I had the privilege of attending the first ever Dessert First dessert expo and cupcake competition this past weekend at Portland’s Italian Heritage Center. I can say that it was as tasty as it sounds! With dessert vendors, whoopie pie trivia, and a cupcake challenge, this event was a great source of entertainment and sweet decadence for everybody who attended. It also had a feel-good vibe as part of the ticket proceeds were going to benefit Camp Sunshine.
The event was wildly successful for its inaugural year; this was evident from the moment one arrived. The parking lot was completely packed, the line stretched from the door around the corner, and the dessert-obsessed braved the March chill in the air for up to forty minutes. We were rewarded with a cozy ballroom packed with bakers, chocolatiers, and ice cream experts. They lined the walls, showing off their companies and products. We were presented with a punch card of sorts and told that we should visit each vendor to receive a free sample of their product and a check on our card. I preferred, however, to take the more casual approach and wandered around the event checking out the cupcake challenge and getting to know the vendors.
Although I was only able to catch the judging of the final few contestants, I was impressed by the cupcake challenge. The judges were a mixture of local celebrity, media and bakers: Erin Ovalle from Channel 8; local rapper, Spose and his adorable daughter Lily; Lisa Desisto of The Portland Press Herald; Kathleen Fleury of Downeast Mag; and Danielle Village and Tracy Noonan of Wicked Good Cupcakes. From what I gathered, they were judging the cupcakes on taste, appearance, and creativity.
Congratulations to the 2014 Cupcake Challenge winner, Valorie Jordan of Our Sweet Tooth Cupcakes in South Portland! Her Almond Joy cupcake was a rich chocolate cake topped with coconut frosting dipped in chocolate ganache and sprinkled with sliced almonds and shredded coconut.
After checking out the cupcake challenge, I took some time to find out who was represented in the room. The check card had a list of sixteen dessert vendors, but also present were the cupcake challengers and several private bakers. I think my biggest critique of the event would be the confusion surrounding the selection process and the difference between the vendors represented on the card and the ones not listed. Most significantly, I was surprised to see a global company like Dunkin’ Donuts alongside small family owned places like Congdon’s Doughnuts. I don’t challenge Dunkin’ Donuts’ New England roots, but it seems to me that their reach far extends most of the other companies there. Yes, Dunkin’ Donuts makes delicious sweets; I won’t argue that, but I think that the exposure the event provided should have been concentrated on smaller non-franchise companies.
One of my favorite tables was that of 10 year old Sophie, 11 year old Pheobe and 12 year old Caidi. These girls have been baking for friends and family since they could reach the counter. I was especially impressed by Caidi, of Caidi’s Creations. Only twelve years old and she has plans of opening a gluten free bakery to serve people like her mother, living with celiac’s disease. I don’t know about you, but at twelve years old I certainly had not developed a business plan and had not baked anything as delicious as Caidi’s peanut butter and jelly cupcakes. I applaud her ambition, confidence, creativity, and talent and hope we will be seeing more of bakers like her in the future.
I’d like to personally thank all of the vendors for their participation; this event wouldn’t have happened without their hard work and delicious desserts! Give a hand to: Nothing Bakes Like a Parrott, Kupcakes Inc, Pineland Farms, GoBerry, Wicked Whoopies, Country Chocolates, Eli’s Soda, The Java Gourmet, Moo Milk, The Frisky Whisk, Beals Famous Old Fashioned Ice Cream, Gorgeous Gelato, Congdon’s Doughnuts, Maine Gourmet Chocolates, and Orange Leaf. There were also several independent bakers participating in the cupcake challenge. Unfortunately I was not able to get all of their names, but please feel free to post your congratulations in the comments section.