Without actually seeing my doctors, I could picture the looks of dismay on their faces. That’s because for two full hours Sunday night, I ate cake — lots of it, with no guilt and no limits.
Sunday was my very first time attending Variety, The Children’s Charity’s “Let Them Eat Cake.” The event, held in the Millennium Ballroom of the Loews Philadelphia Hotel, 12th and Market streets, is a good-natured competition of some of the best pastry chefs and student bakers in the area who vie to whip up the wildest, wackiest and tastiest multi-tiered wedding cakes. This year, the cakes were made using the theme “Let Them Eat Cake In the Jungle.”
The cakes in this jungle-themed competition took the forms of intricate scenes, as well as toucans, lions, elephants, monkeys, and even a rhinoceros cake titled, “The Wedding Crasher.”
A panel of noted confectionery makers — and the audience, which luckily included me — voted on the most scrumptious cakes, taking into account the theme, the look and this year’s special ingredient, exotic taste mash-ups, such as Cardamon and Rosewater Carrot Cake topped off with a Lemon Buttercream icing or other equally outrageous pairings.
The annual event is open to everyone and is so cool that I don’t know how I never attended before! Yes, I was a first timer, so when I walked into the ballroom, I was a little stunned when my eyes hit about 35 of the absolutely most amazing, colorful, extreme cakes that would make even Cake Boss’s jaw drop.
At the registration table, guests were given a bag and Styrofoam containers, so they could not only taste their way through the event, but they could also load up as much cake as they wanted to take home with them. I tried my best to push the images of my doctors’ faces from my mind as I loaded up my “doggie bag” container.
Besides sampling some of the best cake I ever tasted, I could feel doubly good about being at this event, because my ticket purchase will benefit Variety, The Children’s Charity. Firstrust Bank, a sponsor of the event, sweetened the night’s fundraising efforts by presenting an added $15,000 check to Variety Club on stage.
My son is mentally challenged, and when he was younger I witnessed first-hand how Variety helped families. Many of the children with whom he attended school had families who had turned to Variety for help obtaining expensive special equipment for their children, as well as to utilize their camps and other resources.
Since 1935, Variety has been improving the quality of life for kids with special needs. Its mission is to enrich the lives of children and young adults with intellectual disabilities through social, educational, and vocational programs that nurture independence and self-confidence, and prepare them for life.
The non-profit originally served boys who had survived polio. Variety now serves boys and girls between birth and age 26 throughout the Delaware Valley who have temporary or permanent problems resulting from injury, illness or congenital conditions. The charity runs overnight and summer camps, as well as various programs in socialization and vocational training in agriculture, cooking and baking and has assisted countless families with children who have very special needs in our area.
“The proceeds from this year’s ‘Let Them Eat Cake’ will specifically benefit Variety’s vocational training program,” explained Kristin Podwojski, Variety’s event coordinator. “This fundraiser will enable young adults with special needs to have the opportunity to learn new skills and have social interaction with others their age.”
With Sunday’s event being so family-friendly, I couldn’t help but notice many families with children who have special needs there among the guests, enjoying the festivities. In addition to strolling around the ballroom to eat cake and cupcakes and enjoy unlimited wine samples and beverages, “Let Them Eat Cake” guests could also enjoy music, dancers, a strolling bride fashion show, goodie bags, and a variety of fun items up for raffle in a Chinese-style auction. The event was emceed by CBS3’s always-fun Jim Donovan.
Television shows such as Cake Boss and Ace of Cakes have helped publicize the degree of difficulty involved in the artistry of elaborate cakes, such as those at this competition. The art of cake decorating dates back hundreds of years, yet in recent years, the cake artists have gained worldwide attention, interest and respect. Forums, such as the “Let Them Eat Cake” event, are opportunities for cake artist professionals to show off their skills and treat the general public to art in an edible form.
The students from Walnut Hill won “Best Student” entry, but I have to tell you, all of the students there were amazing. Their cakes were every bit as impressive as the ones from the more experienced cake professionals.
As I spoke to the cake artists, they told me some of these cakes took up to a week to create. One common thread came through from each one of the cake professionals to whom I spoke — creating cake pieces of art is their passion.
Danielle Zahodski of the Master’s Baker in West Chester told me she’s been creating elaborate cakes for about 12 years now. Her cake at Sunday’s event had a Tarzan scene, complete with gorillas and other jungle animals, that won her a “Best Design” award.
“Being here is exciting,” Zahodski said, smiling. “Creating a cake like this is a lot of hard work, but winning makes it all worth it!”
Maybe it’s because my own cakes were never anywhere near a work of art (Hey, I was just happy if they didn’t sink in the center before icing), but when I am around cake masterpieces like this, I am intrigued. These professionals are truly artists, taking eggs, flour and other ingredients and ending up with visual and palate pleasing masterpieces, every bit as impressive as an artist’s work on canvas or a songwriter’s creation in a musical score.
The “Let Them Eat Cake” 2018 event was really a fun — and delicious — way to spend a Sunday night and I look forward to next year’s event. I tried not to think of what I gained (in pounds) and instead thought of what so many special needs children would gain from such a large crowd participating in the fundraiser. As I walked to my car, one thought flashed through my head — I am really happy that I didn’t give up cake for Lent this year.
For more information on the Variety Club and this event, visit www.varietyphila.org.