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Live Chat with Leslie Marchio - Competitor Series Finale!

Hi, Leslie! It's so great to have you here with us today. Congrats again on your recent second-place win in my 3-D Cookie Art Competition in St. Louis! Your piece was so interesting and well executed. (Everyone, I'll show some pics of it in a bit.)
JULIA: Thank you so much for having me! I'm so excited to talk about my favorite medium . . . cookies!!
Welcome to everyone joining us as well!

Before we get into Leslie's background and competition history, some quick housekeeping notes about these chats!

First, questions are answered in the order received, but they will not post to the public/viewable area of the chat until Leslie reads and answers them. We'll work through questions that were logged in advance first; then start working on questions asked live during the chat.

That said, please be patient and do not re-post the same question. It may take some time to answer your question, depending on where it sits in the queue. But I will personally make sure every question gets answered before we're through.
Second, please ask just one question at a time (per post); it's easier for our guests to keep up and others to read the chat transcript if they're not hit with too many questions at once. Thanks!
Okay, we're now ready to really get started! As a reminder, Leslie's bio can be found under the "i" icon at the top of the chat room, so please review it to get a quick overview of her accomplishments. We'll, of course, dive deeper from there.
While you're all formulating questions for Leslie, I'll post a few pics of her winning entry in my competition . . .
And here's another view . . .
She also won big at CookieCon last year with this entry . . .
Wowza, right? And here are a few of her non-competition pieces . . .
Another set by Leslie . . .
And another . . .
Sorry for rude ending. Lost connection abruptly and unexpectedly last chat.
I still see you connected, The Bakery Fairy! Please tee up your questions!
I've also got a few questions to kick us off.

LESLIE: Your bio says that you've been decorating cookies for seven years, yet you only recently started competing - maybe within the last year or so, right? What motivated you to start competing? And what have been the pluses - and minuses - of competition?
The following is a long answer, so I'll give you more time to read it . . .
JULIA: It's true . . . I only recently started competing. n fact, your 3-D Cookie Art Competition was my first major competition! I always knew there were national and international cake competitions, but it wasn't until I attended my first CookieCon (2017) that I saw the competitive side of cookies. CookieCon was a great way to get my feet wet, so I decided to give it a go. In 2017. I received the Instructor's Choice Award from the lovely Angela Nino (aka, The Painted Box). Then, in 2019, I had the honor of winning two first places for my Guns 'n Roses cookie set. Those wins gave me the courage to branch out to something larger! I feel that competitions push me to explore outside my little box that I like to live in. I also love the feedback from the judges . . . they give me insight on my strengths, as well as areas that I can improve upon. So far, the only thing that caught me off guard was the mental exhaustion I had throughout the process, as well as after! It took me almost a month to get my cookie mojo back after the 3-D competition!!
Yes, CookieCon is a great way to get feet wet with competing. It actually hasn't been judged (i.e., scored) until last year. 'Til then, it's been more of an instructor's pick sort of thing . . . but, nevertheless, the work there in their Sugar Show is deep and extremely deep.
LESLIE: Before we get too deep into competition questions, can you also give us some broader context about how you spend your time in cookies? Is cookie decorating a part-time or full-time occupation for you? Do you sell your cookies or strictly make cookies for the artistic challenge? What percent of your time on average is spent prepping for orders, for competitions, or for other cookie-related activities?
JULIA: I consider cookies my full part-time job! It's "supposed" to be a part-time job, but you and I and all the cookie artists out there know that that's not always true! I currently create cookies to sell, as well as teach classes on cookie decorating to children and adults. When I'm not running my four kids around to various activities, I am spending most of that time working on orders, creating samples for upcoming holiday sets, or prepping for classes. And my children are first in line to tell me if a design doesn't look good (and then proceed to eat them)!
Leave it to kids to be candid!
Wow! Amazing work! Tks to Julia, I'm now following u on Instagram!
Yes, her work IS amazing!
LESLIE: I'm nervous to write to you. I am a big fan of your work . . . I was wondering if you could tell your audience a little bit about what it's like breaking into national competitions and transitioning into television? It must be a big change and emotionally taxing, am I right? It makes me nervous just thinking about it.
THE BAKERY FAIRY: Thank you so much for the cookie love!!!!
FORMER MEMBER: Participating in competitions has definitely been mentally exhausting . . . but adding in the television element adds a whole new level of crazy! To be honest, if you had asked me a couple of years ago, I would have said that I would NEVER compete on television! Then comes my amazing friend Stephanie (aka, The Hungry Hippopotamus), who asks me to assist her on an upcoming TV competition series. Honestly, being an assistant for my first TV experience was perfect. We had so much fun, despite the stress and crazy schedule, and it gave me the confidence to potentially participate in future televised opportunities.
LESLIE: I have done some cookie decorating for family and friends, but recently someone asked me about decorating a cake. I'm a little nervous about doing something that big . . . Do you have any tips about moving to a larger scale of decorating? Or should I stick with cookies?
FORMER: I have to be honest . . . cakes scare me. Besides slapping a can of frosting on a Betty Crocker boxed cake, I have NO experience with these masterpieces I see on TV. I am in awe of cake artists! That being said, I have started creating a larger cookie canvas size for my competition pieces (my Guns 'n Roses cookie for CookieCon was 7"x11", and my largest panels for my 3-D cookie were 6.5"x12"). There are challenges when working with larger cookies . . . mainly cookie warping and maintaining a smooth icing consistency over a large area. Finding the proper "construction" dough recipe has been key for my pieces. Patience is also a big ingredient when working with icing over large spaces. Just remember . . . it's okay to scrape it off and try again!!
So we are onto live questions! People on the chat, please send your questions my way!
Simply scroll down and enter them in the comment box at the bottom of the chat area; then hit the blue "Post" button to the bottom right to post!
While you're working on questions, I'll pick up on some earlier threads . . .
So, Leslie, you mentioned competing on TV with Stephanie of The Hungry Hippopotamus. Can you tell us what the competition was, and more about how you prepped for it? For instance, did the network tip you off and allow you to prep anything in advance or was it all truly done on the fly?
And what was your role as assistant?
FYI, all - I believe this TV competition was time-constrained and reality-based, a different format than my televised 3-D competition in July, which we'll talk about in a bit.
Also, please be patient . . . we're live-typing now, and that can take a little bit of time.
JULIA: Stephanie and I were on the Holiday Gingerbread Showdown last December. It was crazy stressful but a great time! For that show, we were given 5 weeks to work out our designs...60% of the project was done within those 5 weeks, and everything else was done on the show. We were so excited to make it to the Finale!! For the final episode, everything had to be done on the show, which was surprisingly easier than prepping at home!
So what made it easier than prepping at home?! That surprises me to hear . . .
It's great to know that those masterpieces weren't all done on the show though. I hate when they represent that as the case, as it completely misrepresents the time it takes to do these projects.
The Bakery Fairy - I see your question! It's up next.
JULIA: I think it was a bit easier because we were familiar with the studio layout and where everything was. And it was nice to know that everyone was starting from scratch at the same time!
It is hard to grasp these larger projects by a photo. I do look forward to seeing all the cookies on display at CookieCon. Will you have some of these and more there?
THE BAKERY FAIRY: I will definitely be at CC this year...and we can finally drive, wahoo!! I plan on entering a piece or two this's so much fun to experiment with new designs and mediums for these competitions
The Bakery Fairy - Old competition pieces aren't usually allowed in new competitions, however.
No worries. Congrats to anyone who has the nerve to enter competition . . . even more so to be on television!! I passed two years ago when asked to do the Christmas competition TV challenge.
Why did you pass, The Bakery Fairy?
I look forward to seeing your work!
THE BAKERY FAIRY: Thank you!! I have to admit, the Christmas Cookie Challenge got me scared too...I'm a planner, and I work SLOOOOWWWWLY!!!
So, Leslie, another question for you - you've competed in different ways: on time-based TV challenges, in my competition (which was filmed as a documentary, where people took as long as they wanted to prep their pieces), and CookieCon. Which was the most challenging format for you, and why? And how would you recommend people prep for that type of competition!
#1 probably because i do very little from memory...
Agree. me 2. sloooowwwwly LOL
Me as well. I also feel there's more to lose on some of the time-based, reality-based challenges (especially with some of the production companies, who like to manufacture drama), so I've opted out of competing on them.
JULIA: I absolutely love having time...the more the better!! I try to challenge myself by trying things outside my comfort zone, and I feel I can do that best when I have lots of the documentary and CC competitions were best!
JULIA: I'm so not a drama!
So would you do another such time-constrained competition? What were the upsides?
Manu - Welcome back to the second half of our chat double feature! I see your question, and it is up next!
JULIA: I really liked working as a team with someone...I think that would be best for me, in regards to a timed show. Brainstorming with someone definitely helps!
Hi Leslie! (Hello Julia, again). Congrats, your piece was really amazing in the design and materials! Are 3-D cookies something you are used to making? I didn’t see the Holiday Gingerbread Showdown, but I guess you presented a 3-D piece. Was that experience helpful? Do you have any other background or competence . . . I mean your entry for Julia’s show was really complex (beyond being beautiful and light).
Julia - Thank you for bringing us together in these chats.
You are welcome, The Bakery Fairy! The good news is that even if people miss them live, the chat transcripts are saved on the site and can be accessed at any time. Many people do come back to them over and over to get tips from our amazing guests like Leslie!
MANU: Thank you so much!!! 3D cookies area definitely something new for me On the Holiday Gingerbread Showdown, I assisted in building a 3D structure...and Julia's 3D competition, I worked solo. My background is in architecture, so I believe that helps me see things spatially and in layers...and I'm working on creating projects that are more abstract (this is super difficult for me!!).
Yes, Manu - there were some interesting materials on Leslie's piece. One of my favorite parts was the woven licorice threads on one panel. Of course, the isomalt panels with kaleidoscopic piping were really impressive too!
I set the feature “Alert” to avoid missing the chats live though!
JULIA: Thank you!!! I was so excited to find something edible to!!
Thanks, Manu! Yes, members, you can go into your account settings and establish alerts or notifications that will email you before chats go live. Our site also always sends out automatic reminders to all members.
Yes. I rec'd my reminders. Thank you!
Yes. I've had the pen and paper out! I would also like to ask Leslie - tips or advice for best enjoyment, learning, rewards, getting the most for your money, etc. at CookieCon in Louisville? I plan on going and it will probably be the only one I attend.
Why the only one you'll attend, The Bakery Fairy? CookieCon is really a marvelous event, and they do a good job of changing it up each year. As I mentioned in the last chat, they've got more hands-on mini classes as part of the main conference this year - in addition to the longer, hands-on pre-classes. I think that's a good thing.
Yes, I love the licorice and the isomalt display as well! Such a “dangerous” material for a competition, yet Leslie created something amazing!
THE BAKERY FAIRY: That's so exciting that it's your first CC!! My ALL the things! Mike and Karen keep improving our CC experience every year, and I know that they've added some new things to the mix this year. Don't be afraid to get out there and talk to other cookie friends...everyone is so nice, and we're all there for our love of cookies! You'll have a blast!! And please come find me
Yeah, isomalt really is. Many had clouding issues with it due to the humidity (in Missouri in the summer - awful!)
MANU: I think I went through $100 worth of Isomalt to get them "acceptable"...I'm a bit of a perfectionist, lol!
So, on the isomalt issue . . . Leslie, how did you keep yours from clouding? Any tips? It was also suspended in panes? How did you transport that part and keep those panes protected, and from cracking?
It was also suspended in panes? = It was also suspended in panes! (Exclamation point; no question mark! )
Because it is $400. I should be spending on a new pot/hose faucet, for one
JULIA: Ahhh...the clouding. You should've seen my rejects!! I sprayed them with PME Edible Glaze, then I placed them on foam in those snap lid boxes that are usually used for cupcakes...and that's how I transported them on our 15 hour drive!!
True, The Bakery Fairy - plus, with hotel and airfare, it all adds up. The only way I can continue to afford all these shows is to teach classes and sell products at them, and, even then, sometimes I barely break even. My upcoming show in New Jersey is worrisome - hotels there are about double what I usually pay at events.
So, how much of it did you assemble on site, and where? Any other tips for assembling in unknown surroundings and under unknown conditions?
Yes. I do look forward to meeting people in person!
JULIA: Ugh, I know...everything over here in NJ is expensive. At least we don't have to pay for hotels over the summer when it's prime shore time...that would've been crazy!
They're $300 a night where I am . . . I'd have to sell every single stencil I bring with me to make it pay out . . . so I'm chalking this up to an investment/marketing!
It should be super pretty in NJ this time of year though, especially now that it's really turning to fall.
JULIA: The only pieces I assembled on site were the panels. I placed the two "buildings" apart from each other and slid the panels between the mini cookies I set up...kind of like storing slides. That was stressful!! But I like to have as much done as possible when I set up because I'm usually super nervous and my hands are shaking like crazy...not good for piping!
JULIA: Yes!! It's beautiful here right now!
Yes. You understand. It is not that I do not want to go to more cons... I would like to go to more. But it is a $$$ splurge. So this year? With it being so close to my home location? It is the best chance for me to go.
THE BAKERY FAIRY: Yes, I agree! It's hard to pass up when it's close to you!! I'm glad you're able to go!
Leslie - You also mentioned a couple of other technical challenges with larger competition pieces . . .
. . . namely cookie warping and smooth icing coverage on pieces measuring in the double digits. How do you tackle these two issues?
Leslie - if I get my ticket at registration.
Ahhh...yes! I did a bit of experimenting with a good recipe that wouldn't warp! I tried about 4 of them was super sturdy, but ended p cracking in half (there was no give at all)...I finally found one that works best for me. Also, another little secret...I have a scroll saw that is dedicated only to my competition cookies! I bake my dough in sheets, then cut out my cookies with the saw...makes for a better fit!
Great tips!
I read above that you took part in the documentary. How long did it take to design the project, and how much in advance did you prepare and decorate it? And also the isomalt panels . . . Was there a way to see them assembled? I guess you see them finished only on site. And about the documentary, how many times did the crew come visiting you (not sure you can reveal this detail though)?
FYI, all - for the Food Network documentary of my cookie competition, the production company followed a few entrants from the start of their design process through the competition, so they actually filmed them working on their pieces in their homes or businesses. That's what Manu is referring to in the above question.
I actually did not know who they were following, and still don't know all of those followed. For instance, I don't know if they followed you, Leslie, or just talked to you after they found out you placed in the competition?
MANU: The documentary was fun, but I had a few setbacks that created some issues with my design concept...mainly the fact that Food Network wasn't able to get permission from David Bowie's Estate to allow them to show pictures of him, or basically mention him at all. Since my concept revolved around him, I had to rethink how I was going to tackle my designs more abstractly, so I wouldn't have any copyright infringement. I started my concept in February, and the competition was in July!! Let me answer the next part of your questions...
We erected firewalls between the production company and the judges, so that it couldn't be construed that I or any of the judges had any hand in picking who was followed. We wanted no appearance of favoritism - and there was none!
I was able to see what the panels would look like ahead of time because I actually cut out panels of plexiglass and piped my designs on them first It was a huge help!!!
Oh, that's super clever!
JULIA and MANU: I did end up being one of the people they followed, but since I was the only one on the east coast, and due to budget constraints, they ended up just sending me a video camera instead of coming out to my house.
I'm a crappy videographer!
Oh, bummer - though maybe not, as you had absolute control over what footage they got to use.
So what was the biggest learning experience about being filmed for the documentary?
Oh sure! Genius! I would have use cardboard 😊😊😊. Missing the see through design!
We've got about 9 more minutes on the chat, so if you all have any more questions, now is the time to get them entered!
We have strict no copyright infringement rules in my competition as well (this wasn't strictly a production company rule), which I am proud to have. I think it forces us all to be conscious of crediting the source inspiration behind our work, and, in some cases, to be even more creative when we can't draw on the original work (due to lack of permission from the copyright holder).
TY Julia. I'm now following Manu on Instagram also!
JULIA: I think the documentary was definitely less stressful to film, and it definitely helped that it was the same production company as the Holiday Gingerbread Showdown! My biggest challenge was knowing what to say for the camera. I tend to clam up, and since I'm not into drama, I might have been a bit!
Awesome! Manu is a great one to follow. She does a lot of amazing tutorials (one per month) for this site; under the "Made by Manu" section of our blog.
It probably was a bit awkward to film yourself. I find I am better when there are more people to interact with.
JULIA: I agree...I think the fact that FN couldn't get permission was a blessing in disguise. I created a better project from it!
No experience with isomalt but do hope to try it soon!
Just wanted to thank you again for the chat and Leslie for participating and taking the time to answer all my questions! I don’t think I will participate to a competition, but it is so interesting to learn from those who did. Thank you Leslie!
Yes. I just noticed that as I was trying to go back to the restaurants u previously mentioned in the earlier chat. (i forgot to write them down)
THE BAKERY FAIRY: Definitely try it! It's an interesting medium for sure!
The Bakery Fairy - I mentioned the hotel 21C and Proof, which is their associated restaurant, I believe. I'll grab a link and be back in a sec.
MANU: Thank you so much for asking questions! Your work is beautiful!!!
Here's the 21C link: The first museum-hotel of its kind; now there are a bunch run by the same outfit all over the country.
Thank you! Got it!!
Well, it looks like we're out of questions, and time is nearly out as well. So I just want to thank Leslie once again for taking time out to share her extreme talents, tips, and techniques with us today! I am most grateful for your time.
Thank you so much for this opportunity!! This was so much fun! I will see you next week!!
I am also grateful to our diehard chatters, The Bakery Fairy and Manu, for their terrific questions. Thank you! I hope everyone has a great rest of the weekend. I am off now to try to squeeze in some decorating for my next class and stencil release! A cookier's work never ends . . .
Thank you cookiers for being here!
Have a great weekend everyone!
Thank you again, Leslie, and I'll see you in NJ in a week, right??
JULIA: Yes you will Have a safe trip to get here!
Great! See you then! Closing the chat room now! Stay tuned for our next chat, sometime in November, which will be a continuation of our CookieCon 2020 series with one of the Core Instructors. I'm working on setting it up now!
This chat has ended.
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