Friday, August 22, 2008

Cake Competition

This weekend I competed in a cake competition. I was asked to help one of my school mates who I have nicknamed 'the rockstar'. He is not quite 19 and he makes amazing cakes. He was pretty intimidated by the whole thing with good reason. These events are a hell of a lot of pressure. We were given parameters and time limits and a theme of "America's Best" and we also had 48 hours notice. Holy. Crap.

I will take this time to tell you the the other teams knew about this 6 months in advance and each team had made their cake at least 3 times. One team had made their cake 6 (!) times. We found out about this Tuesday night and decided to do it Wednesday. The first day of the contest was Friday.
On Wednesday Ramon started making cakes, Thursday afternoon we loaded our equipment and cakes and fillings into the hotel and Thursday night we made our taster cake and a few of the pieces that we knew we were going to need. I made what seemed like a million pieces of corn and the most perfect pat of melty butter ever! =)

Friday AM we finalized our design (mostly) and at noon we were off! Only we weren't. The people who ran the show were so fuckin disorganized that we didn't get going until 12:30.
They let us start an hour early on Saturday to make up for it, thank goodness. I think no matter how much planning and pre work you do, it always comes down to the wire. By the end of Friday all of our cakes were carved and crumb coated, our remote control and coke bottle were formed out of rice crispies. I felt really confident. But coming down to the last two hours I was panicking. I was painting everything as fast as I could while Ramon was putting together and putting the final royal icing touches on the coke bottle and the dinner box.

When we went to put the frame on the TV it turned out to be too small so I ran off to roll out another one. I was rolling a bit frantically when one of my chefs told me we had 15 minutes left. I looked over at Ramon who was writing on the coke bottle and our TV still wasn't painted.
I was immediately nauseous and had to fight off the urge to cry. To come all this way and not be
able to finish! UGH!! In my head I said "fuck it" I am gonna keep rolling until they tell me to stop. Turns out we had 50 (!) minutes left. Thank God, we needed almost every second.
I rolled out the frame, cut it to shape, then I painted the TV, all with a bit of panic in my heart but determined to finish.

We slapped the frame on the tv and it wasn't staying very well so we glued it with glucose and hoped for the best. We stuck it on the tray with a few minutes to spare. Sadly the frame started to sag so -illegally, after time was up-we jabbed a few tooth pics in it to get it to stay. It kind of worked but I heard from one of the guys that we got judged down for it, no surprise really. Here is our entry:

So we let out our breath, high-fived each other and got lots of hugs and back pats from our chefs. It felt amazing to have completed this (and done a kick ass job BTW) with ZERO notice and minimal planning. Then the really hard part began...

We sat waiting for the judges to come and we waited... As we waited 3 of the cakes fell and two others started to fall. Handles fell off of the cake that would up being 3rd place, our frame slipped just a bit more, and we still waited. Our families had been ushered out into another area of the hotel and then were told to go home then they were told to stay and then told to go home again, by the same person! Can you say disorganized?
All the contestants and chefs chatted nervously and consoled the teams whose cakes fell. And finally they came. Chef Duff, Christophe Bader (head pastry chef for the Hilton) and another Austrian chef.
We watched them like hawks and chewed our nails as they studied our cakes. I've never been so stressed in my life. I mean I've been stressed; I've had 20 bucks a month for groceries and food, I've waited for test results when they thought my mom had cancer in her bladder, I've sat in the 'family room' at the hospital waiting for my dad to come out of heart surgery but this was stress that had to do with my personal performance- completely different kind of emotional pressure. Here is Duff and crew looking at our cake.

In the foreground you can see the amazing burger and fries cake that was done by the other team from my school.

After what seemed like an eternity the cheesy announcer guy came on and said they were ready to announce the winners. At this point someone opened the doors and our families who were close to murdering the organizers poured back into the hall.
The announcements were kind of a blur after they announced the luggage cake had taken third. That was one of the best ones in the room so we couldn't wait to hear who was 2nd and 1st! When they announced 2nd place there were a few seconds of confusion. Not sure if this was because they announced winners by our team numbers or if they were in as much disbelief as the rest of us were over their cake placing 2nd. Then they announced the winner. The school from Vegas took it with their cake about...Vegas. It was cute and intricate and very showy-kinda like Vegas :)
My issue with these cakes winning was the criteria we were given when we entered.
Both cakes were too big according to the paperwork we were given and we were told that difficulty would be judged by carving. The 1st place cake had very minimal carving. It was also frustrating that we weren't told how our cakes were judged, what lost us points etc, we only heard rumors from some people who talked to one or two of the judges.
This stuff made for kind of a weird night after all was said and done. We all went home in kind of a daze of physical and emotional exhaustion. The next day when we came back to clean up, we couldn't help but wonder exactly what the judges saw and what could we have done differently.
What took a while to break through the wall of sour grapes was how proud I was of our two teams. The strongest emotions are rarely pure, they are always mingled with several different emotions. In my case it was pride mixed with excitement and disappointment and a disbelief at the fact that only 3 days before this wasn't even a thought in my head. We worked our asses off, we had no time to plan, no time to think and hardly any time to breathe. We just jumped in and I think we were able to hold our own.
I have to mention here that none of this would have happened if it wasn't for Ramon. This guy is an amazing talent and I was very honored that he chose me to compete with him. He came up with the design and did the carving, he also did all the finish painting and he stabilized our cake, which is BIG as the cakes that had been made 3-6 times before still fell over! And at some point in the middle of the night, the crazy lady running the show decided that our cakes needed to be moved from where the competition took place, to the middle of the food show. Turns out at 2am, hotel employees aren't really careful about moving stuff. Each of the cakes that were still intact after the judging, collapsed or fell over during the move EXCEPT for our cake. It was still 95% intact the next day. Our tv screen sagged a bit and one of the apples fell off of our dessert but That. Was. It. Structurally it was still right as rain. This was another HUGE accomplishment in my eyes and one more reason why Ramon ROCKS. Here we are with our chef. She was very proud of us too :)

This was a lot to read and if you're still here, I know that you really care :) This was a huge deal for me and I had to post a lot about it.
Thanks to everyone who came out and supported us and gave us words of encouragement. It means more than I can say.


QoD said...

Tee, your cake was amazing! You and the rockstar are truly talented to have been able to put that together, especially on such short notice.

Michelle L. said...

You guys rocked it out. The cake that won sucked. The judges were blind. Blind I tell you!

KlevaBich said...

The cake that won sucked, the cake that took second sucked ten times worse. I didn't realize that the whole event was so disorganized and chaotic to boot. No wonder you were so exhausted!

You are one amazing person, my dear, and you will go very far. Will you still speak to us when you're the famous pastry chef on the Food Network?

Tee said...

Thanks guys! I felt like we got ripped off too. My chef was like a momma bear, she was PISSED!

The Lady in Red said...

She should have been pissed! I'm pissed! You got robbed! The cakes that took 1st and 2nd place sucked large. Your cake owned, homie! You and the Cake Rockstar were magnificent, and your cake was too! Boo on blind judging.

Wayward Dork said...

I freaking love your cake. I'm sorry you got robbed, yours really was the coolest! XOXO

Melissa said...

I think it stinks that you guys didn't place. The team that took 2nd place had the worst fondant work ever! I think you 2 did a great job!

Mandy and Seth said...

oh man, that was exciting to read! Crazy cake competition. I'm sorry you guys didn't place, it sure looks amazing to me. Way to go!