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Les Dames D’Escoffier International-Washington, D.C., Chapter and Tysons Galleria hosted the first annual “Let Them Eat Cake” competition this weekend, challenging three local pastry chefs to create fashion-inspired wedding cakes. The two-day event included two awards for participating chefs: a popular vote (from mall patrons who cast votes for their favorite cake design by purchasing $5 raffle tickets with a slice of cake) and a jury award from a panel of celebrity judges. Laurie Alleman Weber, chef and owner of the Swiss Bakery, won both awards. Funds from “Let Them Eat Cake” benefit grants, mentoring, education outreach, and scholarships for Les Dames D’Escoffier International-Washington, D.C., Chapter, a philanthropic and service organization for women in the food, beverage, and hospitality industries.
The judges panel included pastry chefs Roland Mesnier, who served as the White House executive pastry chef for 26 years; Top Chef finalist and ABC’s The Chew host Carla Hall; Bayou Bakery chef and owner David Guas; pastry chef/owner of Willow Restaurant and co-founder of Firehook Bakery, Kate Jansen; and Heather Chittum Roth of Top Chef: Just Desserts.
The event not only raises money for women entering the hospitality and food industry, it showcases local pastry talent, said D.C. chapter president Katherine Newell Smith. “Everything is so painstaking, you can see it takes a combination of skill, craft and artistry,” she said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for them to market themselves.”
Smith thought of bringing the idea to Washington after attending a “Let Them Eat Cake” event in Dallas in 2008 when she was Les Dames D’Escoffier’s international president. When planning the Washington version of the competition, she reached out to Tysons Galleria as a possible venue. “It’s a beautiful mall, I thought cakes would look good here,” Smith said.
For Madeline Lamberti, marketing manager for Tysons Galleria, the combination of pastry chefs and with philanthropy made sense for the luxury center. “For us it was a win-win,” she said. To spotlight the fashions from Tysons Galleria retailers, Lamberti sent each pastry chef a copy of the mall’s newly launched Couture Confidential, a guide to fashion trends for this spring. Chefs could choose a spring trend to incorporate into their cake designs. In turn, A Vista Events created similarly-themed backdrops for each of the cake stations.
Shoppers stopped to stare as Weber, Terracocoa owner Marilyn Mueller, Padua Player of Susan Gage Caterers, and their teammates carefully created details like pearls and sugar roses all day Saturday, assembling their dummy-cakes at stations throughout the mall's lower level from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. When time was called and chefs put their pastry bags down, the judges graded each cake on criteria from originality to neatness. The winner was announced during the V.I.P. reception held from 6-8 p.m. at Saks Fifth Avenue, where Les Dames members from restaurants like Willow, Black Restaurant Group and Lebanese Taverna passed hors d'oeuvres. Popular voting continued all day Sunday, with the pastry chef winner and raffle winners announced at 5 p.m.
This story was updated to correct inaccuracies in the original.