Modeled after the Dallas Chapter’s successful “Let Them Eat Cake” fundraiser, the Washington, DC Chapter’s inaugural wedding cake decorating competition on May 24, 2012, netted the chapter more than $5,700 for scholarships.
LDEI First Vice President Sharon van Meter (Dallas), who created the original event, was a judge along with Roland Mesnier, former White House executive pastry chef for 26 years; Top Chef finalist and ABC’s The Chew host Carla Hall; Bayou Bakery chef and owner David Guas; pastry chef/owner of Willow Restaurant and co-founder of Firehook Bakery, Kate Jansen; and Heather Chittum Roth of Top Chef: Just Desserts.
Held in the Center Court of upscale shopping mall Tysons Galleria in McLean, VA, the two-day event coincided with Fashion Week. As such, each of the three chef contestants was given a spring fashion trend and color scheme as inspiration for their wedding cakes. “Terracocoa owner Marilyn Mueller carried out Pretty Pale in a delicate pink festooned with large, gum paste roses and applied brush embroidery; Padua Player of Susan Gage Caterers was inspired by Atlantis for his cake encrusted with pearls and floating blue petal-waves. Laurie Alleman Weber, owner of The Swiss Bakery, designed a High-Volume creation with ruffles, leopard print and a big fuchsia bow.
When time was called and chefs put their pastry bags down, the judges graded each cake on originality, neatness, difficulty of technique, skill and overall appearance. Popular voting continued all day Sunday, with the pastry chef winner and raffle winners announced at 5 p.m. Laurie won both the judges first prize and popular vote prize.
Chapter President Katherine Newell Smith worked tirelessly with Tysons Galleria Marketing Director Madeline Lamberti to make the event happen. More than 40 Dames staffed the venues. In addition to watching the contest, mall patrons could participate in raffles, vote for their favorite, enjoy cake and coffee at Cakewalk Cafés and attend an evening V.I.P. “CakeMixer” reception at Saks Fifth Avenue. The winner was announced during the reception with passed hors d'oeuvres from Dames’ restaurants including Willow, Black Restaurant Group, and Lebanese Taverna. Dolores Cakebread provided wines for the reception.
And First Prize Goes to…
…Laurie Alleman Weber and her assistant, Pastry Chef Lauren Graham, who once were recipients of scholarships from the Washington, DC Chapter. Laurie, owner of two Swiss Bakeries in Virginia, says, “How great it is to give back!”
Winning the contest took a lot of work before the two-day event that coincided with “Fashion Week.” Each of the chef contestants was given a new spring fashion trend and color scheme. Laurie was assigned “High Volume.” The description was, "Pleats and peplums are plentiful for spring as designers celebrate curves and experiment with proportions. 1950s inspired full skirts and longer hem lines rule the season."
Laurie explained, “The raspberry pink, the cream, the lace, and even the leopard spots of my cake came from the designer photos provided by Karen Millen, Louis Vuitton, and Anne Fontaine. Lauren and I looked through every bridal magazine we could find and collected pages of our favorite wedding dresses. Lauren worked on the size and shape of the cake to include all the different dress styles. I ordered specially cut foam from a company; some of the layers were flared out at the bottom to give a skirt shape and the separators were cut like an hourglass. The cake would be on display for 2 days so it had to be a ‘fake’ cake, but all the decorations had to be edible.”
“In my bakery, we made a practice cake, which took us much longer than the seven hours allotted by contest rules. We made a few changes and planned on working faster. All our decorations were made from gum paste (similar to fondant), and we used two pasta machines to roll it thin enough. The thinner it is the more delicate the decorations.
“We brought the pasta machines to the Galleria because decorations had to be made on site except for things that required a long time to dry, like petals for flowers that had to be assembled on site. The foam cakes were also brought in unassembled but already covered in the rolled fondant base. We glued the big bow loops onto the cake using sugar melted on the propane burner we brought.
“We covered the separation tiers in chocolate fondant and hand painted them with gold and black leopard spots. We also painted some of the ruffles and the sugar pearls with gold. Our last touch was to spray the cake with shimmer powder and edible Disco Dust. Because air brushes weren’t allowed, we found travel-size spray bottles to spritz on the glitter. The cake was so tall, we had to use a ladder to reach the top.”
“Even though it was weeks of planning and a very intense seven hours, Lauren and I had a great time. Since we work in a retail bakery, a typical Saturday means constant distractions from decorating wedding cakes; answering the phone, helping customers order cakes, dealing with burned cookies, covering for a sick employee, etc. All we had to do that Saturday was decorate a wedding cake --- really fast. We finished with 2 minutes to spare.”