MADISON, Wis. — The International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association has chosen three finalists from a record number of entrants this year to compete in its 15th Annual Cake Decorating Challenge.
The three finalists — Tina Loftus, Town & Country Market, Bainbridge Island, Wash.; Sara Vanderheyden, Hy-Vee, Ames, Iowa; and Rebecca Woodard, Harps Food Stores, Springdale, Ark. — will compete for top honors at IDDBA's Dairy-Deli-Bake 2010 Seminar & Expo in Houston on June 6-8.
Together, the finalists have chalked up nearly 40 years of cake-decorating experience. Loftus has been honing her decorating skills for more than 22 years, all of them in supermarket in-store bakeries. Vanderheyden has 11 years' experience, and Woodard, 4½.
The three women will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the IDDBA show where they will use their skills in an intensive three-day competition on the show floor.
“This contest is not a one-day wonder,” Carol Christison, IDDBA's executive director, told SN. “It's an intensive, focused, three-day marathon that allows decorators to demonstrate their creative techniques and their ability to handle the demands of production cakes.”
On the first day of the show, Sunday, each contestant must decorate enough cakes to fill one multi-tiered, 8-foot bakery case. On Monday, each will decorate a wedding cake. This event usually attracts a large number of onlookers. Tuesday features a special “Decorator's Choice” event that includes a special occasion cake, a cake depicting a theme and a cake that interprets the theme of the show.
All that work goes on in the midst of a less-than-ideal environment — a convention center's show floor — where room temperatures can be unpredictable, and where any number of distractions can crop up.
Top skills are a given, but the contestants' preparation and planning are important ingredients, too. So is their ability to remain calm under pressure.
“We do provide the cakes, frosting, air brushes, cake tips, bags and standard decorations, but it's up to each individual contestant to supply his or her own creative elements and merchandising props,” Christison said.
“They can't run to the grocery aisle or back to the kitchen if they forget something. They have to plan their work and bring their supplies with them.”
Christison described how successful the Cake Decorating Challenge has been over the years.
“When we decided to create the Cake Decorating Challenge 15 years ago, we had no idea that it would be such a sustainable event,” she said, “so much so that it's become the standard by which other contests are compared. We've had around 1,000 cake decorators apply to be in the contest since its inception, and every year, we've had three finalists rise to the top.”
This year the contest drew 75 entrants, topping last year's record 74.
Entrants send detailed portfolios with photos and written descriptions of how they work. Then, the portfolios and are judged blindly. Neither the decorator's name nor his or her company's name is revealed until the three top picks are separated from the bunch.
“When we launched the first Challenge our purpose was to highlight supermarket cake decorating and to elevate it to the highest level by showcasing the very best in our business,” Christison said. “We've encouraged chains to improve their own cake programs by teaching new elements, expanding their product lines and running internal cake-decorating contests.
“They get their customers involved by having them vote for their favorite decorator by buying one of their cakes or to simply vote for a favorite cake.”
Christison said she's been delighted with supermarkets' involvement and in what the program has done for the industry, and the decorators themselves.
Last year, in Atlanta, at IDDBA's Dairy-Deli-Bake 2009, Kim Oborne, decorator for Publix Super Markets, took top honors in the Challenge. Second place went to Anne Freeman, representing Hy-Vee, and third place to Charra Jarosz of Quality Food Centers, Seattle.