When I started decorating cakes in 2013 I knew nothing about competitions or cake shows. I had no idea they existed. It wasn't until November 2013 that I heard about Cake International in Birmingham, one of the biggest Cake Shows in the world, it sounded amazing, all these like minded people gathered together to celebrate edible art and creativity. I decided I would go the following year, at this point I still hadn't decided to enter. Spring 2014 came around and by this stage I had become fully immersed in cake world and the calendar of events that go along with it. In Ireland we have a biennial show, The Irish Sugarcraft Show. I plucked up the courage and decided to enter. I got a hold of a rule book and read it cover to cover, I had heard all sorts of horror stories of people being disqualified over simple mistakes. I spent the weeks prior to the competition working in my cake, full of self doubt and procrasticaketion (yes it's a thing!!). I finished my cake, I was happy with it! I entered the wedding cake category with a cake that wasn't a typical wedding cake, the theme I chose was dead pirates. It was a design I liked and enjoyed working on so I figured if I was going to challenge myself I may as well make something I like rather than something I thought would appease the judges.
I made the 3 hour, nerve wrecking journey in one piece, placed my cake and felt quite relieved, I knew I had done my best and that was all that mattered to me. The cake went on to win Gold, Best in Class and Best in Show, I was over the moon, it was one of the best feelings ever! That was it I was hooked. I love entering competitions and admire each and every person who plucks up the courage to enter. It's a really difficult thing to do, you are allowing yourself to be judged publicly by your peers on something you passionately love. It doesn't matter what the outcome is whether you receive a merit or gold, talk to the judges afterwards, get their feedback and learn and grow as an artist and competitor. I judge Sugarcraft competitions in Ireland as a member of the Panel Of Chefs and it's really important to me as a judge that I get to explain my result to competitors, I don't want anyone to leave disillusioned or feeling deflated, I want everyone to see it as a valuable learning experience.
I have gone on to enter Birmingham that November and won Gold. I have entered several competitions since and have been fortunate to receive gold at Salon Culinaire at Hotelympia in London, 4 Cake International Golds, Senior Irish Chef of the Year 2015 and Live Global Challenge Champion 2015 at Cake Fair hosted by Satin Ice in Orlando, Florida.
The latter being an experience of a lifetime, a live competition, 10 countries,7 hours, live on stage, all real cake, 36" tall, $10,000 first prize! It was amazing, terrifying, exhausting and fun! We were given a theme of homeland so each country had to design a cake that represented their country, I decided from the beginning I didn't want to go down the typical leprechaun route, I wanted to go for a Celtic theme, so after much practice, I finalised the design and we were ready to go! On the morning I was nervous, very nervous but I felt ready. The 7 hours went by so much faster that I had anticipated. We had to drop a tier due to time issues but luckily we still met the required height. We presented the cake to the judging panel, I told the story of the cake so that each tier made sense and flowed. I also built a Bluetooth speaker into the base and used my phone to start the music just as the judges were scrutinising it. I also incorporated dry ice under the base to give a misty forest feel. We had to wait a couple of hours before the winners were announced which was perfect as I had forgotten to eat all day!! The time came around for the winners to be announced, when Chef Susan Notter announced Team Ireland, I truly couldn't believe it! It was an experience of a lifetime, if you're up for an amazing challenge it will be held in Orlando in October 2017!
My advice to competitors..
- Make something you love and enjoy, it's much easier to be good at something you like.
- Read the rules, several times.
- Keep your work neat and clean.
- Bring a repair kit that includes spares of anything that may get damaged in transit and is replaceable, for example I broke whiskers of my Puss in Boots entry on the morning of the competition, luckily I have packed lots of spares so I replaced them with pout a problem
- Get feedback from the judges
- Enjoy it!