There are perks to this job, I must admit. I once “covered” a beer festival by sampling all the beer and having my wife drive me home. One time that guy “Wolf” from “American Gladiators” came into our office and posed for a picture with me after I begged him to like a fourth-grade girl. Those are just two examples. But then there is this: I was recently asked to judge a “space cake” contest.
I know, it’s difficult to even say without it sounding like bragging. It’s one of those things on a lot of people’s bucket list, and here I am at 35, already with one space cake judging notch on my belt. Sky’s the limit from here, pun intended. (Intended puns like that are, I imagine, why I was asked to judge in the first place.)
It was all part of Challenger Space Center’s anniversary jamboree. The popular space center in Peoria hosted a slew of events last weekend to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Skylab launch; the 44th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing; the 13th anniversary of the space center itself; and the zero anniversary of me judging a cake contest.
It was called the “Great Space Cakes” contest, and participating cake decorators were eligible to win the grand prize of two Southwest Airlines tickets to
the moon anywhere. When a friendly
representative from Challenger called to see if I’d be interested in judging, I
said, “No one knows or cares who I am and I know nothing about Earth cakes much
less space cakes, but—not my problem. YES.” Then I asked, “Who are the other
judges? Is Simon Cowell in? I’m not doing this if I can’t be the mean
Turns out one of the other judges was retired NASA astronaut Ed Gibson, who preceded the contest by giving an amazing hour-long presentation about his record-breaking time aboard Skylab, which included 84 consecutive days in space. Mr. Gibson has the NASA Distinguished Service Medal and is a member of the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. My column last week was about pesto sauce, so it’s obvious the levels of accomplishment among judges were equal, albeit it from different fields. (The other judge was Brenda Trinidad, a researcher at the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at ASU, so … yeah. I honestly don’t know how I was involved in this.) Besides, you know what they say—judging space cakes is the great equalizer.
Before the contest, Gibson gave his presentation. There were many kids in attendance, at camps or on field trips, and eventually the floor was open to questions. Among the fantastic questions the kids asked Gibson: “How many Jupiters can you fit into the sun?” and “What is your name?” Kids are the best.
Then came the cakes. There were seven entries of space-themed cakes, and I have to admit many of them were quite impressive. You could even say they were—wait for it—out of this world. Man, I am on fire right now.
Ed, Brenda, and I—we’re pretty much best friends now—were asked to judge each cake entry on several categories including presentation, workmanship, creativity, texture of frosting (?), and swimsuit competition. After painstakingly examining each cake, we were then asked to return to the front of the room, sit at the dais and eat cake samples while the crowd looked on, bursting with excitement and anticipation. I tried to show a lot of chewing emotion to keep the crowd entertained. Challenger even provided us water and milk in case we got thirsty. It was all very classy.
All the cakes were great, but a couple stood out. One, “Mission Accomplished,” represented the moon and had celestial objects protruding off it that were actually Rice Krispy Treats. Another, “Skylab Launch” represented just that. As if the cake wasn’t an eye-catcher as it was, its creator, Brittany Lozoya of Goodyear, poured dry ice into a pipe in the back of the cake, which made the rocket appear to be taking off. I think it blew Ed Gibson’s mind, and that dude’s been in space. Also, both cakes tasted great. And I know what I’m talking about because I am a cake judge.
“Mission Accomplished” and its creator, Alex Davis of Glendale, won first prize and “Skylab Launch” won the grand prize. It was the right call. I think, as judges, we did our job. Afterwards everyone was clamoring to get pictures with Gibson, but luckily the crowd was kind enough to let me slip away unnoticed.
Just another perk of the job, judging space cakes, but it’s something I took very seriously. Guess you could say, mission accomplished.
"Skylab." I ate this.
Note: This column appears in the 7/25 issue of The Glendale Star and the 7/26 issue of the Peoria Times.