The amateur cook-off series responsible for last year’s Boston Pie Experiment is back again, except this time the focus is on cake. The Boston Cake Experiment is going down this Sunday, June 24th from 6-9 PM at The Middle East-Downstairs. I caught up with Kate Faughnan, one of the event’s organizers, to talk Boston, the Food Experiments, and community.
HnS: How did the Food Experiments get started?
KF: In 2009 Nick and Theo started the Food Experiments. They originally threw the events in New York and found people were really in to it, especially because they highlight amateur chefs.
HnS: What kinds of Experiments did they start with?
KF: They were in the same style as the ones today, with themes like Booze or Brunch and even a Holiday Experiment. After throwing a couple they got the attention of Brooklyn Brewery, who decided they wanted to be a presenting sponsor. They made it possible for us to do a national tour last year in five cities.
HnS: Including Boston?
KF: Yeah, last year we held the Boston Pie Experiment. A brother and sister team dressed as really cute French people won and they got to attend the National Championship in Brooklyn.
HnS: How do you choose where to hold a Food Experiment?
KF: Well, all of the cities we visit have established food communities and a lot of people who are involved in those communities. We try to connect all those various people together. It’s been cool in that every city is a unique experience. There are some places we’ve just read about (like Atlanta, Raleigh or New York’s Hudson Valley) and thought, ‘This place looks awesome. Let’s go there.’ Other places, like Stockholm, were chosen by Brooklyn Brewery- they are actually the number one most imported beer in Sweden.
HnS: Cool, I would have never known that! So once you choose a city how do you decide what the theme will be? Like Boston- last year it was pie and this year it’s cake…
KF: Well, Boston has an awesome bakery scene. There are so many delicious places. Plus, last year’s Pie Experiment went so well we wanted to build off it. We also think about what the city is known for and what the amateur chefs in the community will be able to best bring to the Experiment. If there’s not a stand out (type of food) it’s ‘What have we heard about this city?’"
HnS: One of the things we’ve been exploring is this question of ‘What is Boston, food-wise?’ Do you guys think our baked goods, like pies or cake, help define Boston?
KF: I wouldn’t say they define Boston but they are a great characteristic. There are so many facets of Boston food that it’s not exclusive, but there are certainly a lot of interesting bakeries here. Even within that category there are so many different roads you can go down, anywhere from Flour to Sofra to Clear Flour to When Pigs Fly.
HnS: So who should compete in the Cake Experiment and why? For example, should they be hobbyists or professionals?
KF: Definitely hobbyists or home bakers. If you’re a professional you can attend but not compete. Besides that anyone can enter- it’s like Top Chef for the home chef. We’re really all about highlighting the home cool or amateur chef who is not working in a professional kitchen. Culinary students can enter, though…basically anyone who has a different take.
HnS: That’s awesome because there doesn’t seem to be a lot of opportunities for someone who is not a pro to show off their skills.
KF: Exactly. We’ve had lawyers, architects, home makers…running the gamut of every profession. It’s amazing because you can see this work they love while giving them a chance to compete for culinary glory and win awesome prizes they’ll use all the time like cookware from Le Creuset, a knife from Wusthof, or a Microplane grater. We also have local sponsors, for Boston we’re partnering with King Arthur Flour.
HnS: I always wonder how the competers can go for cooking or baking for themselves and their friends and then scaling that up for a few hundred people? It seems like an intimidating challenge.
KF: That’s definitely one of the biggest challenges of the Food Experiments and one of the most intimidating part for amateur chefs- to go from a dinner for six, say, to three hundred “best bites." Most people rise to the challenge and beyond. Pretension has no place in our Experiments- our goal is just to highlight people who love to cook. We also give $50 gift certificates to off-set the cost of ingredients so you don’t have to risk anything by entering. If you love to cook and you have something great to share this is a perfect forum and there’s a very good chance you could come away with an awesome prize.
HnS: Who decides the winner?
KF: We have three categories: the judges’ winners, the audience winners, and the Theo Prize for Experimentation. Our judges for Boston are Rachel Blumenthal from Fork It Over, Boston and Chef Rich Garcia (Executive Chef at 606 Congress). The Grand Prize goes to the audience winner, who will get flown to Boston to compete in the Nationals.
HnS: And what’s in it for us attendees?
KF: Well, first of all it’s a smashing deal. For $15 you get a beer and twenty samples of cake from people who love to cook and are putting their heart and soul in to it. Of course you get to vote. The best part, though, is that you can connect with other people who love food. You get to meet people you might not have, or that you only know on social media. Plus, we’ve got a terrific host (Theo) and a few surprises in store. Come hungry (and thirsty)!
To sign up and compete or purchase tickets for the Boston Cake Experiment visit http://thefoodexperiments.com/tour/boston/. We’ll see you there, and good luck bakers!