So, at long last, no more waiting on pins and needles! Today I reveal the winners in the 2-D and 3-D Cookie categories of the 2021 virtual edition of Julia M. Usher’s Cookie Art Competition™. In addition, I'll be unveiling the one entry that most wowed the judges and so earned the coveted Kerry Vincent Best in Show Award! As a reminder, all 12 finalists were announced a couple of weeks ago. You can admire their entries, read their bios, and understand the thinking behind their theme interpretations in this Cookie Connection post.
Before the big reveal, a few thank-yous are in order. First, kudos to my judges for making some very hard decisions and for spending the time explaining rules via live pre-competition videos, scoring each entry, and writing personalized feedback. Most of this work is done on a volunteer basis, and I can personally tell you that, even so, they put all of their hearts and souls into judging. So, thank you again, @Creative Cookier, @You Can Call Me Sweetie, @Stephanie Kappel, and @Laura Saporiti!
Next up, the deepest gratitude goes to my competition sponsors for so generously supporting the competitors - to the tune of $14,030, to be exact! Some of the sponsors donated cash (a total of $8,000), and others donated gift certificates to their sites, discounts on classes, or free services, all of which can be easily redeemed by the winners online! (No more toting of bulky prizes back from the competition! Yay!) When you have a moment, click on the sponsors' links below, visit their sites, and consider a purchase or two as a way of saying thank you!
As a reminder, entries were judged "blind", without any judge knowing the identities of the entrants, in order to minimize any potential bias. Judges also reviewed a video, multiple photos, and theme and technique descriptions associated with each entry - so much more than the final images you see here. After reviewing all of the submitted materials, each judge independently scored each entry on a scale of 1 to 10 across various criteria (seven for 2-D, nine for 3-D). The judges' individual scores were tallied by moi to determine preliminary rankings. Close calls or differences of opinion were then discussed in a marathon Zoom meeting to arrive at the final results. Though I did not judge this year (as I knew the identity of each entrant), I have judged many competitions and I oversaw this one quite closely to make sure our procedures were fairly and consistently applied. As such, I stand firmly behind the rigor of the judging process and the judges' final decisions presented below.
The competition had a record number of entries in both categories this year, and the quality of entries was as high as ever, so the following choices were in no way easy to make. That being said, every finalist should consider herself a winner, even if she doesn't take home one of the prizes today!
As I reveal each winner, in backwards order from third to first place, I will share an image of the winning entry, a brief bio, a few words from the judges about what they most appreciated in the entry, and, of course, the prize value that each entrant will take home. Again, more information about theme interpretations can be found in the previous finalist announcement. Onward!
2-D Cookie Category
Third Place: Megan Bowers with "Beacon of Hope"
Prize: $1,000 cash; $640 gift certificates ($1,640 total)
Megan Bowers began baking as a child, making Christmas cookies every year with her family. Fast forward to the beginning of 2017 when Megan became a stay-at-home mama to her youngest daughter. Her creative juices always flowing, she wanted a way to express her creativity and love of baking and art, so she started making cupcakes and cakes for family and friends. One single order for pig cookies turned suddenly into a new career, and Three Melons Bake Shop was born. Megan is the proud wife of a battalion chief (firefighter/paramedic) and mama to two beautiful daughters (Abby and Leah) who are her world, a dog named Ollie, and 11 chickens that supply fresh eggs for her baking. When she's not elbow-deep in icing, she enjoys traveling, cheering for the Washington Nationals, drinking iced tea, and spending time with her family in Woodstock, Virginia.
What the Judges Appreciated Most: The judges concurred that this set screamed the theme ("essential"), yet did so in an innovative way through the use of a thoughtfully structured cookie puzzle and novel wafer paper applications. As one judge remarked, "Great design and choice of cookie shapes. I especially liked the use of wafer paper for the scrubs and mask." Another added, "The overall composition is quite creative and appealing, with a well balanced use of color across the puzzle." Still another said, "I especially love how the fiery painting on the hexagons underscores the energy and resolve that essential workers applied to keeping us safe through the pandemic. This set speaks to the theme very directly and poignantly through its very personal tribute to one very special essential worker."
Second Place: Christine Donnelly with "Garden of Hope"
Prize: $1,200 cash; $935 gift certificates ($2,135 total)
Christine Donnelly began her professional baking career at 16, when she was hired on the spot at her local bakery to work the counter and decorate cakes. After attending college (go Irish!) and law school, she worked as a trial lawyer in Chicago for many years, ultimately leaving that career to become a stay-at-home parent to her two children. In her “retirement,” she continued to bake at home, at last finding her preferred artistic medium in decorated cookies. In February 2013, while Christine was living in the UK, her online cookie persona Bakerloo Station debuted on Instagram and Facebook. An active member of Cookie Connection, Christine was host of that site’s Practice Bakes Perfect cookie decorating challenges for five years, from 2015 to 2020. Christine makes cookies whimsically inspired by nature with a strong focus on color and pattern. When not cookie-ing, she may be found puttering around her garden.
What the Judges Appreciated Most: One judge exclaimed, "I especially loved the wonderful wet-on-wet designs and the color selections throughout the set. Very clean royal icing coverage and shine. The hand-cut cookies were also very well executed." Another judge added, "The interpretation of theme is very well communicated, perfectly on point, and original. The composition is harmonious and balanced in an innovative way through the creative use of an asymmetrical arrangement. The wet-on-wet technique is greatly varied and perfectly executed, as are the flooding and cookie edges. The dot piping is as fine as it can be. I was very impressed by the superior overall cleanliness of this work."
First Place: Claudia Prati with "Resist"
Prize: $1,500 cash; $1,190 gift certificates ($2,690 total)
Claudi Prati began her activity as a cake decorator in 2006 by attending classes taught by Sir Eddie Spence, Kathleen Lange, Carlos Lischetti, and Alan Dunn, and by developing her personal style based on royal icing, modeling, gumpaste flowers, and cake painting. Claudia is proud to have been awarded two Golds at Cake International Birmingham and two Cake Masters Magazine nominations, one for painting and another for royal icing. In 2014, she published the book Manuale della Ghiaccia Reale (Handbook of Royal Icing). She is now involved in teaching her personal decorating technique, which she developed in 2017. This method, called “Materika”, includes the use of painting and palette knife-painting using many mediums such as buttercream, royal icing, chocolate ganache, and Claudia's signature 3-D pastry cream, Materika Cream.
What the Judges Appreciated Most: As one judge raved, "I really enjoyed the poetry of the composition and the theme interpretation; it's very effective and moving. The palette knife flower composition is beautifully vibrant, harmonious, and very well executed. The use of color is attractive, but above all, I think the design is very creative and perfectly balanced despite its asymmetrical arrangement. Even the particular of the girl's feet that 'sink' into the ground is a brilliant addition to the general composition." Another judge echoed similar sentiments, "There are so many things that I love about this piece. I will start with how much I appreciate the message that the piece conveys, and how clean and well executed all of the lines and textures are. I especially enjoyed the palette knife workmanship. The color choices along with the color progressions and shading were very pleasing to the eye. Great choice in the carved modeling chocolate [for the ground]! This technique is not seen too often in the cookie world."
3-D Cookie Category
Third Place: Stacy Frank with "Time Is a Gift"
Prize: $1,000 cash; $640 gift certificates ($1,640 total)
Stacy Frank’s diverse background in art set her cookie journey off down a unique path. Known for her wood-like sculptures and ability to make gingerbread look like anything but a cookie, Stacy's inspiration is rooted in storytelling and grows through experimentation. Endlessly searching for innovative ways to transform cookies into art, she can often be found staring into space, contemplating whether her latest idea is stupid or stupendous. Outside the kitchen, Stacy works as a web developer and spends her free time hiking trails, climbing rocks, and exploring the great outdoors. Catch her this December on Foodtastic, a new series from Disney+!
What the Judges Appreciated Most: If an award could be given for difficulty and originality of construction alone, Stacy's piece would nab it. As one judge remarked, "I find the 3-D construction techniques quite unique, creative, and innovative. I really loved the brilliant decorative use of the colored naked dough." Another added, "When cookies go largely un-iced and uncovered, every flaw can be seen in the final 3-D construction. It's especially admirable that this piece, comprised of 288 cookie rods (!), is as smooth and symmetrical as it is. I also appreciate the patience and precision required to place these rods just so - so that different designs reveal with clarity on all sides of the piece. It's quite the Herculean construction effort!"
Second Place: Manuela Silvia Taddeo with "The Speedy of Life"
Prize: $1,200 cash; $935 gift certificates ($2,135 total)
Manuela Silvia Taddeo is an Italian pastry chef and cake decorator. After attending art school, she graduated in architecture and worked for 15 years. In her forties, Manuela chose to completely change her life and attended many professional courses in pastry and cake decoration. She also co-founded the pastry shop Mabanuby Pasticceria Artistica in Milan. Manuela's specialties include royal icing, airbrushing, painting, and modeling, but she likes all decorating techniques, especially on cookies. Manuela has won several national and international competitions, including medals at Cake International Birmingham, and 2018 National Champion and 2019 Silver Medal at the Cake Designers World Championship. Manuela strongly believes that every challenge enriches us and that we must never give up on our dreams . . . this is her first time competing in 3-D cookies!
What the Judges Appreciated Most: This entry displays many clever construction techniques as well. As one judge so aptly summarized, "Ingenious 3-D cookie construction that displays an array of brilliant and innovative techniques, like the cookie face sculpting! Wonderfully balanced composition, which is also very attractive and enjoyable. Overall, great cleanliness, especially along joints and seams." Another judge appreciated the treasure trove of details on this entry, which were seamlessly put together, stating, "So many fun little details, and very clever to use a bundt [pan] shape for the exhaust." Still another remarked on the approach to the theme, "There is so much movement and energy in this piece, both of which are tough to convey through static cookie pieces. You can almost feel the car bouncing and then coming to an abrupt halt after it encounters the coronavirus!"
First Place: Beatriz Muller with "Mix and Smile"
Prize: $1,500 cash; $1,190 gift certificates ($2,690 total)
Beatriz Muller is a Certified Master Sugar Artist and a gingerbread architect and engineer. From her workshop in Ontario, Canada, she has been running Cakes by Beatriz for more than 15 years. During the holiday season, she and her staff called "gingerneers" are dedicated to creating custom-order cookie art and intricate gingerbread buildings and structures. Beatriz's style is very clean and precise, with delicate and intricate embroidery and royal icing details. It is inspired by the visual arts, architecture, and beautiful ornamental designs that are created around the world. Her work has won multiple awards and has been featured in magazines and blogs as well as on Food Network shows.
What the Judges Appreciated Most: In addition to admiring this entry's cleanliness and near-perfect execution of many decorating techniques, the judges were especially impressed with the interactive, 4-D nature of this piece's moving, edible parts, such as the whip attachment (made of pastillage) and the top of the mixer (which lifts up). As one judge exclaimed, "Absolutely loved that this piece is interactive! The attention to detail was also a delight!" Another judge concurred, "What can I say? The cleanliness, the theme interpretation, the originality, the inventiveness, the array of techniques, the use of pastillage for the internal supports, the mastery of decorations, the neatness of the cookies . . . everything was just top level!"
Kerry Vincent Best in Show AwardAs a reminder, the Kerry Vincent Best in Show Award is a first-time award this year, given in honor of the late, great Kerry Vincent, who gave me the opportunity to start this competition in 2013 and was a great mentor to me over the years. The award is given to the entrant, in either category, whose entry not only best fulfilled the technical requirements of its category, but which also especially moved the judges through its imagery, craftsmanship, innovation, and/or message. Kerry Vincent wasn't just a stickler for technical rigor; she also expressed passion in all she did and expected a similar passion from all she mentored. As such, it seems only appropriate that this award honor both the left and right sides of the brain's creative process!
And so . . . it is with great pleasure that I present the first annual Kerry Vincent Best in Show Award to Claudia Prati for her 2-D Cookie entry, "Resist"! One judge summed up the judges' unanimous choice in saying that "it brought me to tears" with its stunning beauty and deeply touching message.
Congrats again to each and every one of our winners and finalists! You really outdid yourselves, and I can't wait to see what you enter in 2022. On that subject . . . I end with some important notes about the 2021 competition wrap-up and what to expect in 2022!
Important Housekeeping Notes
1) Winners: I will be reaching out to each of you separately via email over the next 24 to 48 hours with winner badges and instructions on how to redeem your prizes. Please note that the gift certificates come from many companies and their conditions of use (most notably expiration dates) vary, so please read the fine print on each coupon or certificate to make sure you redeem in time and according to each company's procedures.
2) All Entrants: The overall quality of your work was outstanding - congrats again! Since much of the learning from competitions comes from seeing others' work, I'd like to encourage each and every one of you to share photos of your competition piece in the Cookie Connection "Clips" section. I know we would all love to see it! Please also consider sharing some details about what inspired you and how you went about creating your piece. These details can be added in a comment directly under your post. These posts by entrants @LisaF (here) and @Michelle Becker (here) provide good examples of how you might share your work on this site. TIA!
3) All Entrants: Again, if you'd like your scores and written feedback from the judges, I must be notified by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) no later than December 5 (5 pm CST). I will start the feedback distribution process on December 6 and expect it to take a week or more to complete. Feedback will be distributed in the order requests were received. Please note that, regrettably, I cannot fulfill any requests that come after the due date, as I need to move on to organizing the 2022 competition, which is just around the corner. Read more about it below!
4) 2022 Competition: Next year's competition will return to its usual in-person format at That Takes the Cake show in Round Rock, Texas on February 26-27, 2022. The theme and rules of the 2022 competition will soon be announced here on the That Takes the Cake site, so be on the lookout! In 2022, I'll be introducing two skills-related divisions (in both the 2-D and 3-D Cookie categories) to better accommodate both beginning and more established decorators. This means that 12 people will receive prizes instead of 6! Woo hoo! I can't wait to see your entries on the competition table in Texas. If you are interested in sponsoring this competition, sponsorship levels/packages should be published by the end of December or early January. Stay tuned!