In early August, Melanie shut down the bakery, loaded up the car, and headed to Kentucky to take a rigorous 8-hour skills exam called the Certification Exam. The exam is hosted by the International Cake Exploration Society (ICES) in an effort to encourage its members to “develop their talents in the sugar arts, acquire new sugar art skills, and strive for excellence in cake decorating.” The candidates are vying for the prestigious titles of Certified Master Sugar Artist (CMSA) or Certified Sugar Artist, but the process doesn’t start when the clock starts…no, no…it starts at least 1 year prior to the exam!
Over a year ago, Melanie registered to take the exam in Kentucky, and over the last 8 months, she has been perfecting her “Plan” for the exam. Each candidate has to carefully plan which skills they will perform during the exam, where the skills will be placed on the display pieces, etc. It doesn’t sound very difficult, but don’t underestimate the trickery involved with choosing your 8 best skills and incorporating them into an aesthetic cake design. There is a fine balance between showing your talent and going way overboard (and wasting time) too.
The candidates must write up their plan and submit it to the adjudicators for approval. While the adjudicators are there to help the candidates, they can only do so much. During the approval process, they help ensure the candidates are following all the rules so they are not disqualified and offer some advice where they can. But they can not tell from a drawing and description if the work displayed will be up to CMSA standards or not have quite enough detail for certification to be awarded. That, my friends, is up to the candidate.
So when August finally arrives, the candidates have practiced and thought the exam through until they can do their skills with their eyes closed (or at least, that’s the ideal situation). They load their vehicles and head to the exam location, which moves each year.
Melanie, her husband Adam, and their 4-month-old baby Hailee drove the 12 hours to Lexington, KY and arrived one day prior to the exam. These are the cakes Melanie created during the exam:
The second display was a 1-tier buttercream-iced cake with hand-piped details and an hand-made gum paste elephant topper.
And the final piece was a non-cake display featuring hand-made gum paste roses and brush embroidery.
16 candidates attempted the exam this year, and 6 were awarded certification (1 CSA and 5 CMSA). Melanie was one of those awarded the highest level of certification – CMSA! And while the exam was grueling and many did not finish before the clock ran out, Melanie may have had the easier job that day. While she was laboring away over sugar, her husband was trying, unsuccessfully, to feed their daughter. Hailee, who previously took bottles with no objection, suddenly decided in Kentucky that she was no longer interested in bottles! Needlesstosay, both Adam and Hailee were a bit frazzled by the end of the day!
Since photography is not allowed during the exam, the only picture we have of Melanie that day is one taken afterwards. She was showing off her very chubby baby girl to some friends. Gotta love a chunky baby!
Stay tuned for another blog post with Melanie’s tips for the Certification Exam! And, if you’re an ICES member, keep an eye out for an article with Mel’s tip in an upcoming newsletter!