Eight bakers are vying for the title of Chattanooga's first Cake Ace. The fact that one of the contest judges is Food Network star Duff Goldman is the icing on the cake.
formal affair cake competitors
* Entrant: Kimberly Beattie
* Entry: "It's our interpretation of the ultimate Chattanooga-themed groom's cake."
Cafe LeMont/Lady J. Cakes
* Entrant: Renita Johnson
* Entry: Sculpted sports-motif cake
* Entrant: Patti Taylor
* Entry: Chattanooga Choo-Choo
* Entrant: Sonya Reagor
* Entry: Travel-themed cake
Cup a Dee Cakes
* Entrant: Jenniffer White
* Entry: "We're making a cake influenced by the fictional groom's favorite things in Chattanooga -- where he met his future bride, where they went on their first date -- but not the typical landmarks."
* Entrant: Luther Cutchins
* Entry: A train made of Heirloom's specialty cake flavor, which has extra significance to Chattanooga.
Piece a Cake Bakery
* Entrant: Mark Houghton
* Entry: "Zoomin' Groom"
Sweet Angel Cakes
* Entrant: Toni Repko
* Entry: "Chattanooga -- Sports (Around Our City)"
"He's a cool guy, a big part of the reason I entered the contest," said Mark Houghton of Piece a Cake Bakery. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet him."
"It's been Mark's dream to meet Duff," added his wife, Sharon, co-owner of Piece a Cake.
Goldman will be the celebrity judge in a groom's cake challenge at the third annual Formal Affair, sponsored by the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
The Feb. 20 expo offers brides- and grooms-to-be one-stop shopping by bringing together more than 100 bridal and event-planning vendors in the Chattanooga Convention Center.
Joining Goldman to score entries will be judges Masa Yamashita, UTC executive chef, and Times Free Press representative Sara Jackson.
Goldman can be credited with elevating the common sheet cake into sculpted, animated centerpieces. His TV show, "Ace of Cakes," in its 10th season on Food Network, is watched by an average of 2.5 million viewers a week, according to the network's website.
Goldman introduced viewers to asymmetrical layers, cake tattoos and graffiti spray. Wielding an electric drill as often as a spatula, he'd wire lights into model cake cars or giddily top fondant with fireworks in order to make his cakes "bigger and better" (his onscreen mantra).
"Ace of Cakes" set the table for "Cake Boss," "Cupcake Wars," "Ultimate Cake Off" and all the knockoffs that followed.
"He's got his own style he's brought to the party, and it really has influenced a lot of people," said Jenniffer White of Cup a Dee Cakes in Tunnel Hill, Ga.
"Every customer I meet, the first question they'll ask is "Have you seen that show?" White said, laughing.
In addition to the rare chance to meet the TV star, bakers said Formal Affair's cake challenge offers them priceless exposure to get their name out to the public.
"We just opened four months ago," said Luther Cutchins of Heirloom Catering, which he operates with his brother, Ryan, a former chef at Macaroni Grill and 212 Market. In keeping with their goal to use all local, organic and recycled materials, the brothers remodeled a site in Eastgate Town Center in which to launch their business.
"I watch Food Network half the night, I'm addicted," joked Renita Johnson, representing Lady J. Cakes and Cafe LeMont.
Johnson, 54, said she started baking at age 9 and has spent 20 years baking for restaurants. Nothing has excited her like baking for Goldman, she said.
"I'm nervous, I'm excited, I've been sketching and working. I'm always up for a challenge, and I thought I had something to offer," Johnson said of entering the contest.
Guests at Formal Affair will get to taste-test the contestants' work.
Angela Doggett, TFP events manager, said each cake will be displayed on a spot-lit pedestal with a sign bearing the contestant's name and vendor booth number. At that booth in the exhibit hall, contestants will serve samples of the same cake used in their contest entry.
"This contest is a fantastic way to show off what we can do," said White.
* Groom's cake must have a Chattanooga (or surrounding area) theme.
* Entrant must be a 2011 Formal Affair vendor and submit a copy of a Tennessee or Georgia business license.
* Entrants must operate from a health-inspected facility and submit a copy of the current health inspection certificate.
* Entries will be scored on use of theme, creativity and taste.
* At least 80 percent of the cake must be edible.
* Contestant will provide a 6-inch round of the same cake for judges to sample.
* At least one of the cake samples served from the entrant's booth must be the same as the cake submitted for judging.
* To enter: The deadline to enter the contest has been extended to Tuesday. To enter, e-mail Angela Doggett at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Chattanooga Times Free Press
IF YOU GO
* What: Formal Affair Bridal Expo.
* When: 1-5:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 20.
* Where: Chattanooga Convention Center.
* Tickets: $8 in advance, $10 at door; purchase online at timesfreepress.com. (Click the Formal Affair logo box.)
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...