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Monday, October 10, 2005

Weekend Cake Contest

I am willing to learn by the seat of my pants. Every job I've ever held was learned in this manner. Every thing I've ever done was done with little or no professional training in a classroom setting.

The extent of my schooling to become a pastry chef was two weekend classes at my local community college before I jumped in headlong and went to it the best I could, listening and watching intensely those around me who had experience and the knowledge I needed to gain.

I've been a pastry chef and cake decorator for just over 1 year. Think about that, 1 year. I decorated this cake my first week of my first decorating job.

This is a lot of beginner's luck and a little bit of art (painting) experience. And a whole lot of listening to those who knew what they were doing when I didn't know what I was doing.
I finally feel like I'm beginning to know what I'm doing but I'm not ready to get cocky about it just yet.

I received a notice of a cake contest a while back and my boss suggested that I enter. I declined to enter but I felt I should go and see the contest to know what the competition was like if I decided to go for it next year.

The contest turned out to be much smaller than I anticipated. I'm debating whether the small number of entrants would be a good thing or a bad thing. See, with less competition, it may be easier to win, however, while the contest had a small turnout, so did the crowd who came to see the contest.

I'm not really looking to build a following since I doubt my ability to own my own pastry company. I particularly doubt it after seeing a former employer lose herself and what her company stood for in the early days to become self-propelled by greed.

Making the decision to enter a decorating contest would be purely for a professional pat on the back. (In other words, it looks good on the resume'.) The problem with that is, does it really look good to a potential employer? If the contest is no big deal, it's less likely to make an impact to the potential employer whether I won or not. Either winning or not winning, I would be putting forth a ton of effort that I may not have to spare. But this is all just a lot of projecting, now isn't it? Let's get to the cakes already.

The contest had two categories for entry: individual and professional. I found out at the contest that by professional, they meant companies doing business and not, as I wondered, by professional decorators at home. There were also two categories by which the cakes would be judged: most original and best tasting. The theme was Birthday.

These were some of the cakes made by individuals. While I was there, I found out the judging for 'most original' was actually done by the crowd(?) attending, by which they would put a tiny pompon into a cup labelled with the person's name. Not exactly the most precise of systems. This cake was clearly in the lead at the time I was there:

Now, forgive me if I'm wrong, but if the votes are to be cast for most original, well, there seems to be another Alice in Wonderland cake right along side this one. This one is beautiful and must have taken literally hours to decorate, but it is not most original (also note that I was considering a Wonderland theme, if I were to enter).

Then we have the professionals. Area companies that put their name on the line in the eyes of anyone who attended the contest. The restaurant I work for had considered entering but I don't think they ever actually got around to sending in the entry fee.

All nice and worthy of the crowd's attention. However there was this one:

I realize it's hard to see more here than a beach scene. What you can't quite see are Pepperidge Farm goldfish crackers in the water portion of the decoration and (this is the part that made me cringe, as a professional) on the beach and in the water are Teddy Graham cookies with bathing suits painted on. Now, don't get me wrong, Teddy Grahams are great for a home baker to put on a kids cake, but for a professional, this just seemed so... chintzy. Is that too harsh? Am I simply missing out on the new craze in what customers want from their bakery? I don't have an answer to that, but I do know one thing, if my owner won't allow colored sprinkles (aka Jimmies), there's no way she's allowing Teddy Grahams on her cakes.

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