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chefette

Wedding Cake Competition In Portugal

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At the Hor Expo 2004 in Lisboa last week Inter Magazine sponsored a Wedding Cake Competition. Steve and I were invited to serve on the International judging panel.

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There were just a few short of 50 cakes on display and here are some of the better ones

The winning cake - Very thin cake with a poured sugar support, blown sugar balls, pulled sugar flowers and ribbons and some molded work on the top. Very nice work. The pink and slight olive green colors are a bit off due to the strong yellow hue of the lighting.

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some details

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The second place cake

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And third place

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Here are some of my favorites

Very sleek and modern - interesting styling

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Maybe not the best wedding cake in the world but I thought the chocolate swirlys were fun

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This was very eye catching and sort of lunar - I think of it as a moonstone cake

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This cake was very nicely done and the figures on top were very compelling

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This cake was actually very nice work - covered in marzipane it included a spotlight embedded in the lower tier that was plugged in at first but as it heated up it melted the frosting around it and shorted out

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and here are the judges

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Overall it was a very interesting experience especially since we also judged taste

I will post more later

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I don't know I have a hard time with your first place winner. Not that it's not the best technically and artisticly but to me it seems like something I'd see in a sugar competition verses at a real wedding or even a wedding cake show. I try to follow the cake scene.........and usually theres a more consistant style in the shows I've seen highlights of, where as this show everyone seems to be on a different page.

The chocolate cake with the swirls, this style is published all over the place!

Do they have any organized local cake clubs like ICES? I wonder what the typical wedding cake there looks like? Is it like the wilton stuff we see out of our typically high volume low cost bakeries here in the US?

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As a judge, Wendy, you have to react to what you see. But, let me ask you: "usually there's a more consistent style in the shows I've seen highlights of" and that is a good thing? And "where as this show everyone seems to be on a different page" is a bad thing? Not from my perspective. You had restaurant and hotel pastry chefs going head to head with "cake decorators" here and I was prepared to accept anyone's artistic concept and technical skill and taste on its own terms. In fact, on my scorecard for visual and technique I think I scored that yellow rectangular cake with the two flat cutout/runout bride and groom figures second after the sugar piece--because what you can't see well in the picture is the extremely well done filagree, fine piping and embroidery on the surface. It's not as glamorous as a big tall French-style sugar piece but it was the best fine piping, the best cornet work of the event--in fact, it was the only cake to have excellent fine piping. There was also a tiered cake done in a very traditional Italian style (not pictured)--a la the showpiece book by Luigi Biasetto and Iginio Massari--styrofoam columns covered with royal and sprayed--which Colleen and I both scored very well and which also stood apart from the pack. Turns out it was done by the very Italian pastry chef of the hotel we stayed at in Lisbon, the Lapa Palace, which has an excellent Italian chef and restaurant. It had a nice mix of chocolate and sugar work--which isn't easy to do--a pair of blown sugar swans in a nice pastillage cart--and we both had it second or third overall on our cards.

The work, overall, could have been cleaner, the taste, overall, could have been more varied, but I found the diversity refreshing. You definitely can find more technically superior work here and abroad--but also more sameness and just as much mediocrity as well. You had the same typical cake mix low cost Wilton commercial crap in this event as well.

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It looked to me that the participating pastry chefs were not on the same skill level that I have seen in the wedding cakes on display in NYC at the annual Salon Culinaire in November. Overall my critisims were:

1- flawed fondant covering - while the fondant or marzipan or whatever covering was being used seemed to be rolled quite thin frequently there were finger indents, holes, etc and many time the fondant was not thick enough to be opaque

2- Use of synthetic decor: plastic, ceramic ornaments, Silk, or other fake flowers, cloth ribbon, straw, actual rocks, actual sea shells as primary decoration

3- Use of purchased pastry flowers, birds or other ornaments

4- Insufficient use of chocolate, fondant, gum paste, pastillage, sugar decor to demonstrate technical and artistic skills

5- very little royal icing work

6- very uneven work on many cakes where you would see one element done well but others poorly executed

7- artistry and presentation seemed sub wilton overall

8- bad use of scale (a competitor might make a carriage of pastillage and place a tiny plastic bride and groom inside - but they were not in proper proportion to the carriage

In terms of tasting the cakes I had expected some difficulties based on acclimation and taste/texture predispositions. While I did not find most of the cakes enjoyable to taste I noted that the local judges were much harsher critics in this area. Most of the cakes were almost identical - sort of coarse or light sponge non descript moist, yellow sort of lemony or nutty. Almost no chocolate at all. The Portuguese judges felt that many of the chefs had used mixes.

Sinclair your critisism of the winning cake is interesting in several ways - should you evaluate wedding cakes by how they fit within a standard or category of wedding cakes? or do you just judge them based on technical excellence, artistry, originality? Does it matter that they are showpiece esque? Isn't a wedding cake a good place to do the type of higher pastry art that you so rarely get to do?

My biggest problem with the winning cake is that the cake was glazed with neutral glaze but it was quite badly done - glaze was running off, globbed up in areas - very unattractive

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Well, typically you both make good points! O.k. I do need to back track,-diversity is good, very important, style doesn't need to be consistant. But workmanship does need to be consistant! Consistancy in the over all quality of the competitors or break them down into catagories.

I really like the fact that Jacquey P. is participating in cake shows and teaching to that audience. He's always had a couple decorators teaching courses at his school.....but it's cool that he takes himself to their world too.

Wedding cakes don't have to look traditional, definately not! Every bride is different and yes, a show piece type cake like your winner does have a place.......o.k. so maybe their breaking new ground, I'll embrace that. For some reason I'm still left wanting a black and white mentality to judging all culinary competitions. Maybe it's there and I just don't get it.

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Taking this full circle, Wendy, now you see some of what I've been saying on other threads about French-influenced competitions, about media like Pastry Art & Design, etc. It isn't a problem that anyone chooses to work in a certain style or influence or promote a certain style or inlfuence at the expense of any other--that is their right. It's also our right to point that out.

Everyone gains when we try to see things for what they are, to revel in their diversity: rediscovering traditions long forgotten and approaching new or different things--all with an open mind. Taste is subjective, and is perhaps the biggest hinderance for these European judges, especially the French-leaning ones, coming here to the States--but in terms of say a technical assessment of the work, well that's actually quite easy--if you know the best examples of a media or skill and/or are capable of executing them yourself. Assessing artistry/creativity and originality is another area where as a judge--you have to fight your natural instinct and bias to a certain extent. It isn't inherently or necessarily more artistic/creative/innovative to do a tall, sweeping curvilinear French sugar showpiece. That attempt still has to be assessed on its terms and on what it presents just like an ACF-style low, flat, air-brushed pastillage scene, perhaps with "hokey" colorful balloons, kids toys and clown faces--even though the latter breaks ALL the supposed French rules for showpieces. That's part of the judge's responsibility, to see past personal bias.

The take home point, I guess, as a judge or critic or customer is new/French/Spanish/traditional/American--whatever--isn't necessarily better or inherently better--they're just labels. And you can do good work within a label and you can do good work which transcends label. It all depends how moved, motivated and talented you are--and who your audience is.

The Portuguese do have to pick up the level of their skills in terms of what we might term the more serious international standard of pastrywork--but for them, I think, it is merely a matter of exposure, exposure they haven't had yet, and of wanting to improve and to push themselves. (The traditional pastry thing--what might be termed "patisserie de main" in French--they have down, with a rich full tradition of interesting delicious specialties, innovative doughs, creams and regional variations which we know nothing about.)

And, by the way, cake decorators have a lot to teach pastry chefs, too. Even French ones. The smart pastry chefs have been learning and absorbing from the "cake decorators" for a long time, 15-20 years at least.

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All good points, I can't disagree.

As far as the cake decorators and my comment about Jacquey....theres been heated discussion between different "groups" (online at other sites) as we in the baking industry seem to be divided into. Like it or not. My point is- I appreciate that Jacquey stands out as a bridge between "groups". There shouldn't be any groups at all and it's important to keep building bridges and networking together.

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