Last week I drove up to Lexington, KY for the International Cake Exploration Societé Annual Convention. In my recent bread mix review I promised to post updates from convention because I would have my trusty Chromebook and iPhone. Well, I couldn’t connect to the hotel’s wifi for some reason, and I was so busy (plus tired by the end of each day) that I really didn’t want to spend the time or effort fighting with it.
I managed to share some stuff on Instagram and Twitter via my iPhone during convention, and the demo I signed up for first thing Sunday morning got canceled, so I spent that hour at Starbucks (once they finally opened) guzzling a large Chai Tea Latte and taking full advantage of their free wifi to post a few photos from the “WOW! Is that Buttercream” hands-on class I took. Which was awesome, by the way. If you ever get a chance to take a class from Pat Jacoby, then definitely do it because I learned A TON.
Once I got home and back on somewhat reliable wifi, I posted a bunch of photos from convention on Tumblr because I had way too many for just one blog post. But here’s a cursory roundup, as best as I can remember. Follow the links for pictures and random blurbs.
Since this was my first convention, I didn’t really know what to expect, but I wanted to take full advantage of everything on offer, so I signed up for 7 demos (which was the maximum) and the hands-on buttercream class mentioned above. I wanted to learn techniques that I could use in my cake decorating classes and chose my demos accordingly.
All first-time convention attendees had a bright pink ribbon attached to our name badges to identify us as people who may need a little extra help figuring everything out. Plus, more than once ICES veterans would stop me and give me stuff. That’s how I scored a pack of tissues (always handy to have), a cookie (which I couldn’t eat because of the gluten, but my kids enjoyed it), a “cake fairy charm” that I’m not entirely sure what to do with, and a blingy brooch that says “I DO CAKES.”
But the coolest thing going for us newbies was the orientation meeting for first timers. I was actually in a demo with Norm Davis and Zane Beg when it started, so I was 45 minutes late and missed most of the orientation part, but then Norm and Zane came in and did an additional bonus demo for us, AND we all got a free signed copy of Geraldine Kidwells’s hardcover book. WIN!
Convention actually started on Wednesday, but I couldn’t go up that early. I really wanted to do a demo called “Fondant Sculptures for Side Designs” on Thursday morning, so I left the house at 4:00 a.m. in order to arrive on time. But the weather had other plans. Just south of Nashville the monsoon started, and that really slowed me down. Actually, there were a few moments of intense fear and anxiety when I wondered if I would even make it out of the storm alive, but thankfully the weather cleared up by the time I reached the Kentucky state line. Then there was construction along the Blue Grass Parkway that I didn’t know about, so I arrived in Lexington 5 minutes after the demo started and missed it, which was a bummer.
I volunteered to work in the info booth, which basically meant directing people to the registration room as they arrived, so that’s where I spent a couple of hours before the afternoon “Perfect, Advanced Cake Decorating Made Easy for Everyone” demo with Dominic Palazzolo, where he showed us how to do some really cool stuff using his silicone molds. Ask me how I got “onlayed” at ICES! Or just read about it on Tumblr.
As soon as that demo finished, I had just enough time for a restroom break before the “Painting Step by Step” demo with Norm Davis and Zane Beg. I’m glad I did this demo because those guys are a wealth of information, in addition to being really entertaining, and I got to see some techniques repeated during the first-timers bonus demo. So I have NO excuse for forgetting anything! I don’t have any photos from late Thursday afternoon because by then my phone battery was flat, but the main takeaway from the painting demo is to add more color if necessary, but once it’s on the cake, it’s hard to remove. Remember:
A little bit of color goes a long way. You can always add more, but you can’t take away.
There was a big breakfast before the General Membership Meeting and Opening Ceremonies, where I gorged on fruit, eggs, roasted asparagus, and potatoes that weren’t quite hash browns. I didn’t get anything to eat Thursday except the snacks I brought with me, so I was starving! On each table was a centerpiece of mini racing silks and red gum paste roses, but the coolest thing was star jockey Pat Day was there and gave a speech of welcome or something. I honestly can’t remember what all he said because I was too busy tweeting about it.
After breakfast the cake room opened, so we could go in and view the impressive displays people brought. I have more pictures from the cake room posted on Tumblr. In addition to the huge tiered show cake, there was also a life-sized horse and jockey in the convention center food court area.
Even though the vendor room didn’t even open until nearly 2 hours after breakfast was over, there were people lined up down the hall waiting. Turns out, in our “hospitality bags” there was a coupon book with gifts and offers for the first however-many visitors to certain booths. Had I actually looked through said coupon book I would have known this, but I still wouldn’t have participated in the early-bird frenzy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for free stuff, but it seemed a bit too much like Walmart on Black Friday, which in my opinion is a scene to be avoided.
I signed up for the “Painting on Pastillage and Fondant” demo with Dalila Cabrita de Pena that afternoon, and she showed us so much more than just how to paint. She forms beautiful roses out of just a single piece of fondant, and it takes her no time. Check out my Tumblr post for some pictures, including photos of her intricate Marie Antoinette cake she had on display in the cake room.
Friday evening was the “Mystery Cake” demo with the Fab 5, and it was amazing to watch. There were 5 very talented cake artists each contributing an element to the mystery cake. I posted a few photos on Tumblr of the final result, and trust me, if you ever go to convention, get a ticket for this demo.
Saturday morning I attended Autumn Carpenter’s “Cupcake Decorating Ideas” demo and was blown away by her creativity. She takes very simple cutters and makes amazing cupcake toppers!
I then got to hang out in the information/concierge booth again and met Kris from The Cake Barn Bakery. If you live in or near Rayne, LA and need a cake, get in touch with her.
There was a “Live Cake Challenge” going on Saturday, and since a hometown team was competing I really wanted to go watch for a little while, but I just didn’t have time to get in there before my afternoon class. The competition went on for 5 hours, and the finished cakes were on display Sunday morning, so I took some photos then. Congratulations to the Tennessee Trio team for their 3rd place finish!
I had just enough time after the WOW! Is That Buttercream class for a quick shower and change before the banquet. Not everyone chose to don a derby hat for the occasion, but those who did went all out. The table centerpieces were long-stem roses with various whisky bottles for vases. We were encouraged to take one if we wanted, so I snagged the Knob Creek bottle from our table. Oh, and there was dancing later on, with a band and everything, but I was too tired to stay for long.
Once I’d had my fill of Chai Tea and internet access, I took one last look around the cake room before finally going into the vendor room to buy stuff before my last demo.
Speaking of, let me just say that the “Quick and Easy Sheet Cakes” demo was fantastic. If you do a lot of birthday/celebration cakes, especially sheet cakes, then take a look at how Holly Whitworth at Creative Cakes & Supplies in Tupelo, MS does them. Again, I posted pictures on Tumblr. I love Tumblr. It’s good for stuff like that.
My drive home was extremely pleasant, and I made good time, thanks to reclaiming the hour that venturing into the eastern time zone stole from me. I was exhausted, but it was all worth it. I had a lot of fun and learned so much. I just hope I don’t forget
anything much. Plus, did you guys know Lexington has a castle?!
The only tools I really need at the moment are silicone spatulas. I wear those things out all the time, and I only have 2 left, which sucks because I use them a lot. I’ve held off buying more because I knew I was headed to convention and was sure I could get some in the vendor room. Well, I DID end up getting one, but that’s only because they were freebies from the American Cake Decorating magazine booth. I could not find ANY for sale, though, and that shocked me.
My first trip into the vendor room was rather overwhelming, and I resolved not to buy anything until I had gone around and seen all the booths. Working with a limited budget, I had to consider purchases carefully and only buy things I knew I’d use. But I saw some super cool stuff that deserves mentioning.
Texture Rolling Pins
I saw many texturing rolling pins etched with all kinds of designs. These are clear acrylic and available in various sizes. Turns out, the Choco-Pan people even make custom ones, so there’s something to think about.
Cake Pop Molds
I already posted on Tumblr about the cake pop making tools I saw in the vendor room. Apparently, a couple of similar items are also available, but I didn’t see those at convention. I opted for the My Little Cupcake molds, and I’ll let you know how well (or if) they take the misery out of making cake pops.
Rosgar Sugar & Hobbies
This vendor is based in Columbia and everyone manning the booth spoke Spanish so I asked questions via an interpreter. They had plenty of the textured rolling pins in very small sizes, as well as some really pretty lace rollers. But the one thing I really wanted was their “AC 18 Plastic Sugarpaste Extruder” because it is small, easy to use, and something I know my students would have fun with. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any available for sale from the booth, and I can’t find that product page on the website to order it online. I did find a UK retailer, but they don’t ship overseas, so… If anyone sees this handy gadget for sale in the US please let me know.
Of course I stopped by the Satin Ice booth, and the lady I spoke with was very nice. I mentioned that I use their rolled fondant in my cake decorating classes, and she offered me a 1-pound box of white. I then had the nerve to ask her if I could have a box of pink instead since I was all out of pink, and that’s how I scored a free pound of pink Satin Ice!
Edible Artists Network
Sunday morning I visited the Edible Artists Network booth and got the Summer 2013 issue of their print magazine. Norm and Zane are on the cover, which Norm had mentioned once or twice (or more than a dozen times) so I wanted to read the article. I was planning to do the library thing and just quickly read the article on the spot instead of paying for a copy. But I got to talking with the lady working the booth, and when I mentioned that I was a blogger, she let me have it for free as long as I gave the magazine and website a shout out, which I’ll do properly in a separate post. But for now, if you’re not already a member of the Edible Artists Network website, please go check it out.
I just happened to be passing by the Icing Images booth when Colette Peters walked up. Conveniently enough, a worker at the booth had a laptop going connected to Ustream, so I kinda think the whole thing might have been prearranged, but still. I got to see Colette Peters up close trying out an Icing Images machine.
I don’t do any airbrushing, mainly because I don’t have an airbrush and never learned how to use one. But a really nice rep at the Grex booth let me try out one of the airbrushes they had set up for people to test drive, and she showed me how to work it. Turns out, it’s actually very cool and pretty straightforward. I probably spent way more time playing with it than I was supposed to, but I was having too much fun. I had to leave when she told me how much those things cost, though.
As I walked past the SugarVeil booth they were doing a demonstration, so I stopped and watched to see what it was all about. I think this is a fantastic solution for people who do a lot of wedding cakes or use intricate designs like lace, because this stuff is so much quicker and easier than doing all that piping. But the downside is it costs a small fortune to get all the gear to work with it.
Throughout the whole convention I kept hearing folks raving on and on about Platinum Paste, which is supposedly the best gum paste ever. Unfortunately, I can’t justify spending $12 for only 150 grams of the stuff, so I gave the wonderful Fondarific people $8 for a pound of their gum paste. Fondarific is the best rolled fondant out there, in my opinion, but it’s too expensive for me to use in my classes.
This is an awesome charity, and I’m happy to support them. I spoke briefly with the founder when I visited their booth, and she gave me a car magnet, which is now on the back of my van. Even though the light purple color scheme kinda clashes with Chrysler’s maroon, but maybe that’ll just make it stand out more.
Swag Bag Contents (what I got free)
As well as a coupon book with a couple of vouchers to redeem for freebies, which I missed out on because I forgot about the coupon book, there were some lovely gifts in the hospitality bag:
- Box of Satin Ice, 1 pound, white.
- Sample tub of Fondarific, which I haven’t opened so I don’t know the color/flavor, or exact quantity.
- Cookie Cutters: a dinosaur, 8-petal daisy/blossom, and the Owl from Autumn Carpenter’s “Graduation” Cutie Cupcake Cutters set.
- Plastic cake slicer/server thingy from Icing Smiles.
- Deck of used casino playing cards, complete with hole punched through, but I guess there has to be a little non sequitur, right?
- Full-color convention program.
- Kentucky road map and some tourist bumf
- Brochures for the 2014 convention in Albuquerque.
- Icing Images and Lucks Edible Image paper samples.
I’m sure there were a few more things that I’m forgetting to mention. I should have taken a photo of it all.
Attend and Attain (what I learned)
The next time I go to convention I’ll be better prepared. Here are some things I wish I’d thought about before this one, but at least I know now.
- You can’t do everything, but allow for some flexibility to change/add demos once you get to convention and see the displays. I know a some attendees switched their demo tickets around once they saw real-life examples of what would be covered.
- Don’t spend ANY money the first time you go into the vendor room. Do take note of items and vendors that interest you, and write down their booth numbers so you can find them again.
- Find time to go through the coupon book before you go in the vendor room. I noticed the coupon book when I first looked through my swag bag, but then I promptly forgot all about it until Sunday morning when I was packing to go home and discovered it, crumpled up and neglected, buried under all kinds of other stuff at the bottom of my tote.
- TAKE SNACKS. There is so much to do and see, and so little time to eat. I wish I’d brought more food with me from home. Don’t assume you can just go grocery shopping once you get there, because that didn’t happen.
- Allow plenty of time between demos and classes. One lady missed her demo because the class she attended immediately before ran a few minutes over, and she didn’t have time to get to the demo room before they closed the doors.
- Volunteer enough hours or bring displays so you get tickets for the Century Club drawing. Those prizes rocked!
- Take a picture of all the freebies in the goody bag before I forget what I got in it.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions during demos, classes, or at vendor booths. Everybody wants to help and share!
My one gripe…
I understand that not everyone will agree with me on this, and that’s okay. But I honestly don’t understand the policy against taking pictures and videos during the demos. It’s possible to have the ringer set to silent and still take cell phone photos, if it’s an issue of distracting devices being turned on (we were asked to turn off all cell phones, etc during the demo and would be kicked out if our ringers went off).
I would have loved to take photos and short video clips during the demos to share on Instagram and Twitter, because there were some truly hilarious moments. Considering the ICES mission statement is to “advance and encourage exploration of the sugar arts” and share, then why not allow members and convention attendees an opportunity to promote events via social media? Just a thought.
How cool would it be to live stream demos from ICES convention so that people who live too far away or can’t afford to attend can still take advantage of the sharing of knowledge? For the record, I don’t feel this is unfair to those of us who bought demo tickets. I would happily pay the $7 to be there in real life, but it would also be nice to have access to it on video so I can watch it later if I forget anything. They could even make the video footage exclusive to ICES members or charge a nominal fee to watch it.
So, what about you?
Did you go to convention this year? If so, what did I miss? Please comment below and share your thoughts, or if you’ve blogged about it leave a link!