Decorator experiences sweet victory in contest

Frankie Wickliffe was just an artist who got pushed into cake decorating while working at a grocery store in Alaska….

Frankie Wickliffe was just an artist who got pushed into cake decorating while working at a grocery store in Alaska.

“I wasn’t interested in it,” said Wickliffe, a cake decorator for Hy-Vee in Gladstone who also had decorated cakes in Pennsylvania and New Mexico before moving to the Kansas City area. “The cake decorator had quit, and they knew I knew how to draw, so I had to kind of train myself.”

“Trial and error,” Wickliffe said, is the key to successful cake decorating, as well as getting the smooth icing base, well, smooth.

Wickliffe and 21 other Hy-Vee cake decorators – traveling from Manhattan, Kan., to Jefferson City and the cities between – competed Tuesday at Independence Center in the supermarket’s annual regional competition.

Wickliffe’s cake creation gave the illusion of melting ice cream cones using real ice-cream scoops full of icing. Hy-Vee provided the decorating materials, cakes and cookies for the competition, while the decorators had to supply any extras for their creations.

The competition started at 10 a.m., and the decorators had just three hours to turn one dozen cookies, two sheet cakes, 24 cupcakes and a feature cake – all “blank” – into an overall concept of their choosing. Judges selected the top three best decorators, who will compete in the championship round March 28 in West Des Moines, Iowa.

RJonathan Armistead of Columbia was one of the few male cake decorators on Tuesday, and like Wickliffe, Armistead stumbled upon the craft by accident. He started spray painting on trains in Germany while his dad was stationed there in the Army.

“It was just a natural crossover when I started decorating,” said Armistead, whose creation featured frogs and dragons on a quest to save a princess.

A lot of cake decorating, he said, is just thinking outside of the box. “It’s not rocket science,” Armistead said.

While no Hy-Vee cake decorators from the Independence or Blue Springs stores volunteered to compete, a steady stream of passersby stopped to watch the event that took place on the food court level.

Blue Springs resident Sharon Gardner visited Independence Center Tuesday afternoon to visit one store and pick up an item. Gardner said she spotted the cake decorating contest from the mall’s top level. After picking up her merchandise, Gardner moved to the middle level and continued watching the decorators.

Two hours later, she was still at the mall.

“It really amazes me,” Gardner said. “They just seem so calm. I didn’t have anything going on, so I’ll probably stay and wait until they’re finished.”

Gardner watched Belton Hy-Vee employee Stephanie Dillon create a “mug” of root beer from cake and icing. The viewer wanted to know what the stick coming out of the creator’s mug would represent.

Dillon, a Hy-Vee employee for 13 years, dipped the stick into carmel-colored icing and put an empty can of A&W Root Beer on top of it to give the illusion of the beverage being spilled mid-air into the mug. Nearby, Dillon’s daughter, 5-year-old Elly, giggled at her mother’s creation, “Sweet Tooth Treats.”

“I just think it’s really cool how she can bring things together,” said Brandi Hodapp, Stephanie’s sister-in-law. “You expect one thing when she’s making it. When she goes back, it turns out to be something totally different than what you expected.”

“Sweet Tooth Treats” took first place Tuesday, while Stephanie’s co-worker, Amy Murtha, was runner-up. Jill Blancho from Lawrence, Kan., took third, and Columbia’s Anna Meyer was named the alternate.

Elly described her mother’s cake decorating as “pretty.”

But it’s not too pretty to eat, Hodapp said.

“They’re never too pretty to eat,” she said. “That’s the best part.”

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