It Happened to Me: I Judged a Cupcake Contest

Or, why my life is awesome.
Publish date:
January 25, 2012

Getting to eat cupcakes all day sounds like a great gig, and that's because it is.

Last year, I was asked to be a guest judge at both CupcakeCamp Seattle and the event I want to tell you about, Scottsdale, Arizona second annual's Cupcake Love-In. I co-edit a blog about cupcakes called Cupcakes Take the Cake , and recently looked over all the cupcakes I tried in 2011, and let's just say, they numbered in the hundreds. I'm used to eating cupcakes, sure, but not all in one sitting, and certainly not with an audience.

How it worked is I was comped a hotel room for two nights at the venue's location, Hotel Valley Ho, a delightfully retro hotel, and paid my own airfare (love you, JetBlue!). As it turned out, it was a great move because I wound up getting laid off right beforehand from my full-time job and was desperately in need of a vacation, and also had the bonus of letting me escape the cold.

The night before Cupcake Love-In, I arrived back at the hotel to a raging Halloween party, which I ignored in favor of cable and my super comfy-bed (I could claim I was tired from jetlag, but I'm almost always going to be a comfy-bed-over-insane-club-party person).

I was fighting off a cold so slept longer than I meant to. By the time I got to the VIP hour of Cupcake Love-In the next morning, two ballrooms were full of all kinds of mini cupcakes, from blueberry compote to banoffee to chocolate espresso to savory flavors like beer/cheese/tomato cupcakes. It was beautiful but also a little overwhelming. I ran around taking photos and declining to try any cupcakes, since I knew I'd have many to taste not long after.

I'd planned to get some eggs or oatmeal or something hearty and healthy to start my day, but I didn't have time before I was sitting down behind a roped-off outdoor area and served my first tray of cupcakes.

We weren't given a key as to what we were eating, so I didn't know who made them or what their official flavors were. We just had to guess as we ate. Some it was easy to tell, but some were more mysterious, and we were judging the presentation as well as the frosting and cake.

The trays added elegance to the occasion, and we were given forks if we desired. I preferred to use my fingers, dipping one into a peanut butter frosting with chocolate on top, a cupcake I gladly could've devoured if so many more weren’t waiting for me.

I had to pace myself, because over the course of the judging, we were required to try 25 different cupcakes. Everything was going smoothly, with sips of coffee and water in between tastings.

Then came the grasshopper. Yes, a real grasshopper, on top of a cupcake! I'm not sure I would have known that's what it was unless my fellow judge, cupcake murder mystery author Jenn McKinlay, who was sitting next to me, hadn't told me.

When I first heard about the competition, I was hoping we'd be trying cupcakes that I couldn't find in New York, where I live, because isn't that the point of traveling, to have new and different experiences? So I couldn't back down, especially not when all the other judges were trying it at the same time.

I was expecting it to taste crunchy and a bit salty like a pretzel, but it was more crunchy and a bit salty like a grasshopper. Perhaps because of the voice that kept blaring in my head, saying: "YOU'RE EATING GRASSHOPPER." I tried to swallow it as quickly as possible but it felt like half of it got stuck in my mouth. Lots of people were watching us eat the grasshoppers, some with curiosity, some with disgust.

"What was it like?" everyone wanted to know. Well…it was one of those things I'm glad I did, so that I can say I did it, but not something I plan to do again.

Aside from the grasshopper, the biggest challenge was not indulging in the cupcakes I liked too early on. There were some that were amazing, and I was hungry, but if I ate too much of them I wouldn't have room for the ones that would come later, and then I wouldn't be doing my job as a judge.

I also wasn't picking them up and eating them the way one normally would, with some frosting and some cake in each bite, because I wanted to evaluate the cake and frosting separately (I had to judge each of those with a numerical rating) and because I didn't want to get frosting all over my teeth.

Since we were sitting outside, albeit behind a rope, people were watching us while we taste-tested and took notes, which was a bit unnerving even though they were friendly. Eating cupcakes with a fork seems a little pretentious, but it was convenient.

Toward the end, I was pretty full, and glad I hadn't eaten a real breakfast. By the last round, my enthusiasm for cupcakes had somewhat waned; I still tasted them, but it was more perfunctory than exciting.

I always feel bad when I waste food, especially cupcakes, but it's a bit of a blogging occupational hazard. I'm not going to eat an entire cupcake, or, more likely, four entire cupcakes, just in the name of not letting them go to waste. I'm the type of person who loves anything free, but unlike at Book Expo America, the annual book fair where I stuff my large bags to the brim with books, even if I know that the likelihood of me reading them is nil, there does reach a point where even the most eager cupcake eater cannot fit another one in her stomach. By the end, I was taking only the merest sliver of cupcake.

After eating upward of 25 cupcakes, I thought I wouldn't want to try another one for a good long while, but after a few days, I was ready for more. I could definitely do it all again, but one grasshopper ingested in my life is probably plenty.