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Unique cupcakes provide tasty competition at Stambaugh

Sunday, February 9, 2014

By Bob Jackson


Everybody’s crazy about cupcakes.

It doesn’t matter whether they’re the classic chocolate or vanilla, or something a little more creative like Lemon Cello or French Toast. Or maybe even something off-the-wall, made just to please the palate of a pregnant woman, like, uh, Zesty Dill and Olive Oil Topped with Peanut Butter Ice Cream. Yeah, there really is such a thing.

No matter what your pleasure, if it comes available in a cupcake, it was probably served up Saturday afternoon somewhere in Stambaugh Auditorium where the Friends of the Mahoning Valley Birth Center had its Second Annual Sweet Life Cupcake Competition.

Kristi Sanchez, organization president, said the competition is meant to capitalize on the popularity of reality television programs such as Food Network’s Cupcake Wars.

“Cupcakes are the trend right now, all over the nation,” Sanchez said. “I think it’s universal. I mean, who doesn’t love a cupcake, right?”

In Saturday’s competition, eight professional bakers tested their mettle against one another in five judged categories: classic, healthy, themed (“That’s Amore”), pregnancy food craving and freestyle.

There also was an award for Fan Favorite, which was voted on throughout the event by those who visited and sampled the wares, as well as an Overall Best of Show.

Sanchez said the bulk of the contestants were local, but one baker, Kristen McKivigan Kane, brought her Sugar Social cupcakes to Youngstown from Butler, Pa.

“She was the very first one to call, so we signed her right up,” Sanchez said.

Kane said she was not in last year’s event, but wanted to get involved this year when she heard about it. She’s been in other competitions in the Pittsburgh area and has won several awards there.

“It just seemed like a really good cause and a fun event,” Kane said of why she decided to travel to the Mahoning Valley and participate in the Sweet Life contest. “And for sure, yes, I’m hoping to take home some titles. I’m kind of competitive in these things.”

Kane wasn’t the only one from Pittsburgh who made the drive to Youngstown on Saturday. Gina Vadala, 42, came from the Steel City to visit the event with her friend Melissa McCudden, 32, of Struthers. The two had also been to last year’s competition and decided they were coming back for one reason.

“Cupcakes,” McCudden said, laughing. “Yummy, delicious cupcakes.”

Vadala said she’s aware of Cupcake Wars, but has never watched the show.

“I don’t want to watch people making cupcakes, I want to eat them,” she said.

Both women said Sugar Mama’s, a bakery from the Cortland area, was their favorite last year, so they made a beeline to that bakery’s table this year to kick off their visit.

Aisha Austin, 36, and her 11-year-old daughter, Amari, also came to take in the sights and tastes of the pro-style cupcakeries. The Warren women were not at all disappointed.

“My daughter [Amari] really likes to bake, so I thought this would really be a treat for her,” Aisha said. “She bakes a lot at home, and she’s not afraid to try new things.”

Amari was all smiles as she pointed to her favorite cupcake, a Ho-Ho cupcake made by Sugar Mama’s. She said she’d like to enter the competition someday, although for this one day, “I’m just tasting.”

“Apparently she’s going to be a baking, soccer-playing, fashion-designing woman,” Aisha said. “That seems to be her plan for now.”

With his shaved head, and his muscled up, tattooed arms, 35-year-old Joe French stood out in the crowd of mostly women and children. The Youngstown native who now lives in Mentor said he came to the event because his daughter was volunteering there.

“I just think it’s cool that they’ve got a lot of variety here, and it’s a really good weekend event,” French said, noting that the Ho-Ho cupcake was also his favorite.

Sanchez said the cupcake competition is the FMVBC’s primary fund-raising event.