Event Review: Just 4U Creative Cake Design and Celebration Expo (Rochester, NY)


Event Name:  Just 4U Creative Cake Design and Celebration Expo – 1st Annual
Purpose:        Fundraiser for The Center for Youth Services’ “Strings for Success” program
Location:       Eisenhart Auditorium at the Rochester Museum and Science Center, Rochester, NY
When:            Saturday, March 29, 2014 12pm– 6pm
Cost:             $10 donation suggested for attendees, $50 registration fee for competitors, and
$125 registration and table fee for vendors.

Event Overview
This six-hour, inaugural Just 4U Creative Cake Design and Celebration Expo consisted of a cake art decorating competition for bakers from Western New York State, competing for bragging rights, a trophy, and the opportunity to film their own televised Food Network baking show pilot. Judges included Food Network television personalities and local culinary professionals.

Rochester native and 4U Productions founder and CEO, Alicia Bell-Hill, designed this event to provide a public platform for aspiring pastry chefs to gain exposure and insight from top industry professionals. Eight teams of up to three participants per team were charged with transforming their pre-baked cake layers into artful creations inspired by life celebrations, such as weddings, graduations, and anniversaries. A video production team was on hand, taping the competition for an online video expected to be viewable later this year.

Benefitting Organization
A portion of the proceeds benefitted The Center for Youth Services’ Strings for Success program, in collaboration with the Dr. Charles T. Lunsford School in the Rochester City School District. The program

Strings for Success performers
Strings for Success performers

gives students in grades 3-8 the opportunity to study violin. The program is supported by volunteer instructors and community donations. Some of the proceeds will be used to help fund an upcoming trip     for the children to Washington, DC. Shown here is a picture of a group of these students performing for the crowd at this event.

The Venue
The Eisenhart Auditorium is located on the grounds of the Rochester Museum and Science Center. It is a spacious venue, seating up to 400 guests in auditorium style seating. Plenty of free parking was available directly in front of the building and also in a back lot, just a few hundred yards away.

My friend and I, a trained pastry chef, arrived early, thinking that there would be a waiting line. Instead, we entered and waited in the lobby for the reception table to be readied. The small anteroom accommodated several of the event vendors. We eventually were admitted and made our way down a short, but narrow, hallway lined with another half-dozen vendors. The hallway then opened into the spacious auditorium, where each of the eight competing teams was ready for battle at their individual work tables.

The raised stage at the front of the auditorium was set up with band instruments and a speaking lectern. Mobile risers with rows of chairs were temporarily installed, creating a stadium-like seating layout opposite the stage. The competitors were positioned in between the audience and the stage, with the judging table off to one side. I estimated that approximately 200 or so persons attended the event over the course of the entire day, but I do not have an actual count. However, the majority of attendees arrived in the later part of the day.

A large side door installed into the far, side wall of the auditorium allowed competitors to access outdoor refrigerators. While convenient for them, use of the oversize door resulted in a cold breeze entering the auditorium each time a team accessed it (think upstate New York in late March!). The adequate sound system allowed the host to wander among the competitors and crowd with a wireless microphone while narrating the event.

We were encouraged to meander among the contestant tables, take pictures, and interact with the contestants. I was happy to have this opportunity, but because of the cramped competition space, it seemed like the audience members were in the way of the contestants. This was a shame because there was a lot of unused seating space which could have been allocated to the competition area, making for a more enjoyable experience all around.

Event Contestants
Eight area teams competed in this exciting culinary event. Teams could consist of up to three members; only one team had a single member. Teams hailed from brick and mortar bakeries, to home and online businesses, as follows:

Scratch Bake Shop (Rochester, NY)        Holy Cannoli (Fairport, NY)
Sweets by Marie (Farmington, NY)        Sweet Arts Bakery (Avon, NY)
Sensational Sweets (Webster, NY)        Designed Elegance Pastry Shoppe (Brockport, NY)
Cakes by Heather (Lockport, NY)           Get Caked, Inc. (Rochester, NY)

Judging
The judge’s role at the Just 4U Creative Cake Design and Celebration Expo was three-fold:
• score each team to determine 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners
• meet and greet competitors and attendees
• promote the expo

Event Judges
Although there were originally four judges scheduled for this event, the headlining judge cancelled on the day of the event, due to an injury. The spectators were audibly disappointed when it was announced that celebrity guest Gale Gand, from the Food Network, would not be in attendance.

Obviously, this was a terrible disappointment to the organizers. However, it might have been appropriate to alert attendees to this change of program before they paid their $10 suggested donation to gain entry. After all, organizers knew about this change before the event began. I know this because while my friend and I waited to be admitted early in the day, I overheard an organizer lamenting that someone, “just couldn’t get on the plane, so she is not coming.” At the time, I didn’t realize that she was talking about the celebrity judge, upon whom the advertising was focused. I would have still attended even if I had known of Ms. Gand’s last minute but unavoidable cancellation, but perhaps it would have been proper to give each attendee the opportunity to make their own decision.

Nonetheless, the show must go on! The three remaining judges attempted to rally the crowd into showing enthusiasm in spite of their apparent disappointment. Judging the competition were:

Judges and Host
Judges and Host

Charmaine “Cakediva” JonesFood Network celebrity pastry chef judge, accomplished author and renowned pastry chef
Heather Saffer – owner of the now closed Dollop Gourmet Cupcake Creations bakery of Penfield, NY, winner of Season 4 of the Food Network’s ‘Cupcake Wars’ and author of “The Dollop Book of Frosting” (Adams Media).
Chef Gerry Brinkman – instructor at Monroe Community College in the Hospitality Management Department, and restaurateur and owner of Atlas Eats (Rochester, NY)

 

Judging Criteria
Participants’ creations were judged on the following nine criteria:

• Planning                    • Difficulty
• Theme                      • Customer Appeal
• Icing                         • Sanitation and Safety
• Borders                     • Participant Appearance
• Decoration

Note that “taste” was not a judging criterion. I fully expected that the judges would taste each cake, but I was surprised to find that taste was not considered in this competition! I would have enjoyed reading an event program, outlining the details of each of the judging criteria, as well as the weighting and score calculation process. We saw the judges with clipboards, marking contestant scores, but we were not privy to the actual scoring details or process.

The Atmosphere and Experience
Overall, the atmosphere at the Just 4U Creative Cake Design and Celebration Expo was jovial and informal. The overcast and rainy day certainly did not dampen the spirit of the event! The host, music and vendors added a party-like feeling to the atmosphere and provided an enjoyable distraction for the crowd, as we waited (and waited, and waited…) for the participants to complete their creations.

Host
The likable but somewhat campy host, Johnathon Clark of Grip Music Video Show, did a great job of narrating the event, interacting with the participants and the crowd, and keeping the program flowing. He fielded questions from the curious crowd; coordinated giveaways based on Twitter submissions, and facilitated raffle prize drawings. (Yes, the cakes decorated during the event were raffled off for the mere price of $2 per ticket or $5 for 3 tickets – what an amazing deal!)

Music
The Hand Project treated the audience to their original jazz fusion musical innovations. The trio included a passionate drummer and two talented guitarists. During this, their first public performance, we were treated to four original pieces to open the day and a few additional performances sprinkled throughout the afternoon. Also, the Strings for Success children’s group, for whom the benefit was organized, performed several violin pieces midday, including an exuberant encore.

Vendors
Approximately a dozen vendors displayed their offerings on tables in the front lobby and hallway entrance to the auditorium. Their products included jewelry, baked goods, Girl Scout cookies and community services. Speaking of Girl Scout cookies, I was delighted to try a recipe for Peanut Butter Pattie Bars (http://wp.me/p4eJFG-oF) which I picked up at this event, along with a few boxes of delightful cookies! In addition, local radio station WDKX hosted a table in support of women of the Rochester area. Several of the vendors gave brief, impromptu presentations to the crowd throughout the day, highlighting their business or cause.

Gruttadauria's Cake - Celebrating 100 Years of Serving Rochester, NY
Gruttadauria’s Cake – Celebrating 100 Years

Gruttadauria Bakery of Greece, NY (www.worldsbestbakery.com) was featured in the main lobby of the auditorium, as they are celebrating 100 years of serving the Rochester community. Their beautiful ivory cake (pictured to the right) looked as wonderful as it tasted.

You see, I indulged in a tasting, offered by volunteers who extolled the virtues of the local landmark bakery over the past 100 years. A collage of pictures depicting Gruttadauria’s progress over the years, sat next to the tantalizing cake on the display table.

As I watched the contestants create their confections, I had the opportunity to speak with audience member sitting behind me. I overheard her speaking to a friend about one of the judges, Gary Brinkman, who was a long-time acquaintance of hers. Well, as a new student in the culinary program in which he teaches, I was interested in talking with her, so we struck up a conversation. Her name is Susan Plunkett, and she is the proprietor of Fabulous Foods Catering. She was generous with her advice to a student newbie like me, and she had great things to say about the local culinary programs. Take a moment to check out her business website here: http://www.susanplunkettsfabulousfoods.com

Event Winners
The prizes for the inaugural Just 4U Creative Cake Design and Celebration Expo included a trophy for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place, as well as an opportunity for the first place winner to film his or her own televised Food Network baking show pilot.

Drum roll please!!!! And the winners were:

Grand Prize First Place Winner:
Jon Voightchild of Designed Elegance Pastry Shoppe in Brockport, NY 

GRAND PRIZE WINNER - Designed Elegance, by Jon Voightchild
GRAND PRIZE WINNER – Designed Elegance Pastry Shoppe, by Jon Voightchild

 

First Place Winner
Jon Voightchild of Designed Elegance Pastry Shoppe

 

                                                                                                                                              Second Place Winner:
Heather Harzewski of Cakes by Heather

SECOND PLACE WINNER: Cakes by Heather, Heathr Harzewski
SECOND PLACE WINNER – Cakes by Heather, Heather Harzewski

Third Place Winner: Kelly Halligan of Get Caked, Inc.
(this is a vegan cake!)

THIRD PLACE WINNER - Get Caked, Inc. by Kelly Halligan
THIRD PLACE WINNER – Get Caked, Inc. by Kelly Halligan

 

Peruse the fabulous cakes from the other 5 competitors:

Sweet Arts Bakery
Sweet Arts Bakery
Sweets by Marie
Sweets by Marie
Scratch Bake Shop
Scratch Bake Shop
Holy Cannoli Bake Shop
Holy Cannoli Bake Shop

 

Sensational Sweets
Sensational Sweets

 

Overall
Overall, I enjoyed the first annual Just 4U Creative Cake Design and Celebration Expo; it was a fun and unique fundraising event and I would attend it again next year. However, I would plan to arrive toward the conclusion of the event, with maybe an hour or so remaining. While it was interesting watching the cakes evolve over six hours, only the last hour or so really intrigued me. That is when I  saw the personality and theme of each cake emerge!

I liked that the competitors, vendors, musical group, and the benefitting organization were all local. The recommendation of a $10 donation was a polite way to encourage fundraising. In addition, the venue added a touch of class to the event, being on the grounds of a museum and science center.

However, I do have a few recommendations for this event in the future. I encourage the organizers to prepare and distribute an event program, showing details about the competitors, judges, eligibility rules, judging criteria and the organization benefitting from the fund raising. This would not only give more exposure to the participants, but it would also keep attendees engaged in the event and thus they may stay longer. In addition, I recommend allocating a larger floor area to the competing teams to allow for attendees to move around them more easily, and allow participants the room needed to work. Finally, I recommend the addition of food and beverage vendors; this would be a welcome addition for the audience members who attended for the entire six hours, as well as an additional fundraising opportunity.

I sincerely hope that this unique and fun event evolves into an annual tradition, celebrating local talent and benefitting local organizations!

____________________________________________________________________________________

About 4U Productions
4U Productions is a New York-based, independent production company whose mission is to connect dream seekers with top industry professionals from the Arts and Entertainment industries, through affiliated partnerships developed with entertainment industry executives and celebrities. While they are not a non-profit organization, each of their events is dedicated to a special cause and a percentage of the proceeds aredesignated for a local or national charity. For more information about 4U Productions, contact CEO Alicia Bell-Hill 585-713-6476 or visit their website here http://abh4uproductions.wix.com/events or email mzcommunicate@gmail.com

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