Flip on the TV lately and if Toddlers and Tiaras is not lowering the bar on reality programming, you are bound to find someone in a white chef's coat sweating over a sheet of fondant that refuses to take the shape of a globe or a life-size replica of an Italian woman.
In the reality television world of competition, this you can count on: There will be cursing and their will be crying, but there will be only one winner.
Here, in actual reality, the bakers of tomorrow are still sweating competition, but without the cursing and the crying. At least not until the winners are announced.
That's when Jo Skinner, of Long Branch, finally lost it. This week she and her teammate Amanda Morro, of Middletown, were contestants in the first round of a Skills USA wedding cake competition held at their school, the Culinary Education Center in Asbury Park. The pair are students of the culinary arts program at Brookdale Community College, in the Lincroft section of Middletown.
The college and the Monmouth County Vocational School (MCVS) partner at the center to offer students a smooth transition between the high school and college culinary programs.
When judge Jen LeRoy called their names, Skinner's eyes welled up and she had to fan her face and gulp back the tears as she came forward. "I'm so happy right now," she said with a wavering voice.
Morro and Skinner's Eiffel Tower cake literally and figuratively towered over the competition, with delicate lattice work and rivets of sugar soaring up over its four layers, to peak with a miniature chocolate Eiffel Tower cake topper.
"We're still shaking," said Morro, shortly after the announcement was made. It could have been nerves, or just the lack of sleep. The bakers were up into the wee hours finishing the cake that they had to make in small batches in Skinner's oven, which she admits slants a little.
Now the team moves on to the state competition in Somerset in March. For that contest they will have access to the school's commercial ovens. And they're going to need them. They team will have to go armed with extra cakes and icing, which they will have four hours to craft and assemble into their creation.
Thanks to the very un-reality tv style judging that went on at the contest here, Morro and Skinner know to work on the support for the mini Eiffel tower, which had started to lean, and to make their pretty little fondant flowers more delicate by rolling the icing a bit thinner.
One of the judges was Jen LeRoy, a graduate of the MCVS and the culinary arts program at Brookdale. LeRoy said to her the school was "like a second family."
The staff's encouragement helped her win the national Skills USA competition while she was a student and propelled her into her current career. Now the Tinton Falls resident is head baker at Wegmans in Ocean Township and operates her own cake business, Cakes By Jen.
Also judging was Shari Lepore of Westfield, a pastry chef and a home economics teacher of 34 years, now retired, and Kathy Malinowski, of Toms River, also a chef and teacher for the last three decades. She is currently a Wilton Method teacher at Michaels in Ocean Township.
Together the three gave gentle but direct constructive criticism to each of the four teams in the contest from everything from the thickness of borders and color of sugar leaves to the contestants shoes, which will be under critique in the state round.
The point, said Lepore, is to instruct. "We're not here to tear you apart," she told the students. But Malinowski added, "We're hard markers, because we've been in the business."
Here are the final results of the wedding cake competition.
- First: Jo Skinner of Long Branch and Amanda Morro of Middletown
- Second: Brittany Tanne of Union Beach and Tiffany Christensen of Atlantic Highlands
- Third: Breanne Pszczola of Little Silver and Diana Helmes of Freehold
- Fourth: Veronica Wright of Neptune and Robyn Olsen of Tinton Falls
- High school division: Katie Hellwege of Ocean Township and Jessie Drake of Spring Lake Heights
The club's advisors are chefs Jaime Soto and William Hahn.
The cakes will be on display for the rest of the week at the Culinary Education Center in Asbury Park where this week there are food tastings, demonstrations and dining in their Windows restaurant where students do everything, from soup to nuts. For more information, call 732-988-3299.