One of Abu Dhabi Summer Season's hottest tickets was for the Cake Boss's show at Emirates Palace on Saturday. Also known as Buddy Valastro, Jr, put on a two-hour, sold-out show for 1,200 people. Valastro is the star of Cake Boss, one of the most popular reality shows on American television.
Part of his visit to the capital included a cake-decorating competition that was open to everyone. Valastro and the Emirates Palace executive pastry chef Alexander Haebe judged the competition, which had separate categories for professional bakeshops and home bakers.
There were 47 cakes in the home-baker category and 18 cakes in the professional-bakeshop category.
Both Valastro and Haebe were impressed at the participants’ level of expertise, especially among the home bakers. Haebe says: “It was something we didn’t expect. The individuals who entered were the same level as the professionals.”
The home bakers
One of the cakes that stood out was baked in the shape of an upright violin. Sally El Shafei, who runs her business Cake Away out of her home in Dubai, says: “It’s standing up so this was a challenge for me. It’s my first cake ever that’s ‘standing’. I’m happy with the result.”
Another home baker, Kaity Gandhi from the United Kingdom, flew back to the UAE from her summer holiday in Belgium to enter the competition. She was the only individual baker to enter two cakes in the competition. Gandhi says she started baking a year and a half ago.
“It started as a hobby. I just started taking classes and I fell in love with it. It’s so therapeutic. I love making artwork out of cake.” She made many of the flowers for one of her cakes – an extravagant bridal gown with ornate flowers – in Belgium and had to carry them on the plane to get them here. Her second cake was an elaborate pram.
The sisters Sara and Soha Farrag each had a cake in the competition. Schooled as interior designers, the girls have set their degrees aside to run a home-based bakery in Abu Dhabi called Gourmelicious. The girls grew up in Abu Dhabi and learnt some of their craft from their grandfather in Egypt, who had a bakery there. Soha says: “The Cake Boss was one of the people who inspired us. We watched a lot on his show and we learnt a lot.” The sisters, 25 and 23, specialise in wedding cakes. Sara says: “I guess we’re doing well. We don’t want to do anything else.”
Another competitor just barely made the cut-off time to enter her cake. Shianne Fernandes, a business manager, arrived at Emirates Palace just before 11am, the deadline for entries. Her intricate apple orchard design was damaged in the ride from Dubai, but she managed to piece it back together with just seconds to spare before the competition started.
The top three finalists for the home-baker category were Gandhi and her pram, Baijal Ashita, who submitted a dark-grey, tiered cake with intricate sugar flowers, and Fernandes, whose last-minute repairs paid off.
The bakeshop category had several showstoppers: there was a colourful camel cake; a replica of the city of Dubai (complete with the Burj al Arab and Burj Khalifa); and a towering specimen of two minions from the popular kids' movie Despicable Me. The top three finalists were a turquoise-and-gold tower submitted by Sweet Lane Cakes in Dubai; a replica of the Grand Mosque submitted by Lana's Partiperfect Catering in Abu Dhabi; and the Despicable Me cake from House of Cakes Dubai.
And the winners are ...
The top prize in the home-baker category went to Gandhi for her lavish, detailed pram (her second cake was also in the top five). After her name was announced, she said: “I’m totally shocked. I’m having a bit of an out-of-body experience right now. I couldn’t believe he said my name.”
Gandhi, who will start teaching cake-decorating classes next month, says: “I’m so honoured. It’s like my little badge of honour. Buddy chose my cake. I’m happy.”
The winner in the professional category was House of Cakes Dubai and its Despicable Me cake.
The five finalists in both categories won a meet-and-greet with Valastro after the show. The winner in the home-baker category won a private lesson with chef Haebe and a three-night stay at Emirates Palace. The winner in the professional category won a trip for two to New Jersey for a private cake-decorating lesson with the Cake Boss.