Oooh! I've got a super special Saturday Spotlight for y'all this week! For the last month or so, the cookie community has been busy nominating those cookiers who they believe are most deserving of our site's biggest honors, bestowed in our annual Cookiers' Choice Awards! Since the awards nominations closed on January 13, I've tallied everyone's responses and rounded up our judges who will make the final winner determinations by the end of this month. And, now, I'm about to do our big finalist reveal! Are you on pins and needles yet?! Yes! Well, stay that way for a bit, because I need to do a quick PSA or two.
First, I'd like to extend a sincere thank you to all who took the time to nominate candidates. As our mission statement says, Cookie Connection is a place to learn, share, and celebrate the art of cookie decorating, and, while "celebrate" appears last in that tagline, it's perhaps the most important thing we do here. I firmly believe that taking a moment to stop and appreciate those who have inspired us, shaped us, and taught us is critical to keeping the cookie community vibrant and growing in the future. So, again, thanks to those who nominated for embracing this same philosophy. I know you had some difficult votes to cast, but judging from the comments on your ballots, you clearly made those decisions quite thoughtfully.
Second, for those of you not familiar with our Cookiers' Choice Awards, just a quick reminder . . . Our 2017 awards, though given in 2018, are for cookie art and activities completed in 2017. Finalists were selected through a poll of the worldwide cookie community, conducted on this site last month, and winners will be selected by our esteemed panel of judges (more on them in a bit) after a thorough review of materials submitted by each finalist. Our awards categories can change from year to year depending on the overall cookie "climate". This year, we are awarding in the following two categories:
Cookie Artist of the Year: Awarded to the cookie artist whose 2017 portfolio of work most impressed and inspired the larger cookie decorating community and the Cookiers' Choice Awards judging panel. Cookie portfolios will be evaluated on technical difficulty, number of techniques used, mastery of techniques, originality, and overall design appeal/artistry. Finalists were required to submit a minimum of 10 photos of original cookie work produced in 2017. Copies of others' work are strictly prohibited. This category is open to individuals only (not businesses), professionals and hobbyists, and both Cookie Connection members and non-members. (Note: This category was formerly our Cookier of the Year category.)
Cookier of the Year: Awarded to the cookier or cookie enterprise that is deemed by the larger cookie decorating community and Cookiers' Choice Awards judging panel to have contributed most positively to the cookie decorating world in 2017 through activities that extend beyond cookie artistry. Entrants will NOT be judged on their cookie artistry, but rather on the scope and impact of their 2017 contributions to education, product or business development, philanthropy, and/or other activities. This category is open to both Cookie Connection members and non-members, and to both individuals and organizations, i.e., retailers, cookie decorating schools, etc. (Note: This category is a consolidation of our previous Educator, Innovator, and Philanthropist categories.)
With my PSAs now safely behind us, onto the finalists! As way of introduction, in the Cookier of the Year category, I'll be sharing some of the reasons why our members selected these candidates, as well as some highlights from these finalists' bios and personal statements submitted to our judges. In the Cookie Artist category, in addition to sharing what was shared in the Cookier category, I'll be posting an emblematic photo from each artist (from among those submitted to the judges) that I feel captures her signature style. Onward, shall we?!
Cookier of the Year Finalists
And they are (drum roll, please!), presented in alphabetical order . . .
And here's a bit more about why each is being honored:
Callye Alvarado (aka Sweet Sugarbelle): As one nominator succinctly put it, "For her amazing Shape Shifters!" - Shape Shifters being Callye's ever-versatile cookie cutter line, developed in partnership with American Crafts since 2015, and now available in many well-known craft stores such as Michaels, Hobby Lobby, JOANN Fabric and Craft, and Bed Bath & Beyond. Callye says, "I want the people who buy my products, tools, and supplies to get value beyond what is expected or required. I try to make everything I design versatile and purposefully vague to allow users to add their own style and creative flair." She adds that her Shape Shifters vision is best illustrated by this blog post, where she shares over 35 designs made from the 12 cutters in her Halloween collection. In addition to extolling the virtues of her cutters and other products, nominators credited Callye with bringing cookie decorating to those who might never have considered it. One nominator aptly summed up this sentiment, "Callye has opened up the cookie world to beginners as well as advanced cookiers. Her approach allows anyone who wants to cookie [to be] successful. She is rockin' the cookie world!"
Ginny and Doug Levack (aka Creative Cookier): One nominator captured the feelings of many in her comment, "Ginny spends her time helping cookie artists to become the best versions of themselves. Whether by use of her Stencil Genie, attending a CookieRehab, or [connecting] online in several cookie Facebook groups, cookiers can count on Ginny for advice and encouragement." But, before we go any further, let's be clear that there's both a great woman and a great man behind Creative Cookier, the business that spawned the groundbreaking Stencil Genie and the ensuing line of Genie Products for Better Baking. Says Ginny, "[Doug and I are] just a crazy couple whose love of the cookie community [makes us] eager to solve the dilemmas of today's cookiers and to bring them together to share their love of cookies with like-minded souls." Just as using the best ingredients when baking is key to achieving superior results, a key tenet of Ginny and Doug's product development philosophy is working with the best "specialty manufacturers to bring the very best products to the cookie community." In 2017, while expanding their line of gel and airbrush colorings, Creative Cookier developed several other products under the Genie Products for Better Baking name, including the wildly popular Thingamagenie, Icing Genie, and a new multi-gun airbrush stand. In addition to designing new cookie products, Ginny and Doug connect cookiers through weekend decorating retreats called CookieRehabs, such as their recent CookieRehab Ahoy aboard a cruise ship to Cozumel, and others around the US and in their new CookieRehab House.
Amber Spiegel (aka SweetAmbs): Once again (Amber won our 2014 Educator of the Year award), Amber earned huge kudos among nominators for her enduring role as an educator with her internet-shattering YouTube videos and her book Cookie Art: Sweet Designs For Special Occasions, released in late 2016. While 2017 was Amber's first full year as a new mom (congrats, Amber!), motherhood certainly didn't seem to slow down her video and tutorial production! Thanks to her sponsors, which include Domino Sugar, Go Bold With Butter, Hatchimals, Etch A Sketch and others, 2017 was one of her busiest years yet for creating video tutorials. Amber says, "These sponsorships are an important part of keeping my business alive and allowing me to continue to bring free content to my followers on social media and my blog. It  was also the first year that I had the means to donate my services to help bring awareness to a cause by partnering with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital during their Thanks and Giving campaign." As icing on the cookie, Amber was named by Forbes magazine as one of ten Top Food Influencers in 2017, for having understood and energized a gargantuan cookie fan base.
Cookie Artist of the Year Finalists
Boy, do our judges have their work cut out for them! Not only are the three Cookier of the Year finalists phenomenal, for so many different reasons, but we've got four incredible cookie artists, with completely different styles, from which they must choose . . .
Now, let's learn about why these ladies were nominated (as if we didn't know already ):
Sonja Galmad (aka Sonja Galmad’s Süsse Dekorationen, aka swissophie on this site): While widely known for her signature piped knit work and elaborate isomalt and other designs, Sonja didn't venture into cookie decorating until December 2015, a month after her mother urged her to give gingerbread houses a try! Since then, she's dazzled our community and others with her intricate and innovative creations, as her many nominators did attest: "Sonja manages to create unique and impressive works of art whether it's with pressure piping, painting, or creating 3-D cookies. Not only has she mastered each of these techniques, but she continues to raise the bar with every new project." And in the words of another: "[Sonja's] cookie artistry is extraordinary in its originality, degree of difficulty, variety of techniques using various media, and the professional quality of each and every post. Her work is consistently intricate and creative!" For now, Sonja enjoys decorating cookies as a hobby, and likes to challenge herself by trying to develop new techniques, but who knows what the future will bring. We can only imagine! Below is Sonja's "Mr. Badger", a project which universally amazed everyone on this site when it posted, and which showcases knitting, her trademark technique.
Angela Niño (aka The Painted Box): Best known for her passion for vivid colors and her wafer paper flower and watercolor techniques, Angela received raves from nominators for her "creative spirit" and "unique style all her own", and for "painting outside the lines, giving a whole new look to cookie decorating." In 2013, after struggling with what she describes as a “less than satisfying job,” Angela took a chance and began to create edible art as a full-time professional endeavor. Every day since then, she has worked tirelessly to improve, refine, and increase her skill set. In March of 2017, she was invited to attend CookieCon as a guest instructor. This event marked the beginning of the next chapter in her edible art journey. Her first official teaching session began in October of that same year. This year, Angela is packing up her brushes and hitting the road once again, traveling across the country to teach fellow cookiers what she brings to the cookie game. Says Angela, "I am just grateful to be able to create and inspire." Angela's larger-than-life signature style shines through in the stunning photo below that she submitted for our judges' review.
Tammy Trahan (aka New Orleans Cookie Company): A relative newcomer to the cookie decorating community, having iced her first cookie in 2015, Tammy has an extensive graphic and jewelry design background, which shows in the wonderful color choices, composition, and balance in her signature mixed media pieces. As one nominator put it, "Tammy's design and creativity are one of a kind. Her usage of mixed media to produce edible art of stunning and stellar quality deserves the respect and recognition of the entire cookie community. She is a blessing to us all." Nominators also lauded Tammy for her mastery of many techniques ranging from impeccable handpainting and piping to rubber-stamping and even designing her own cutters. Among her 2017 accomplishments, Tammy lists earning second place in the CookieCon Sugar Show cinema category, making Christmas cookies for a Hallmark movie, being featured on Arty McGoo's blog, and founding her business, New Orleans Cookie Company, a venture that celebrates Tammy's love of her hometown of New Orleans. Says Tammy, “Every cookie [I make ] artistically celebrates my love for art, design, color, and life itself.” Tammy's keen eye for composition and detail is no more evident than in this glorious collage-style cookie that she sent to our judges.
Teri Pringle Wood: Inarguably one of the most productive cookie decorators around, every day endeavoring to make one or more cookie creations, Teri also consistently wows the cookie community with her expert piping and painting skills. One nominator echoed the remarks of many with this comment: "Teri is a prolific artist of an astounding portfolio of cookies characterized by true artistry . . . [she uses] a variety of techniques to produce consistently impeccable results! Perfection is the hallmark of her work!" In four years, Teri has been a winner of King Arthur's cookie decorating contest, a multi-year finalist for Cookie Connection's Cookie Artist of the Year Award, and a Cake Masters Magazine Awards finalist. She has also been featured in several international and local publications, and is a member of the Katy Sue Designs design team and the in-house "cookie decorating doctor" on a new Facebook blog called Cake Doctor. But Teri's greatest reward is, in her words, "to hear every day of the joy my cookie posts bring to followers who are ill or suffering . . . [and] I love seeing posts from other cookiers who have been inspired by my creations." While hearts are clearly Teri's passion, just ask her if she's decorated any shape (yes, you name it!), and chances are very good she has! Even so, we're sharing one of her amazing hearts with you today, as it epitomizes the perfection of her piping work.
Wow, that's some serious talent, isn't it, folks?! So who are the people who have the all-important yet daunting challenge of selecting the winners from among these stars? None other than . . .
All of our judges are extremely talented and respected cookie decorators in their own right, and, in addition, each wears at least one other hat in the cookie world - be it cookie researcher, tutorial writer, challenge creator, or teacher. Evelin also has the unique vantage point of having won our Cookie Artist category for the last two years! That being said, each and every person here is well versed in what goes into cookie contributions and creations like those of our finalists! I couldn't have asked for a more qualified, thoughtful, and evenhanded set of judges. From the bottom of my heart, thank you, ladies, for taking on this challenging task. May the force be with you!
Of course, a huge congrats to all of our finalists. Stay tuned for our winner announcement before the end of February! And, remember, regardless of the ultimate outcome, you are all winners for having come this far!