Why I Don't Do Contests

I was talking to Keya from Candy Valley Cake Company recently and she mentioned that she was thinking of setting up some kind of Richmond Cake Challenge contest. I immediately said thanks but no thanks, I don't do contests, but I'll be a judge for it if she sets something up and she needs help.

I'm not tremendously competitive as far as contests go. If I had to spend time making a cake for a contest or doing one for my own enjoyment, I'll take enjoyment every time.

I tend to do my best designs when I'm just doing something that amuses me. If other people like it that's great, but I don't want to have to think about "what will the judges like" while I'm making it. And honestly, that's what you have to think while you're doing a contest cake if you want to win. I just have no desire to kiss someone's butt and alter the way that I do things in order to win favor with a random judge's idea of what's good.

About seven or eight years ago I did a gingerbread house for a charity contest. They were going to raffle them off, and also have a roster of celebrity judges award prizes. As I was making my house I told my kids that I wasn't going to win first prize but I'd get second. My reasoning was that it was an awesome house, but it was a little "off" in terms of not being traditional, and I knew that judges would be looking for certain things. Boring things, but whatever.

So I did my house in the theme of the home for gingerbread men when they're off duty. It was where they hung out, made lunch, watched tv, etc. There was a gang of gingerbread men writing graffiti on the wall with a pastry bag, there were lots of puns (they were watching CSI: Crumb Scene Investigation on tv, reading "The Dough Also Rises" etc), and I knew that it wouldn't be what judges were looking for in a contest.

Sure enough, I won second prize, and the first prize house was a grey, traditional house with cotton for the traditional smoke in the traditional chimney. The judges said that it had "very neat angles." Yeah, and it was boring as hell.

So as they called my name for second prize and I went up to get my little award, someone yelled "You should have won!" Then they auctioned off the houses, and mine sold for the most of any of them. I guess I won the people's choice award. Bwuahahaha! So I take it back, I guess I can be competitive.

My point is that when you do contests, judges are looking for things that you would find if you had a stick up your butt. They're not looking for art, they're looking for technique. It's nice if you have both, but you could do a gorgeous cake and they'll mark you down for having two stamens on a flower instead of three. Pfffft.

So I prefer to mark my "awards" by how many previous clients refer their friends to me, how many other professionals ask me to do their cakes, and how much I enjoy experimenting with different techniques even if it isn't technically perfect. I guess you could say that the people's choice award would be what I'm looking for all the time, since that validates what I try to do more than having someone tell me that my angles are nicely done.

And if Keya needs another judge for her contest I'll be sure to keep it loose and represent the two-stamen crowd...

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC,  online cake supplies at  www.acaketoremember.com and www.acaketoremember.etsy.com