting to win. Fine, want to win. I don’t care what gets you there. Just get there. Think about it this way…if you don’t practice a new technique on a show cake, then you are practicing on your customer. I, for one, think my customer deserves my best. I wanted them to have work that I KNEW I could do. A competition cake was my only chance to stretch and grow as a decorator. It made financial sense for me to build my portfolio by doing competition cakes. It made sense for me to become a better decorator. I consider myself to be a pretty well rounded decorator and I owe that ALL to cake shows and the mentors I met at them. I had to invest in MYSELF and my SKILLS.

I entered shows while working at a grocery store bakery and while running my own bakery. It was not easy. I will not lie to you about that. I would work long days at the bakery, then lock the door and start working on my show cake. The week before a cake show I was incredibly sleep deprived. The hardest time I had, I drove 90 minutes to the show on a Friday night and set up my cake. I drove 90 minutes home, then worked all day Saturday on my weddings. I had a bridal show on Sunday. The second it ended, I drove 90 minutes back to the show to pick up my cakes. I didn’t see any of the show. But I contributed to the show. And, more importantly, I learned new techniques that year. I would never recommend that type of schedule, but want you to understand that I do get it. I had to weigh business against cake shows every time I entered.

There are a number of cake shows on the horizon. Off the top of my head, there are shows in New Jersey, Austin, Colorado, San Diego, Virginia, Kansas City, Manchester, London, Germany….just between now and April. I hope that you will consider attending one. If you sign up for my newsletter, I list all the shows, dates and web links so that you can get more information. What one technique have you been dying to try? What flower have you always wanted to make. What do you wish you had a display of for your customers to see? This is your chance to grow. Just so you know that I will lead by example, I took my AotC refund and used it to register for That Takes The Cake Show in Austin in February. I cannot wait to try something new.

To conclude, please mourn with me the end of an era. The AotC show was a great event. Becky Rink and Anna Weisand were great show organizers. I hope that someday their show will be resurrected, but in the meantime, I want to thank them for great times and great memories.

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.

Zen and the Art of Sugarcraft Demonstrating

I have attended quite a few Days of Sharing and cake club meetings. I had a media coordinator for one of the large groups write and ask if I would tackle the dos and don’ts of demonstrating. I read her notes and thought about how right she is! As sugar artists, we rarely have trained for doing presentations before a group. There are definite things that must be taken into consideration and those things differ depending on whether the demonstration is being shown on a big screen or not.

Just as being a talented decorator does not mean you can teach, being a talented artist does not mean you have the gift for live presentations. I am lucky because my drama training, disc jockey days and courtroom experience give me a comfort level in front of crowds that others might not have. I hope that sharing my tips with you will make you more inclined to demo for your next event OR will make you a stronger, more confident demonstrator.

Be Prepared.
Know what you are going to present. Have handouts for the attendees. Be rested. Be dressed professionally. Be early for your presentation.

Involve the Audience.
Confucius said it best. “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand. “. Whenever possible, have items to pass around the room. If people touch the thickness of the gum paste, they will better understand how thin to roll it. Let them handle as much as possible. They will be able to take close up photos and to really “get” what you are showing them.

Be Ready for Questions.
I will promise you right now that people will want to ask you questions. The questions may not be on the subject you are demonstrating! That happens all the time. Be ready to share your knowledge as time allows.

Be Honest with the Audience.
If you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it. Someone else in the audience may know the answer. This happened to me at the Houston Weekend of Sharing. I didn’t know the answer, but another demonstrator did and we all gained by me being honest.

Don’t just be an Advertisement.
Even if you are promoting or sharing a product, you don’t want your demo to feel like an infomercial. I may prefer a certain gum paste or fondant, and I may tell you what I am using. I will also tell you what you need to do to work with other brands. People turn off if they feel like you are just trying to make a sale. You are there to show how to do a project or a technique. Never forget that your motivation should be inspiration and education, not commerce.

Know the Pitfalls.
You need to have enough experience with your demo subject that you can tell or warn them about common errors and explain how to avoid them. Sharing your stories or those of others makes the subject relatable and helps them recognize when something is going wrong.

Don’t Overwhelm the Audience.
Some people feel the need to explain every little thing and, in some respects, show how knowledgable they are about a subject. If you get into technical properties, you may start losing people – not because it is over their head, but because it is not what they came for. When you test drive a car, you want to see how it handles. You learn how to program the radio and what tire pressure you need on your own time. You cannot show how easy your project is if you make it seem complicated or intimidating.

Share Stories and Be Spontaneous.
Do NOT read from a script. Do not speak in a monotone. Be excited about your product or technique and plan to share your enthusiasm. If you are by nature funny, be funny. If you are goofy, be goofy. Be yourself – that is who was asked to demo…not a robotic, serious version of you! Women mostly drive by landmarks and they retain knowledge by the stories that explain what you are doing more than by a dry reading of steps to follow. When someone is at home later, they will remember that story or joke that explained a step and will more likely be successful in their attempt to recreate your item.

Be Ready for Your Closeup.
If there is a camera shooting your demo for display on the big screen, you must demo to the camera. Allow me to repeat, demo to the camera, not to the audience. Keep your hands and your work in a tight zone so that it can be seen on the big screen. Explain your step, do that step, pause and let the camera focus on that step. Do not raise the item up trying to show the audience. The only ones who can see that are possibly the people on the front row, and even then, they might not really see it well. The camera is there to be their eyes. Use it. It may be on your left side or right side. Adapt your presentation so that your hands get out of the way as much as possible.

Work Bigger.
It is incredibly hard for most of the cameras to pick up the really small things. Sometimes the camera is just set at a certain place and no one is running it. If it cannot zoom in to show your work, you need to create bigger pieces, if possible so that the camera can pick it up. For instance, if I am showing how to make fingers on a hand for a small figurine, I generally make a ginormous hand so that each of the steps is easier to see.

Work Bolder.
I know that traditional royal icing work is white on white. I understand that you might like working in pastels. Here is the problem: the camera has trouble showing those subtle color differences. A friend of mine was demonstrating something white against a very pale background. It was all a white blur on camera. For demonstrating, you need to put aside personal preferences and go bold so that the camera can pick up what you are doing. I was teaching dusting recently and selected bold lily colors so that the audience could see them, but I forgot that because my petal was white and I was dusting on a white napkin, they could not see how I started each time. Luckily, someone got me a dark surface to work on so that the beginning stages could be seen.

Think About Your Outfit on Camera.
Have you ever watched a newscast and had the tie on the anchor make you dizzy? Some patterns wreak havoc with a camera. Some color tones are too deep and pull the camera focus. A mid range color is great, with a larger pattern accents if you want those.

No Camera? No Problem.
Some groups are smaller and they do not have a camera setup. You need to think about how you can show people in the back of the room what you are doing. For these demos, I generally stand. If you cannot see the audience, there is no way they can see what you are doing. Even if I am doing a flower, I will roll it out on the table, then lift it and show each stage to the audience. I try to have enough stages of my project pre made so that as I finish each one, I pass that stage around the room.

Demo Out.
Some people are amazing at what they do, but they work tightly to themselves and no one can see what they do. You have to train yourself to do your project in an open fashion so that people can see. I spoke to someone who watched a demo where the lady almost turned her body to hide what she was doing, then would show the finished step and say, “then do this”. Really? I often joke that I am better doing figures upside down and backwards than I am with them facing me. It is true. I often forget when working alone that I can actually look at what I am doing! If I am teaching piping, I am on the floor at the front of the table so that everyone can see around my head and hands to learn the motion.

Leave Them With a Great Story(board).
If your project allows it, have a display prepared that shows all the parts (like for a flower), or shows each major stage (like for a figurine). This way, the audience can come up and capture your presentation in one easy shot.

The single biggest piece of advice that I can give you is to believe in yourself and your role as a demonstrator. You were chosen because people want to learn from you. You are good enough. Demonstrating and sharing is vital for our industry. I attend as many Days of Sharing or cake club meetings as I can. I feel it is my duty to give back, but it also renews my love for sugarart. I feed off of the group’s energy and receive just as much as I give. It is one of the great joys of my life!

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.

The Grass is Always Greener

Have you ever been driving along and you can sense that the car next to you
wants to be where you are…they covet your lane and want to be in your spot?
Maybe you are the person driving and you want to be in that other lane – the
road just looks better there or it will give you access to whatever it is you
are driving towards. It is tough to not feel envious sometimes.

I find myself getting these little pangs now and then. Why didn’t I get picked to teach at that event or judge at that show or whatever. I find myself wishing that I
was walking in other people’s shoes. Then I catch myself and remember that there is probably someone looking at my life wishing they were in my shoes. And you know what?  That is true for most of us. We look ahead to where we want to be and forget that where we ARE was once our goal. We forget that others are
working to achieve whatever we have achieved.

I caught my husband  getting irritated with a driver the other day…the person was in the lane that  he wanted to be in so he could make the next turn. I said, “How would that driver know that you wanted over?  You did not signal. “. After he forgave me for pointing this out, we started discussing that wishing for something to  happen simply wasn’t enough. He said that moving in the new direction required Patience, Persistence and Perception.

No one gets to their desired success level overnight. You have to be patient and have a plan. I think that a lot of people give up on dreams when they were SO CLOSE to realizing them. It can feel like forever while you are waiting for it to be your turn. But wait you must.

It’s funny. So many people think that the highly successful people
in this world never experienced failure or rejection. If you look into their
stories, however, you discover that they simply were persistent until they
achieved success. J.K. Rowling was turned down around a dozen times before
someone took a chance on Harry Potter. I have been turned down spots as an
instructor – or worse, not even been acknowledged several times. I could let
that shake my confidence, or I can tell myself that they simply do not know me.
I have to force myself to stay at it to be able to teach at my desired
locations.

Perception is the one we usually forget about. Just like Rob forgetting to signal the other night, we have to think about what signals we are sending into the universe. Does anyone know about our goals?  Do we have something to show the world what we want?  Just like when I wrote Cake Camp many years ago, you have to help people have the right perception of you. I put together a cd of photos of my work, a resume of classes I wanted to teach and a list of references from their other instructors. I signaled where I wanted to be.

As a baby lawyer, they used to tell us that if it walked like a duck and quacked like a duck and looked like a duck, then it is probably a duck. What they were telling us was to dress for the job we wanted, act like people act in that job, be like those people and everyone would assume we were that. If you want to be on tv, observe those who are and work on those traits. If you want to teach, comport yourself like the instructors you see. If you want the birthday cakes, be like those who get the orders. In other words, send out the perception you want others to have.

I want to add one more “P” to Rob’s list and that is Please. You must
ask. If you sit at home having a pity party because no one asked you to be on
that tv show or compete in that live challenge or whatever, you have only
yourself to blame. Many months ago I was seeing a friend pop up teaching all
over the US. I kept thinking I was doing a bad job as a teacher because I wasn’t
being invited to all these places. She and I were talking one day and I asked
her how these shops heard about her. She laughed and said, “I wrote them and
introduced myself and asked if they would have any interest in me teaching
there.”   You could have knocked me over with a feather. She asked. I kept
thinking what an idiot I had been to just assume that people had hunted her down and I sucked. She put the fourth P into action. Once I started to ask for the
opportunities I wanted, I started to get more of them. That does not mean that I
always get a yes…in fact I can list several recent nos. I know in my heart,
however, that I go more places because I ask.

My final thought for you today, is to try to stem your jealousy or insecurity.  You are seeing what others CHOOSE to show you.  They are probably only showing their successes, not their failures or doubts.  Lord knows I’ve had my share of those, but I have committed to happy posts on Facebook most of the time, so people don’t hear about those things.  I saw this quote and think it sums it all up beautifully.

So my advice for today is to put the 4 P’s into play in your life.  Signal where you want to go.  Don’t judge your life by someone else’s highlights.  Don’t let the green eyed monster of jealousy get to you and don’t let failure be forever.  Your best days are ahead.

Mount Olympus

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Rumbles have been going for years now and started to really rattle the skies this year at the ICES Convention. People look at the Certification program and seem to have a few thoughts and misconceptions. My earlier blog, Certifiable, answered questions for some, but did not touch on the things that I have now heard about. My favorite comment is that the Certified Master Sugar Artists (CMSAs) think that they are gods and that these elitist people are trying to keep others from joining their ranks. The belief is that we are making the test harder. There are a number of beliefs that are being whispered about. I am going to tackle as many of those beliefs as possible and will try to address whether they are myths or facts. As always, this is just my opinion and not a statement from the certification committee, adjudicators or program.

Belief: CMSAs think they are Gods and want to keep others out of their “club”.

Myth. In any group of artistic folks, there may be some who are arrogant and some who are insecure. There may be some who are confident and some who are unsure. I can state with no doubts in my heart or mind that those of us who adjudicate WANT people to pass. We want people to achieve their desired certification levels. This year, there were two people named Certified Sugar Artists and one named Certified Master Sugar Artist. I can tell you that every adjudicator I spoke with was heartbroken as we watched people struggle throughout the day. Many of us were exhausted and nearly in tears…it hurts so much to not be able to give people the marks they needed to reach CSA or CMSA. For me personally, it was one of my hardest days ever at convention.

Could we have just overlooked what happened that day and just given people awards based upon the level of work we knew they could produce? No. The integrity of the program depends on us not giving someone the certification just because we like them, or know they’ve done great work at cake shows. How fair would that be to the people we do not know? I remember an incredibly talented M. Anthony Pena taking the test last year. The majority of us had never heard of him and were not familiar with his work. He was on the same playing level as Chef Mark Seamon or B. Keith Ryder -who were well known, award winning decorators. All were judged on their work solely on test day. Anthony not only passed with flying colors, he became the youngest to ever achieve CMSA status. Mark and Keith were named CMSAs also…based upon what they did on test day. No one gets a free pass to certification.

Belief: The test gets harder every year.

Myth and Fact. The first two years of the test, there was very little information for the candidates. The Candidate Handbook was written the third year to try to answer all the questions people had about what met standards for each of the techniques. In spelling it out, the committee tried to define exactly how many inches of extension work (for example) was required. In some areas, the test now requires more than when I took it. Is it so much more that I feel I could not still pass the test? No. Very little changed from last year to this year in the handbook. The clarification of standards cannot explain how 8 people get CMSA one year and only one the next.

Belief: The adjudicators keep changing the test.

Myth and Fact. The test itself, and the base requirements have not changed to any great extent. As we use the handbook and answer questions from candidates, we find that we need to clarify parts of the book. Perhaps the rule said one thing and the frequently asked questions section said something different. In the end, the rule is the law and the inconsistent question response has to be discarded. We learned that the FAQ section did not help as much as we wanted, so we are simplifying that to only give the rule. Sometimes, as we see someone choose a technique and recreate it on test day, we find that we can require LESS on test day. Sometimes we find that we should see MORE, depending on the point level of the skill. In the end, we are tweaking what I think are minor things, to make the test better and clearer.

I spoke with one candidate who did not receive certification for her pieces. She said she found that everything was covered in the handbook. The information IS in there, but we keep finding that many people still don’t read it.

Belief: There was a bad crop of candidates.

Myth. I actually had people say this to me this year, including some folks who hold a certification of one type or another. I absolutely disagree with this. Of the five testing years, two have had a lower number of candidates achieve certification. Each of the years with lower certification rates, people experienced problems early in the day that just put them behind. It was part environment, part timing choices they made and part things that just seem to go wrong on any given day. How many of you have baked a cake the same way as every time before, only to have one fall…for seemingly no reason? How many times have you cooked sugar or melted chocolate, only to find that you overcooked it? Have you ever over beaten your icing? Accidents happen.

This year’s candidates were great. Many of them wrote exceptional, ambitious plans. Many of them decided to go well beyond the minimum requirements. Most of them practiced. A lot. They just had a bad day. They are not bad decorators. They are talented, and brave and should be respected for standing up to take the test.

Belief: If I take the test, I have to do sugar work. Or extension work. Or Lambeth.

Myth. There are several dozen techniques available for selection. You must choose 8. You must have at least one technique from each point (difficulty) level you pick. If you are strong in figure modeling or piping or sugar work, you can weight your test toward your strengths. In my Girlfriend’s Guide, I tell people to go through and mark the techniques they know how to do. I tell them next to mark what they know how to do Really Well. Choose your techniques from that list. If you choose techniques hoping to impress us that you have tackled a bunch of harder techniques, you may run out of time. No one is going to make you do something at which you do not excel. Remember, we want you to succeed. That is why YOU pick.

Belief: I need to know how to do every technique to take the test.

Myth. You must know at least 8 techniques very well. Very few decorators, if any, can excel at everything on the list. That being said, however, most who achieve CMSA status are probably more familiar with the bulk of the techniques than the average decorator.

Belief: If I can do 7 techniques really well, I can sign up for the test and learn one more technique before the test day.

Myth and Fact. You probably CAN do that, if you practice hard enough and study with someone who excels at that technique, but I do not recommend that. This probably isn’t the time to self teach yourself a technique -remember you are being held to the accepted standards. A teacher can help you identify those. Watching a YouTube video might give you pointers, but without an instructor there to tell you your hand is in the wrong position, you might not ever achieve the standard. If it is important enough to you to take the test, then it must be important enough to you to prepare properly.

Belief: Icing the cakes in buttercream or rolled fondant is the easy part of the test.

Myth. Sadly, this is a problem for people. If you have ever spent hours smoothing a buttercream cake for a bride who has no decorations on her cake, you know what I am talking about. Every time I have seen people struggle with icing a buttercream cake, I ask if they are using their usual icing. The vast majority say no. Why would you enter a race and wear your friend’s shoes? You wouldn’t. This is the time to work with things within your comfort zone. Some people made their buttercream at the various convention sites, only to discover that shortening they purchased in that state has no trans fat and their icing worked differently. Some people’s recipes were too loose. Some were too stiff. You have to adjust to the conditions of the city and room that you are in.

While covering in fondant goes better, I am still surprised at the troubles people experience. It reminds me of my experience in law school. I always studied really hard in the difficult classes and would get an A. I would blow off the easy classes and would not get the “Easy A” that everyone else would get. On certification day, everything matters. You can not blow off icing the cakes!

Belief: Some adjudicators are easier, or score higher, than others. Some adjudicators are the mean ones, or score harder.

Myth and Fact. I am sure that I am considered to be one who gives people higher scores. I have thought that some adjudicators scored low. As I have been rotated to work with different people, I have learned that we are all exceptionally consistent in our scoring. If one person considers an 8 to be a strong score, they will consistently give 8s for the same level of work from technique to technique, candidate to candidate. The scores actually come in pretty closely together between the three adjudicators. I would say that the comments written are really similar! Since we are judging against the same standards, we tend to notice the same problems. I firmly believe that passing work under one team is passing work under any team.

Belief: Everyone takes the test because they want to be a CMSA.

Myth. This surprised me. I have spoken to some candidates who say that they took the test just to see how they would do. Others take it to push themselves. I had assumed that everyone who signed up would be highly motivated to pass the test. It turns out that I should not assume. (Don’t we all know this?). My husband asked why we cannot be sure that the people who take the rest really want to pass it. I simply cannot think of how we would determine that. We have to believe that everyone is there because they want to try to pass.

Belief: ICES should stop giving the test until everything is nailed down.

Myth. This is a five year old program. Let’s compare it to any of the sports in the Olympics. Every year, the rules are evaluated for World Cup competition. Every four years, changes are made to the rules for the Olympics. It isn’t to make it harder or to lower scores; it is to keep up with the changes from the athletes. Degrees of difficulty change in diving and gymnastics as new techniques are developed. Likewise, people are always experimenting in the sugar arts. We want to stay current and be sure that our requirements reflect what is truly achievable. I believe that there will always be slight adjustments to the test, but that they are made for good reasons. I think that people who choose skills they are good at have a really good chance of achieving certification.

My conclusions after this year? These candidates did the best they could do on test day under the circumstances. Would some of them change their icing, technique or design? I think so. Will they take the test again? Most that I personally spoke with said they would be back. Do I believe certification is beyond any of this year’s candidates? Not at all – they each showed talent and tenacity and I think that on any given day, the results could have been different. I still believe they are all to be applauded and respected for testing themselves in such a difficult manner. They are my heroes.

CakeStruck: Sugar Heroes and Idols

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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