33This past weekend was Cake International at the N.E.C. in Birmingham. This is a big show; the Cake International competition area is billed as the world’s largest cake competition. So when I say this weekend’s competition was big, please understand that it was H U G E.
There were 204 entries in the wedding cake competition class alone. (Guess who had entry number 203? Nothing like leaving doing the admin until the absolute last possible minute.)
The sheer volume of cakes on display, as well as the incredibly high standard of work on most of the entries, is what makes visiting this show worthwhile and completely mind-blowing.
I did not take many pictures of the other entries, I was too busy reminding myself to keep my jaw off the floor to point my camera, but if you are interested in seeing some of the other entries you should look at https://www.facebook.com/cakecraftanddecoration as they post many photos from the show. (Oddly, Cake International does not. Weird. Actually, since my original post, CI have put up their gallery. You can see it here: http://www.cakeinternational.co.uk/birmingham/2014/gallery/14 They have an action shot of me, photographing my cake on page 14)
But, anyhow, back to my entries.
Although I put in about 3 weeks work at my studio as well as additional hours at home, I am not proud to admit that completing these entries went down to the wire. I finished my cakes at 3:37 am on Friday morning and was up again at 6am to deliver them to the arena. This is what the hotel room looked like at bedtime:
I can only imagine what the hotel thought of the white powder on every surface in the room. Unfortunately, there is only so much cleaning you can do with a bottle of antibac spray and a jay-cloth. My apologies to housekeeping. (For those of you who are not cake decorators, it the white stuff was cornstarch. It stops the sugar paste from sticking to everything.)
Cake transportation and drop off is probably the most stressful part of the competition. Because of the huge number of entries, the area is swamped. Although you get access pretty close to the back door, there are hundreds of people milling around, each one of them a potential threat to your cake. It only takes a second for everything to fall to pieces. But fortunately, the cake transportation gods were smiling down on me this time & my entries arrived in the four pieces that I had intended.
Final assembly went smoothly – just the minor issue of not actually being able to lift my 5-tier entry on my own to put it in place. A friendly stranger was co-opted into helping me out. Fortunately, cake makers are friendly and helpful people.
After setting up your cake in the competition area, you step back and start to take in the work of others around you. I usually have a “what on earth am I thinking by being here” moment. The standard is ridiculously high and while I overheard some wise words “Remember, you are not competing against anyone, you are only competing against yourself” it’s really difficult not to compare your work to the cake next to you. And the cakes next to both of mine were extremely good. Both got gold. Perhaps I should think of myself as some kind of good luck charm.
Earlier this year, I managed to get a gold medal at the show in London, and even after speaking to the judges, I didn’t quite understand how they reached this decision. (That’s the good thing about this show: you get 1:1 feedback on your entry from the judges). This year, after being awarded Silver & Merit for my entries, I have a far better understanding of what they are looking for: Impact. Good colours. Flawless covering. Level of difficulty across a variety of techniques. Correct construction.
Unfortunately, my first entry was not particularly well received by the judges. I must admit that I wasn’t 100% happy with the design. I did have a bit of a moment when I stepped back to admire my work after I was done. All I could see what a very sad looking three-eyed owl. I couldn’t rip it off without taking all the ruffles with it, so the owl stayed.
It turned out it wasn’t the owl that the judges minded so much. I used a garret-frill cutter to make the ruffles. This cutter is round which means the ruffles come out all random and extra frilly, but not particularly straight. Judges like straight and uniform. Other comments were that the ribbon was too thick (I agree) and the metallic paint was a bit clumpy in places (can’t argue with that either). For what it’s worth, I liked the ruffles.
Oh well. You live and learn.
My second entry did much better. According to the feedback I received, I only had a few small errors. However, I made one big omission (I forgot to put the top tier on a cake drum) so I got downgraded on technical construction. That’s not something I’ll be doing again. I am also consoled by the fact that my cake was moved after I put it down. Whoever moved it turned it round so it was judged from the back. I know it was hard to tell, but every cake has a front and a back, even if the design goes all the way around. Next time, I’m not leaving until the competition area is roped off for judging.
Usually at this point, you head home or back to your hotel room and crash for the morning. You sleep, shower, eat something and wait for the results to be posted.
But not this time. For Birmingham, it was a case of a quick shower, change hotels, and start all over again.
Cake Masters Magazine held its first awards ceremony in conjunction with the show. A few weeks before the event, the editor put out a call for sugar florists to work on a collaboration. Five of us were chosen to create two centrepieces that would grace the VIP tables at the awards ceremony.
This was my first collaboration and the brief was simple: pink, white & gold and oh, it mustn’t look like a cake…
At the end of another sleepless night, I managed to produce these two little beauties. I cannot tell you how pleased I am with them. I had never worked with metallics before this project and I now think I’m a little in love with gold.
The awards ceremony was great fun, and even though I was exhausted, it was a shame it ended so early. It would have been fab to dance the night away with new and old cakey friends. While it was wall-to-wall cake royalty, it was quite funny to think that at the end of the day, you recognise the cakes, not the people.
While he is tiny in stature, it was impossible not to recognise the revered Eddie Spence who received a life-time achievement award. Eddie started his career at the age of 14 and he is now into his 90’s so he really has been in the industry for a lifetime.
Zoe Clark (who taught me the basics at her 5 day masterclass) presented the award for the best wedding cake so it was good to have a quick catch up with her after the event.
The night ended with me failing to recognise the lovely Emma Jane of Emma Jane Cake Design (that’s what happens when you throw 2 right contact lenses into your bag when you pack in a hurry) and a hilarious non-taxi ride back to the hotel with the Director of Fondarific, which might just be my new fondant of choice. Fondant that you don’t have to make from scratch that actually tastes nice – who knew that existed!
Sunday was spent at the show, taking in all of the entries, talking to the judges and trying not to spend a ludicrous amount of money on more tools and cake stuff. I think I did very well in that regard, only picking up some flower stamens and a new set of cutters.
After the show, you get to do the mad drop off in reverse. Only this time in the pouring rain. If you think unpacking cakes is stressful, try packing them back up again. Usually, with cakes, the deconstruction part is easy. It gets cut, eaten and then the caterers get to deal with the messy bits. After competitions, you get to try to break it up into more manageable pieces without actually breaking the cake.
The one person that needs a special mention at this point is my boy. My bankroller. My long-suffering logistics director. His ability to pack an incredible amount of stuff into our very small car makes him nothing short of a magician. Without his driving skills, my work would never have made it up the M40 in one piece, let alone all the way back again. Thank you, b. x
And with everything piled into the car, Cake International was over for a few months. Roll on CI London in March 2015.
(Yes, that is a boxed four-tier wedding cake on my lap.)