I was never competitive as a kid.  I didn’t play sports, or participate in the spelling bee.  Even sibling rivalry seemed pointless.  I never felt threatened by my little sister’s academic achievements, artistic talent, or the time she spent with Mom and Dad.  We were different enough (with the exception of our ridiculous sense of humor) that there was nothing to compare.  We were like apples and oranges that fell from the same grafted tree.

Like many adolescents, somewhere in my well-adjusted childhood, I developed crippling insecurities.  To me, the idea of competing was simply another opportunity for me to feel inferior to everyone around me.  I didn’t want to be judged at how well I did something, I simply wanted to do what I liked doing.  For me, that was singing in the school choir, and performing in youth theatre.  These activities were team-work based.  Everyone had a common goal: To make a collective piece of art.  We all relied on each other.  There was no Me vs. Them.  These were good environments for me.  They were supportive and up-lifting.


Chocolate Koi


While I’m happy to have moved on from the insecure phase of my life, I did learn several things during the journey:

#1 Self awareness, in appropriate amounts, can unlock the door to magnificent amounts of personal growth.  To be able to understand your own feelings and why you feel a certain way, is incredibly empowering.  It allows you to identify what makes you happy or unhappy, and be in control of how you respond to the stimuli which trigger those feelings.

#2 It also allows you to compete against your worst critic: Yourself.  Now that I am able to more objectively evaluate my work, I enjoy competing against myself.  Doing so enables me to push my creative boundaries and stretch my brain.

#3 Sports still bore me, and I cannot get by without the miracle of spell check.

Recently, I have been reading more and more about cake shows and competitions.  I hadn’t competed in anything since pastry school, and I was due for a new adventure. The San Diego cake show was about 5 weeks out, and the venue was only a day’s drive away.  The added bonus of visiting with local friends made this last minute decision a no-brainer.  Time to get to work!


Copper wire, topped with tiny corks to create a platform at end of the wire.


Gum paste lily pads.  I used Nicholas Lodge’s recipe.  Stuff dries rock hard!


Copper wire, wrapped in Press’n Seal for food safety.

I decided to “go easy” on myself for my first professional competition, and entered the Sculpted Non-Cake category.  I was already balancing a new day gig, and needed to remain functional in the days surrounding the show.  This meant I had to begin execution immediately to prevent late nights or 36-hour shifts to complete my piece.  I didn’t want to deal with the stability issues of real cake on a 10+ hour drive, so rice cereal and modeling chocolate it would be!

Cereal fishies!


Chocolate fishy! 


Cookin’ up some fondant rocks. Low heat + Tylose powder = Rock hard fondant. (Pun fully intended.)


At this point in the process, my plan for avoiding all-nighters had gone completely out the window.  It was now 8am on the day we were to leave.  We had planned to be out of the house by 4am.  I needed to stop working, so we could start driving.  We loaded my unfinished piece into the car, and began hauling much ass to the southern half of the state.  (All the while, never once was I worried about the integrity of my structure.  Copper wire for the WIN!)

Ten hours later, it was 6pm and time to stop for dinner.  We had landed in Seaside, CA, a mere 10 minutes away from our final destination.  I had 2 hours until my piece needed to be seated on it’s designated display table at the convention center. We pulled into a parking lot for some fast food, where I promptly took over two tables and set up shop.  Onlookers greeted us with odd faces.  Some starred very plainly without saying anything.  Others cast shy sideways glances…  Because how often does someone unload an entire cake studio in the middle of a Carl’s Jr. on a Friday night?  One gentleman, Tom, a retired military serviceman, had a lovely and engaging conversation with me while I worked.  I was grateful for the break in the fourth wall to keep me from spiraling too far down my own rabbit hole.  I had never worked so quickly in my entire life.

The check-in deadline for my piece to qualify for the competition was 8pm.  If I missed the deadline, the most I could do was submit for, “Display Only.”

I had NOT come this far to miss out on feedback from the judges!

Seaside fast food.


Losing daylight. Don’t quit! 

Finally, at 7:59:00, our car lands right outside the loading dock door.  I grabbed the box containing my barely completed chocolate fish sculpture, and attempted to run through the doors to the exhibit hall, with my darling partner cheering, “Go Ninja, go!” from inside the car.  At 7:59:30, the fish and I check in and are escorted to our designated spot on on the display table.  Ok, I can breathe.  I’m done.  Sigh of relief.

And then I recognize the artist of the piece next to mine…

Liz Marek, of Artisan Cake Company. WHAT?!?!

Many drinks and much sleep later…
Ok, now that the competition was over, what did I learn?
I was reminded of my 7th grade science teacher, Mrs. Niemeyer, who once inquired as to why my grades had recently taken a downward turn. I explained to her that I had always been able to complete exams satisfactorily without studying. She pointed out that success within the 7th grade curriculum was not conducive to such a practice. If I wanted to succeed, I needed to put in the time and start studying. The game had changed. I could no longer get by with the tactics to which I had become accustomed.
This show demonstrated that I had not been doing my best work. I had become accustomed to racing against the clock, both during the competition and during regular business hours. I was shocked and appalled at myself with this discovery. This was a practice of desperation, not motivation. It was the practice of someone who had become too comfortable with their process.

The game had changed. I need to change my strategy.

It was time to level up.