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I'm sure you know who Susan Trianos is... and if you don't, it's probably because YOU haven't been to a cake show yet! (Let's remedy that yeah?) Or you live under a rock.

She's quite modest, so I'll do the bragging for her. 😀 Susan Trianos is a Certified Master Sugar Artist who has been in the industry for over 30 years. She is the President of The Canadian Society of Sugar Artistry. She's won an array of awards in competitions all over the world. She one 1st Place on the TV cake show Cake Walk – Wedding Cake Edition, season 1 – episode 4. Awarded one of the top 10 Cake Artists in the WORLD by NY Cake Show. She ran the Canadian test kitchen for Pillsbury. She is currently an instructor at the Bonnie Gordon College of Confectionery Arts! *takes a breathe!* AND she is often one of the judges at these shows! This year she is heading up the organization of the Cake Competition for one of the BIGGEST shows in America, The America's Cake Fair. So... do I think she is one of the biggest "authorities" in the Cake industry? YES! So who better to tell you WHY you should compete! Cause, well, it has been a huge reason for her success today!

Without further ado, I give the mic to Susan....

Cake Competitions

By Guest Contributor Susan Trianos 

So, you're on Facebook or Instagram, and you're seeing all kinds of posts.  Posts of amazing cakes, posts of friends out and having fun, posts about mishaps from bringing cakes to shows in planes, trains, and automobiles.  I decided to start competing and attending cake shows back in 2010.  I'd been decorating cakes for about 24 years at that point, and I wasn't a member of the "community".  I wasn't part of any groups, clubs, or associations.  I didn't attend any of the shows that were out there, and I was basically flying under the radar.  I watched Food Network Challenge religiously (wish it was still on), and thought...I can do that.  It was great that the show showcased our industry, and brought it to the forefront (IMO).  Social media was amazing for us "cakers" too...along with the Cake Central website and all the great cake magazines.  With all of the attention cake was getting, I decided it was time to put my work out there.  I gave it some thought and decided that the best way for me to do that was to start attending the shows, competing, and getting involved in the community.  So, that is what it did...and through my travels and different experiences, this is what I have found.  I've found that I have grown so much as an artist,  I've found that I've really learned what the judges are looking for in a cake, and I've learned what I'm capable of when I push myself to the limit.  I now judge many competitions, and I'm organizing the competition at the 2017 Americas Cake Fair hosted by Satin Ice October 13-15 in Orlando, Florida and I encourage all of you to attend and compete.  Here's a link to the site...if you compete, feel free to contact me with any questions you may have, I'd love to help!
Avalon has asked me to talk a little bit about competing, so here's what I've got!

"You make great friends and great connections with other cake decorators, and even some great connections with suppliers."

 

Why should you compete in cake competitions?

So many people don't have the confidence or feel they don't have the time to compete.  I say, if you want it badly enough, you make it happen.  There are so many reasons to compete.  If you compete and do well, you start getting recognition in the cake community.  People want to know "who made that great cake"?  You make great friends and great connections with other cake decorators, and even some great connections with suppliers.  As mentioned earlier, it's such a great way to grow as a decorator.  You push yourself to the absolute limit, and get great feedback from the judges...the good, the bad, and the ugly!  This is great, because you will use this feedback when making your next piece, and it will be that much better.  The more you compete, the more accolades you get, the more opportunities that will come your way.  You may even start being considered for demos, or teaching at other shows.  Most importantly though, the biggest reason we should all compete is not to compete against our peers, but to compete against ourselves.  To always strive to do better than what we've done before, and to never stop learning!

What division should I enter?

Well, this may vary depending on the show.  Read the rules!!  The division you should be entering will be clearly explained in the rules on the show's website and all shows have different divisions.  An example of what the divisions maybe are:  student, beginner, advanced, professional, masters.  This is just an example, and not all shows will always have the same divisions.  In the rules section, the criteria for each division will be laid out for you.  For example...the beginner division may read "someone who has been decorating for less than 2 years, and does not sell their cakes, they decorate as a hobby and has taken less than 8 hours of cake classes".  There will be a clear write up for each division, and if you have any questions on which division you should enter, you can usually contact a show organizer for help.  Now, that said...if you feel you are between divisions, it's not always the better choice to enter in the lower division.  You may think your odds of placing are better...not necessarily!  I've seen cakes that came in second in the lower division, that possibly would have taken first in the higher division.  If you are unsure, just ask...and don't cheat yourself! 🙂

Stay positive!

Once again, the main reason to compete is to compete against yourself!  Be positive, no matter what the outcome.  You may not agree with your feedback, or with who was chosen to win.  Just remember, that judges' decisions are final.  Judging is not always easy (it's never easy).  We want to give constructive feedback and want to be encouraging...we want to also celebrate with you for the areas in which you excelled.  Remember, (again this is my opinion)...there is no such thing as a perfect cake.  There is always something that can be critiqued, the cleaner the cake, the more we have to reach.

Our cakes are made with our hands, not machines...there is a beauty in the fact that we can make something "almost" perfect using our hands!

Another way to stay positive is by supporting your friends and fellow competitors.  Remember, they are just as excited and nervous as you are.  Remember, you are competing against your personal best, not theirs...there is no need to be anything but supportive of one another.  Lastly, and again, you may not agree with the judges' decisions.  Keep it to yourself.  If you must, talk to the judges...not to try and change their minds, or tell them they made a mistake, but to find out what you could have done differently in order for you to better understand their thought process.  Most, if not all judges are very approachable and take on this role to help people progress.  Be happy for the people who faired better than you.  Allow them their time in the spotlight and don't try to steal their thunder no matter how disappointed you may be.

Follow the rules!

Make sure you read the rules a couple of times.  I can' stress this enough. Even if you've competed in the same show multiple times, as rules often change.  All shows are different.  Some may have minimum height requirements, maximum board sizes, specific themes...if rules aren't met, you will either lose major points on your piece or even be disqualified (again, this depends on the show).  Both are not good scenarios...being disqualified would be the worst, losing points is horrible too!  I've seen both scenarios.  I've seen a cake disqualified for being 1/4" shy of the height requirement, and I've seen cakes that should have come in the first place but were docked points for something they missed in the rules, and not even placed.  Reading the rules is the easiest part of the completion process, don't make assumptions and don't be lazy, lol.  Remember, if you have questions, ask!!

What do the judges look for?

The first thing a judge is going to notice, or "see" is the overall appearance of the cake.  Is it appealing to the eye? Do the colors complement one another, is the composition of the cake well balanced?  This is the first impression, and just like people...you don't get a second chance at a first impression.  Your cake may vary clean and near perfect, with difficult techniques.  This does not mean you have a winning cake...the winning cake is the cake with the whole package.  The design, colors, size, techniques should all be cohesive, and it should be CLEAN!  Flowers and leaves should be dusted on their backsides, wires should not be exposed (tape them), wires should not be placed directly into your cake...even though it may not be a real cake, the underside of exposed cake dummies should be covered, boards should be covered in fondant and real ribbon should not be used on your cake (it is permitted to trim cake drums and boards).  Many of these things mentioned are not written in the rules, and some may be overlooked in lower divisions...but remember, it's all part of the learning process.  Don't be shy, ask questions from decorators who have been doing this a while...they don't bite (let's hope, lol).  Judges love innovation and new techniques, be sure to mention them in your description so they're not missed.  They also look at the level of difficulty...push yourself and try to do the best you possibly can with techniques you feel you can manage.  Don't be afraid to stretch your abilities but, if a painting is not your forte, don't paint on your cake.  Just remember, judges, look at how well you've executed these techniques so...work to the best of your ability and follow the theme of the show if there is one.

Don't think your work is good enough?

Nonsense, don't be a chicken!! (Avalon giggles cause she can hear Susan saying this!! hehe) It takes some guts to put your work "out there" for critique, but you can do it.  Remember, you are competing with people who all have a similar skill level...remember the divisions?  An advanced cake decorator would never be put up against a master (another reason we should be honest when placing ourselves in a division).  I've been to shows where I didn't compete, wishing I had... it's just so exciting!  Let me tell you, after all this time, I still get nervous butterflies when I drop off my cake, and that's half the fun!!  Hope to see you around, and see your registrations for Cake Fair!!

 Published: 11/26/2016

Last modified on September 13th, 2021

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meet the author

Susan Trianos

Susan has been decorating sweet treats professionally for 34 years. She has owned a renowned cake shop in Toronto, Canada, has worked for Wilton, Pillsbury, and taught at a Confectionary Arts College. Susan now focuses her efforts on teaching and judging, and still loves the sweet arts as much as she did when she first started out.

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