Starting the clock at an hour and 45 minutes, Culinary Arts Instructor Chef Kia Smith told her students to start baking as the fifth-annual Cupcake Wars competition commenced at the Sumter Career and Technology Center on Friday.
"This year we're doing seasons since I have four seniors, and there's four seasons," Smith said. "Each student was able to choose a season, and their display and their flavors are going to reflect those seasons."
Sumter High School seniors Mikayah Anderson, Milayah Anderson, Da'Mir Gyant and Camesha Robertson are this year's contestants. Mikayah's season is spring, Milayah's season is summer, Da'Mir's season is autumn, and Camesha's season is winter.
"They're going to have to do three dozen cupcakes, and one dozen of each particular flavor. Only one dozen will have a filling," Smith said. "I'm making sure everything matches, looks good and tastes good."
Since August, the four students and Smith set a date and started preparing for the competition.
Before touching a baking pan, the culinary students worked together with the manufacturing class at the Sumter Career and Technology Center to create wooden structured displays for their three dozen cupcakes. Smith said using one another's strengths in the two classes was an enlightening experience for the students in improving their teamwork skills.
The students then researched cupcake flavors and decoration ideas for their three types of cupcakes.
"These kids are extremely proactive," Smith said. "One of my students said they were practicing at home, and that's amazing. It shows me their drive for it."
For five years now, Smith has held the Cupcake Wars competition for her senior culinary students. She said she loved to watch Food Network, especially Cupcake Wars, and she wanted to bring that to her class because it would teach them not only how to bake, but it would teach them life skills as well.
"Time management is going to be the biggest thing," Smith said. "With baking and pastry, it's a whole different world from culinary. If you get just one thing wrong, you have to start all over, so planning is a huge part as well. The planning they learn from this, I think it will take them far."
Senior Mikayah Anderson, a second-year culinary art student, said she would like to pursue in a culinary career after taking the class.
"I've been applying to a lot of culinary schools," Mikayah said. "It helps with college and certifications. So far, I have two certifications for the national restaurant association, I have one in managing the kitchen, and I have another one in food handling."
Mikayah said the career center has been a great learning experience, hands-on and very rewarding. She especially looked forward to taking her hard work into a competition.
Smith said her favorite part of the job is not only eating, but also watching the competitiveness in the kitchen.
Throughout the competition, Smith handed out questions, advice and a helping hand.
"The biggest thing I'm looking for is their flavors to mesh with the season," Smith said. "I get a little more technical when it comes to the other judges."
The three judges of the competition are Smith, Sumter High School coach Brian Wilson and Sumter School District Superintendent Penelope Martin-Knox.
The judges and Smith watched as the students rushed to get their cupcakes decorated and placed on their displays as time was running out.
Each student presented nine cupcakes to the judges, one of each flavor for each judge.
However, before starting the judging, Martin-Knox decided to set the mood by playing seasonal music as each theme approached the judges' table, hoping it would enhance the taste of the cupcakes.
As each contestant presented his or her cupcakes, the judges dove right into the sweet treat.
After tallying up the score cards, the judges chose Milayah's season, summer, as the winner. She had a Neapolitan cupcake in an ice cream cone, a s'mores cupcake and a strawberry cupcake that were placed on a wooden picnic table display.
Even though the other students didn't win the competition, they said the experience was worth the hard work, and they plan to better themselves for next time.
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