International Salon Culinaire is the UK’s largest and most prestigious chefs competition programme. If that sentence alone isn’t enough to make you want to run and hide, then, like this week’s guest writer, you must love a challenge. Based across two shows, it comprises of four competition categories – Salon Display, Live Theatre, Skills Theatre and La Parade des Chefs – which showcase the terrific skills and talent within the hospitality industry. Included in these competitions are the Senior Sugarcraft Competition Classes – a chance for the brightest and best within the cake world to share their work with a wider audience – and one competitor who scored particularly well at the 2018 show was Becky Jenkins.
Better known as Becky Jenkins – Sugar Artist, Becky is a multiple gold-award-winning cake artist and recently started her training to become a fully accredited British Sugar Guild Demonstrator.
I reached out to Becky to find out more about International Salon Culinaire, hear all of this year’s gossip and to find out how it felt to scoop some of the show’s biggest awards.
I’ve been competing for the last 6 years and attending cake shows and exhibitions annually since the age of 18, so when I was first handed the competition schedule for Salon Culinaire, 5 years ago, I was both intrigued and anxious at the thought of entering. It actually took me a couple of years to pluck up the courage, after hearing tales of their high standards and the fierce competition from the industry’s finest.
Finally, in 2017, I submitted my entry into The Great Hospitality Show and was thrilled to walk away with a Best in Class award and the Best Sugarcraft Exhibit gong for my Wolf and the Picnic Basket display piece. I felt like I had experienced a different kind of competition and felt a whole new level of achievement.
As a result, Salon 2018 was a guaranteed fixture in this year’s diary and, now I felt a bit more confident, I even managed to talk a few friends into entering with me.
On entering the show, you are instantly greeted with the wonderful aromas from the trade stands and Salon Kitchens. Samples of food and drink are readily available – as are free products to take away. There are displays showcasing the latest culinary trends, seminars, demonstrations and workshops on the different aspects of the catering and food industry and lots of other things to see and do – if you feel so inclined. The Salon competitions themselves consist of over 100 different classes spread over the four days of the show, with some taking place live and others displayed for you to look at and enjoy.
As I’ve said, 2018 was my second year entering Salon Culinaire and it is still a very new experience. Although similar to the competition set up at Cake International, which readers may be more familiar with, particularly in regard to the rules and schedules, it’s always daunting to step into a new arena.
The organisers and judges are very helpful and welcoming though and on hand from start to finish to answer any queries and give advice and, as the number of entries are far fewer than the bigger more cake-focused shows, feedback is more relaxed.
This year, my entries took over 300 hours and cost me many a sleepless night. I was determined not to rush and end up with a group of half-finished entries, because I knew it would only lead to disappointment later on and – importantly – I started early, originally had the crazy idea of entering five categories! I eventually managed to complete three pieces that I was satisfied I had put my all into them.
For the Miniature Class, I created an artist’s studio, inspired by the fact that I have been getting back into my artwork, so I found it really quite fitting and a subject that I could sink my teeth into. Each piece was hand-modelled from Saracino’s modelling paste and left to harden, before piecing it together. The whole model had to fit within a 6” cube, so details where very tiny and very fiddly.
I painted each piece using a mixture of alcohol and petal dust and the canvases were hand-painted using Saracino cocoa butter and dust colours. In total, my Miniature took around 50 hours to make and won a gold medal and the Best in Class award. I think the best reward though was being told, ‘it was a pleasure to judge and executed to perfection’. I couldn’t have asked for better feedback. I’ve never seen myself as someone who manages to achieve perfection and, even now, I could still sit and find a fault somewhere – I am definitely my own worst critic!
My second entry was entered into the Wedding category and took well over 200 hours (maybe more – I quickly lost count) to complete. It honestly felt like it would never be finished at one point.
The four tiers were covered in hand-painted details, again using Saracino Cocoa butter, and the whole piece sat on a coral pedestal stand, hand-sculpted from Saracino modelling paste and sugarpaste.
It has a total of over 30 handmade sea creatures and fish, more than 200 sea shells and pebbles and nearly 150 individually made pieces of coral adorning its layers, all painted with cocoa butter. It also won a gold medal and the Best in Class award, which I was both thrilled and shocked to receive.
My final piece was entered into the Sculpted Novelty Cake category and was a life-sized sculpted salmon. The rules stated that they wanted to see a good proportion of cake, so I didn’t want to overcomplicate the design and, as it is a chef’s competition, I decided to go with a foodie option.
My salmon was served on a bed of isomalt, with wedges of lemon handcrafted from Saracino products. The scales where individually embossed, which took a total of 2.5 hours, and the details were hand-painted.
Many people were fooled by the realism of this piece and came back for a second glance – just to make sure it really was a cake! I love being able to fool the eye and I feel getting people to interact with your work is sometimes more rewarding than any award.
On the final day of the show, all competitors are invited to attend the presentation of prizes and we were individually called upon to receive our framed certificates and medals for gold, silver and bronze awards. Commemorative plates were also awarded for the Best in Class awards and similar. Although competing for me has never really been about the material rewards, I’ll admit being presented with a lovely shiny gold medal was an added bonus. It gave me a great sense of achievement and pride to walk away from a show respected by professionals from all around the globe and to be recognised as one of them.
All in all, it was a successful day for the cake world, with an array of talent on display from as far afield as New York, Cyprus and Salvador. And let’s not forget the show’s big winners, with the Professional Cake Decorator of the Year going to Jacqui Kelly, the Best Sugarcraft Exhibit to Beth Dove for her amazing chocolate sculpture and the Best Senior and Chairman’s Award to Urszula Maczka for her beautiful Rabbit Figurine – the detail on it was out of this world.
There were so many works of art that it’s hard to pick a favourite, but the ones that really jumped out at me were the beautiful examples of pulled sugar work and the gorgeous sugar flowers – things that I currently only wish I had the skills to do, but I hope to have a go them at one day.
One of the other biggest highlights of this year’s competition had to be the turnout of familiar faces and talent from the cake world supporting and cheering each other on. When it came to the awards, the rest of the show certainly knew we were there, which was not only wonderful to see and be part of, but it also showed that while we may only be a small part of the food service industry, together we can make a big impact.
If you were to ask me whether you should enter Salon, I would say one hundred percent yes! Don’t ever be afraid to have a go and try something new. The organisers and judges are on hand every step of the way to advise and guide you and they are always more than happy to help. All abilities and levels of experience receive a warm friendly welcome, so don’t put it off as long as I did. You never know, you could be the next cake artist to walk away with a shiny medal or even a Best in Show award.
I will most definitely have my name down to enter next year and really hope that many more of you will join me. Good luck and I hope to see you there!
It sounds like an amazing experience Becky and I am genuinely so sad to have missed it. Thank you so much for allowing us to share in your show journey – it was certainly the next best thing to being there in person.
And if you are interested in finding out more about Salon Culinaire and upcoming shows and events, you can visit their website.