I am not bitter. Seriously, that was last year. I learned my lessons, tweaked my strategy and came in with a whole new mindset. I said I wouldn’t be back, but the pull was too strong. Things would be different this year. Have fun. Drink a lot of Brooklyn Beer. Eat Cake.
And that’s what happened Sunday night at the Boston Cake Experiment. I didn’t win (or place), and I had no expectations to going in. I wanted to be proud of what I served and basically make something that people wouldn’t spit out after they left my table.
My Kahlua Cake with White Chocolate & Kahlua Whipped Cream (cake recipe & frosting recipe) was well received and I was happy with what I presented. That’s all I can ask for. I am not a baker. I cook as a hobby and this is probably the only dessert recipe I have in my arsenal. The recipe uses a fucking boxed cake as a base. That’s got to be cheating right? Maybe not in an amateur contest but whatever. Hate to burst your bubble peeps.
My only regret is that I didn’t get to sample all the other competitors cakes, specifically a few that won prizes. I can talk shit about the ones I tasted and didn’t like, but I have no idea what the Sangria Cake that took the judges top prize tasted like, so I can’t hate. The Michelada cupcake that won judges second was a really interesting, complex and creative concept, but just not my cup of tea (or cerveza?). I really liked the “Sophisticake” brie cheesecake with chocolate, cherry and wine jam, that won crowd second, although the Ritz cracker base kinda threw me. The Luau Cake with pineapple and spam was a funky balance of salty and sweet (in a good way). The reigning people’s champs, brother and sister duo Food Alors brought it again with “Torteau de Chevre,” a savory goat cheese and cherry offering that was moist and subtle; satisfying and unassuming.
Overall, the Cake Experiment was a success. It felt like there were less competitors and a lighter crowd (my guess is due to the later start time, 6 p.m.), but that didn’t stop the good times from rolling. What I love about the Food Experiments is the complete lack of pretension and foodie snobbery. It’s about being imaginative in the kitchen, having fun and hanging out with friends. Sure, some people try way to hard, over-think their dish, and take themselves way too serious, but that’s on them. Theo and his crew do a great job organizing these events and cultivating a scene that should be embraced more around the country.
I sent out a tweet after the event saying that it was time to hang up my competitive apron and it was met with great disappointment. (Really?) It makes me reconsider, but it’s too early to say definitively. A lot of factors go into it: What will be the next theme? When is it? Will we still get free beer? Will the Gee siblings be back AGAIN? (I mean, come on guys, you’ve won twice already, we get it. You’re good.) For now, we celebrate the experience and start exercising. Because I ate a hell of a lot of cake.
Some other random thoughts and tips:
- If you even have the smallest inkling of a desire to compete, DO IT. Sign up and cook whatever. It’s a great experience regardless of the outcome. You’ll meet new people, get ideas for new dishes and receive feedback on your own stuff. Put yourself out there. And did I mention the free beer???
- It’s all about preparation. Make it easy on yourself and plan ahead. How can you make plating easy on yourself? Seven components all plated to order is going to be stressful and put you in the weeds. Use the hour before doors open to line up reserves and get ahead as much as possible. If you can, bring the completed bite, like a cupcake already frosted and ready to eat. I made three sheet cakes and cut them to size before I showed up so that all I had to do was portion out the cake, dollop the whipped cream and sprinkle my garnish. Three easy steps. I never fell behind and never felt stressed.
- Be friendly. Say hi to the people that come to your table. Explain your dish. They probably won’t vote for you, but at least you don’t want them to think you’re a dick. Which brings me to…
- Promote yourself and bring a ton of friends. Honestly, this is basically a high school popularity contest. If you want to win the fan vote, stack the crowd with people you know are going to vote for you regardless of how your dish tastes and what their personal preferences are.
- Judging is subjective. And they have Gaga-esque poker faces. Also, they don’t provide feedback, even after the competition is over. That certainly would be nice. But don’t get up in your head about it. You can drive yourself nuts questioning and over analyzing everything. Sometimes it just comes down to they liked someone else’s better.
- Know the venue. The Middle East in Cambridge is a dirty rock club. Not the ideal setting for a cooking contest. Suck it up, adapt and roll with it. It was hot, dark and loud. Didn’t effect the food though.
- There’s creative ideas and then there’s WTF ideas. Push your culinary thinking but make sure it tastes good and test it out to make sure people will actually want to eat it.