Amy Murtha’s trip to New Orleans this weekend is sure to be big, but it will be anything but easy.
A little more than two months ago, Murtha was battling 17 of the best bakery designers in the company at the Hy-Vee Cake Decorator Challenge.
The Belton, MO, decorator emerged victorious in what was only her second skills contest (the first being the qualifying round that got her to the finals). She took home the $1,000 first prize with a whimsical depiction of an enchanted garden populated by oversized ladybugs, smiling snails and funny frogs.
“It was a real shocker because I really didn’t expect to win,” says Murtha, a trained graphic designer who has been in the bakery business for 14 years.
Beginning Sunday, she will take on two of the top cake designers in the country in a grueling three-day contest that promises to test her stamina as much as her artistry.
It’s called The 17th International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association Cake Decorating Challenge. A mouthful, yes. A handful, definitely.
“It’s three days of hard work,” Murtha says. “I know it’ll be interesting.”
The IDDBA event requires contestants the fill an eight-foot bakery case with 20 or so cakes, each with an original design based on birthdays, anniversaries and other milestones. That’s the first day.
The designers return on Day 2 to create an elaborate wedding cake within an eight-hour window. Day 3 focuses on a trio of cakes that represent distinct themes, one being the “Food on Parade” motif of the association’s annual confab.
Eighty-six entrants from 35 supermarket chains entered portfolios for the event.
“Artistic talent comes in many forms. I can only think of one art form that combines basic building blocks with painting, sculpture, carving, beadwork and calligraphy, and that’s cake decorating,” says the IDDBA’s executive director, Carol Christison.
Facing Murtha in New Orleans will be:
- Andria Chinander of Byerly’s in Edina, MN, a 14-year veteran.
- Stacie Clawson of Walmart in Perry, UT, who brings 12 years of experience into the contest.
All three “have demonstrated their skill, and more importantly, their passion, for all things cake,” says Christison. “Every year, I say it can’t get better, and it does. They heard the call, and they stepped up to the challenge.”
Murtha says she will leave behind the enchanted garden template and approach the New Orleans challenge with an array of fresh designs.
“The cakes have to fit in standard packaging, so we can’t get too crazy,” she says. “But I think I have a nice variety of ideas.”
Murtha will begin the battle with one distinct advantage, however. Her co-worker, Stephanie Dillon, competed at the IDDBA event last year and finished second.
“She has been such a huge help through the whole process letting me know what to expect,” Murtha says. “She says it’s like the Hy-Vee finals … times a million.”