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Guest Post: Emma Matthews – Royal Wedding Cakes Competition

Earlier this week, I published my post from the Ideal Home Show and Eat & Drink Festival, live at the London Olympia. In that post, I divulged that I had been lucky enough to convince the first-place winner of the Royal Wedding Cakes competition, Emma Matthews of Happiness Factor Cakes to pen a few words to share with us all her experience of competing at such a high-profile event. I am very pleased to be able to welcome Emma to Mr Baker’s Blog with her first (of what I hope will be many) guest blogs…

When the email initially arrived inviting me to submit a design for the Royal Wedding Cake Competition, I had already entered another competition that was being held two week’s prior to the Ideal Home Show and there was no way that I would be able to produce two competition-standard cakes in such a short space of time.

Fortunately, I realised that the rules for the Ideal Home Show competition stated that you could enter a previously-shown cake as long as it fitted their competition schedule, so I decided to create one design that I would be able to enter at both Salon Culinaire and the Ideal Home Show.

I had had an idea for guardsmen surrounding a cake roaming around in my head for some time and, as I already knew how I wanted them to look, these were my starting point. Now, I just needed to figure out the rest of the design.

I spent a couple of evenings researching Prince Harry and his fiancé Meghan Markle and decided I wanted to include both a nod to their collective charity work with World Vision’s Clean Water campaign, The Invictus Games and The Royal Foundation and to Meghan’s acting career. I also wanted the cake to be traditional, but with a novelty twist, so I decided on an ivory and gold colour palette, with three rows of flowers, clapperboards, crowns and the charities’ symbols hidden amongst hearts on the top two tiers.

Having never made flowers for a competition before, this was a first for me and the guardsmen were also made one-by-one, piece-by-piece. In fact, the only parts of my cake that were made using moulds or cutters were the tops of the crowns and the flowers.

Over around four weeks, working in the evenings and sometimes late into the night between other commitments, the cake began to take shape.

Eventually it was finished and I think it turned out pretty much as I had imagined it.

At its first stop Salon Culinaire, where it was entered into the wedding cake class, my cake was awarded a gold medal and I received some lovely comments from the judges, fellow cake artists and the public.

Unfortunately, the cake didn’t make it home in one piece though and I only had a week to fix and improve my design before it needed to be delivered back to London. I removed all of the flowers, added some smaller filler flowers to bulk it out and then re-stacked it.

Luckily, the journey to Olympia was less eventful – well, until we hit the speed bumps and potholes right outside that is! With our collective breaths held and our eyes shut, the cake arrived in almost one piece and made it onto the table, minus only a few broken petals.

When we arrived, a film crew from Channel 4’s Extreme Cake Makers were on site filming for a Royal Wedding Special and asked if I would be able to answer some questions – it was probably around this point that I really wished I had thought about doing my hair!

Even worse though was the moment when we had to leave. It’s always a horrible moment when you have to walk away from your creation and leave it to the mercy of the general public, knowing all of the hard work, love and hours that have gone into it.

Fortunately, my daughter and I had already bought tickets for the show, before I had even considered entering the competition and, the following day, we travelled back down to London to check on my cake, see all of the other entries and take in the rest of the show.

It’s always interesting to see other people’s interpretation of a design theme, with traditional and novelty cakes; huge and small cakes; and the very colourful and the very muted all displayed in the competition area. They were all amazing and all lovingly created by some very talented artists.

Part of the competition is a public vote that goes on during the full 17 days of the show and watching people stop to vote for my entry was truly heart-warming. If I could have thanked every single one of them (without seeming a bit odd), I would have done!

Midway through the show, the cakes were inspected by the competition judges, Rosie Cake-Diva and Leeanne Cooper of Cake Decoration & Sugarcraft Magazine and we had been informed that, if we placed, we would get a phone call on Saturday afternoon – as you can probably imagine, it was a fairly nerve-wracking day! It seemed that every five minutes, friends and family were messaging, ‘Have you placed?’ or ‘Have you heard yet?’

By 5:30pm, I had managed to convince myself that it was not meant to be and had settled down with a cup of tea to wait for my family to come home. Then my phone rang with the incredible news that, not only had I placed, I had come first! I literally cried! I rang my daughter, my family, messaged some cake friends and then sat on my own, like a doughnut, crying lots of happy tears.

The prize giving was on the Sunday, so my husband, my daughter and two of my sisters came with me to pick up my prize. Little did I know that there was to be a full prizegiving ceremony on the Super Theatre stage, smack-bang in the middle of the show and this was also filmed by the Extreme Cake Makers team.

Rosie Cake-Diva and one of the show’s own presenters hosted the ceremony whilst myself and the 2nd place winner, Lankika Illukkumbura of Dlux Cakes, waited nervously backstage. Unfortunately, third place winner Julie Cain of Julie Anne Cake Design couldn’t attend that day.

Walking out in front of so many people was a little bit scary, but Rosie was so friendly, chatty and bubbly, it really helped to calm my nerves. I was presented with a huge rosette and a very gorgeous pale blue SMEG stand mixer. The Extreme Cake Makers team then asked if I would do another piece to camera, so we went upstairs to the competition area and filmed next to my cake.

I’m so glad that it was all very quick as I didn’t even have a chance to worry about what was going on and actually it was a fabulous day meeting up with cake friends and being part of the show. And while it’s lovely to be successful in competitions, seeing people smile and enjoy something you have created really is the best feeling of all…

 

Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us, Emma! Your cake was fabulous and the win was well-deserved. I hope you enjoy your new mixer and look forward to seeing what you manage to cook up next!

The Royal Wedding Cakes are being displayed throughout the 17 days of the Ideal Home Show, which runs until the 2nd April, so you still have time to go and see them for yourself. For more information and to book tickets, visit the official Ideal Home Show website.

And if you are unable to make it along in person, check out my full post from the show – including photographs of all of the competitors’ entries.

All Content, Blog, Guest Post

Guest Post: Becky Jenkins – Salon Culinaire 2018

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.

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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.

Salon-Logo

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Professional Cake Decorator of the Year, Jacqui Kelly

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.

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Photo courtesy of Rhianydd Webb of Dragons and Daffodils Cakes

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.

To find out more about Becky and her incredible cake artistry – including her pieces from this year’s shows – you can find her website here or why not follow her on Facebook?

And if you are interested in finding out more about Salon Culinaire and upcoming shows and events, you can visit their website.

All Content, Blog, Guest Post

Guest Post: Sam Hughes – Silvia Mancini ‘Skipping Girl Class’

Sam Hughes is the face behind Aunty Sam’s Cakes, based in in Sheringham, Norfolk. Last week, she was lucky enough to attend a modelling class with the legendary sugar modeller Silvia Mancini at Zoe’s Fancy Cakes in Leeds and she has been generous enough to pen a few words to share the experience with us all.

Over to you, Sam…

The night before my course, we checked the weather forecast ahead of our three-hour drive from North Norfolk to West Yorkshire and things weren’t looking too promising. ‘The Beast from the East’ was due to arrive and conditions were looking rather threatening.

Luckily, the weather wasn’t too bad on the morning in question and remained fairly reasonable throughout our journey. As a result, we arrived quite early and as soon as I had packed the other half off into Leeds for the day, things couldn’t have been better.

Our hosts, Zoe and Richard welcomed us all warmly, with hot cups of coffee and a variety of biscuits and honestly made the whole experience very relaxing and easy before we even got started.

There was plenty of time to explore Zoe’s lovely little shop before Silvia arrived and already I was picking out a selection of tools and other goodies to take home later – and, I have to say, everything was very reasonably priced too.

Upon Silvia’s arrival, she made a point of coming around to meet us all individually and, of course, to introduce the plan for the day. Our goal was to learn how to make a Silvia’s wonderfully animated and character-filled Skipping Girl Topper, under Silvia’s expert tuition.

Everything we needed for the session was provided and ready for us, so we quickly made a start with Silvia first demonstrating the techniques we needed for each individual section, before we all had a go ourselves, while our teacher kept a watchful eye over us attempting to craft our own versions.

Personally, I find this to be the best way of learning – diving in, giving it a go and learning from my mistakes (especially with an expert conveniently on hand to show me the error of my ways!).

Before I had even had time to blink – or so it seemed at least – it was time for lunch, so we stopped for a quick break of tasty sandwiches, more delicious coffee and biscuits and even some brownies and other yummy treats. However, we were all eager to quickly get back to our Skipping Girls again.

As the day progressed, I began to realise just how good Silvia is at explaining everything she does, the tools she is using and the reasoning behind it.  She shared her time perfectly between all of the students and was happy to explain things as many times as necessary, without letting any of feel like we were falling behind.  This helped create a good bond between all of the students, which only added to the shared feeling of what a superb day it had been for us all.

With about an hour of the course left to go, Gary (the aforementioned other half who had been sent off into Leeds for the day) returned from his day out, but this wasn’t a problem as Zoe, Richard and all of the staff in the shop quickly made him feel welcome with plenty of hot drinks and snacks, while I was finishing off my model.

At the end of the course, we were all presented with our special certificates from Silvia and, of course, I grabbed a quick photograph for my website too! As we said our goodbyes, the first flakes of snow began to fall, but the journey was perfectly fine and gave me time to reflect on what an excellent day I had had. The cost of the course had been well worth it and, honestly, I’m already looking forward to booking the next one!

 

 

It sounds like a wonderful experience, Sam. I’m completely jealous if I’m honest and I love your model! Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

Silvia Mancini is based in Italy, but regularly travels the world teaching her unique style of modelling. Her next classes in the U.K. are: