In conjunction with the 36th annual International Cake Exploration Societe's (ICES) Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, twenty talented cake decorators presented themselves for an exam that would challenge their skills and ultimately lead some to be named Certified Sugar Artists. Among them was Chef Mark Seaman, Chef Instructor at The French Pastry School of Kennedy-King College. After the eight hour exam in which he built two fully decorated fondant and buttercream cakes and one sugar showpiece, Chef Seaman was awarded the highest possible title of Certified Master Sugar Artist (CMSA) at the Formal Awards Banquet on Saturday, August 6th. He was honored among the international attendees and charged with the duties of each newly-minted Master: to continue his own endeavors for excellence and to encourage these high standards in future sugar artists through teaching and dedication to the art. He and other French Pastry School representatives were present throughout the convention giving demos and promoting education in all of the pastry arts.
Preparation started last year when Chef Seaman decided that, after 12 years of experience in the field, he was ready to pursue the title. Each chef, all active members of ICES, was required to present a three-tiered fondant-covered cake, a one-tiered buttercream cake and one non-cake display piece that could be made of sugar or chocolate. They were evaluated not only on their progressive design and mastery of a variety of techniques but also on their organization, cleanliness and how closely they followed their original plan. Over a year of strategizing with his assistant, Keli Fayard of Vanille Pâtisserie, Chef Seaman revised his program several times, drawing on inspiration from his frequent travels to France and Turkey.
Seaman opted to make a classic three-tiered wedding cake decorated with his signature royal icing bridge and extension work. He crafted flourishing pink peonies and a delicate moth orchid out of gumpaste; both botanically-correct flowers rested atop his cake in a pressed sugar vase. His sugar showpiece with its deep blues, greens and reds, had an underwater theme complete with a blown sugar jelly fish and its shimmering, twisty tentacles. His one-tiered buttercream cake was a playful piece with some unexpected applications.
“I wanted to use classical techniques and make them more contemporary. Quilling, for example, is an ancient paper art which curls strips of paper into spiral designs. It was first used by religious orders and cake decorators borrowed the idea using gumpaste instead of paper. Most of the time, we use it to make flowers so I wanted to try something different.” The sides of his cake were accented with elegantly quilled gumpaste Fleurs de Lis but the show-stealer was the cake topper: a quilled French Poodle, who was affectionately called “FiFi.”
As he developed these new ideas, Chef Mark shared them with his students in The French Pastry School’s Professional Cake Decorating and Baking Program, L’Art du Gâteau . Not wasting any time on his promise to instruct future cake artists, Chef Mark was already giving demos of pulled sugar, gumpaste flowers and monogrammed plaques only two days after completing his exam. His students were the international crowd of the ICES convention; most of the 1800 registered attendees return to the convention every year to pick up the latest techniques from the world over. The visitors included many sponsors and graduates of The French Pastry School but also people brand new to the art of cake decorating.