Before you start drooling on the page, here's the bad news: The cakes you see here are, in fact, not soft, moist, delicious desserts. Yes, they are gorgeous masterpieces; but you cannot eat them. The interiors of these cakes are, unfortunately, Styrofoam- rough, crunchy Styrofoam.
In this case, though, looks are everything. They are submissions from the best cake decorators in the business who come from around the country to showoff the intricacies of their craft at the Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show. The decorators place their tender care on the exterior of the cake, spending months designing, constructing and decorating their final submission.
Last year's show took place during the Tulsa State Fair at Expo Square in September. Celebrity sugar artists and judges attend the competition to demonstrate and lecture on the latest in cake design, color and structure. The show changes theme from year to year, with 2008's cake submissions reflecting the "Language of Flowers" theme.
Kerry Vincent, an Australian who moved to Tulsa with her American husband, selects the themes each year. Today, most foodies would recognize Vincent as one of the judges on the Food Network Challenge reality television series.
She and a fellow cake decorator from Oklahoma City, Maxine Boyington, birthed the first Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show 16 years ago. Vincent traded baking sheets for score sheets after telling her husband that she wanted to hang up the apron and give back to the cake decorating world by helping up-and-coming sugar artists. "I knew I could do two things: I could promote myself, or I could be a mentor to the community," Vincent said, calling herself the 'Mother Hen' of cake artists. Co-founder Boyington eventually left her judges chair after deciding she could not bake her cake and judge it, too. She joined the competition and left the early planning and directing to Vincent.
Cuts to the Cake
The idea for the Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show came from the women's desire to step up the industry and push decorators to their creative limits. They aimed high, planning to host a national competition right here in Oklahoma. After putting a proposal together for the first sugar art show, Vincent traveled to New York to speak with publishers about her vision and about promoting her event.
Her attempts were unsuccessful. The publishers thought she was out of her mind for trying to host an event of that magnitude in this state. They strongly recommended the premier event use New York for its launch spot. But having adopted Oklahoma as her home state, Vincent remained persistent- a trait that has contributed to her success both as a judge for the Oklahoma Sugar Art Show and a judge on the Food Network.
"I think I am as bloody minded as Okies are," she said.
She commended the 'live and let live' mindset she has observed in her fellow Oklahomans.
Her adamancy sent her back to Oklahoma empty-handed, but her dreams of hosting the world's largest sugar art competition appeared even more within reach.
"If you tell me no, I want it even more," she said.
Boyington and Vincent pushed onward to get their competition off the ground, and, in 1993, the first Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show was held. The event - and Vincent -- was immediately distinguishable; its immediate success was notable, especially in New York where publishers were now asking Vincent for press releases about the show. Vincent's expertise has been unmatched by those who had tried to start similar shows.
The 1993 Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show winner would receive $1,000. At the competition in 2008, the grand prize winner received $13,000 in cash plus merchandise, indicating the magnitude to which the event has grown.
"I am yet to lose a sponsor," Vincent said. But she recognizes the current state of the economy and expects this year's sugar art show to be much more difficult. "It's going to be bigger," she said. "But it will be a harder year."
Today, two shows share the same umbrella: The Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show and the Grand National Wedding Cake Competition. Together, the competitions are the second largest sugar art show in the world- the largest being in England. More than 600 decorators entered the sugar art show in 2008 and nearly 100 entered the wedding cake competition.
The best cake decorators and sugar artists from across the country travel to Oklahoma for the one-of-a-kind event. The cakes displayed on these pages are some of the most exquisite Vincent has seen in her career as a judge. Themes displayed here are the aforementioned "Language of Flowers" and "From Around the World."
Vincent wants her decorators to tell a story with their design by selecting themes that require educational research. The theme for the 2009 Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show is "Of Sea and Shore." Vincent wants contestants to echo the watery elements of the sea while retaining the integrity of a romantic cake. She mentioned Atlantis, sunken treasure, sea goddesses, corals, shells and fish as sources of inspiration. Vincent keeps the theme close to shore by requiring artists to reflect elements within a quarter mile from the water's edge. And she insists that contestants see the big picture and remember that weddings are wonderful, happy events. "I want the cakes to be romantic and bright interpretations of marine life," said the no-nonsense Vincent. "I want nothing morbid. I am sending them on a journey of exploration to create something unusual and different."
A sugar art show cake may cost an average of $3,500 to $4,000. Vincent said most brides come to the Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show to gather design ideas, not to select their future wedding cake. She predicted the biggest trend this year to be color- bold, solid colors such as fuchsia, avocado green, pale blue and brown. Brides will steer away from the traditional, white-on-white cakes and opt for something more contemporary. After 9/11, wedding cake trends switched to much smaller, white on white designs. Vincent found it interesting that despite all the doom and gloom today, designers are working ahead and color will be the decorative feature of choice.
Vincent recommended today's brides visit the Oklahoma State Sugar Art Web site (www.OklahomaSugarArtists.com) and click on "In the Media." There, viewers can click on a link to America's 50 most beautiful cakes as selected by Brides Magazine.
"Cakes are going back to the topsy and turvy designs you saw in the '80s and '90s," Vincent said. "The overall economic picture is grim so the decorative, colorful trends are going to become popular."
Share this article: