When Nancy Becker entered her first "Let Them Eat Cake!" competition four years ago, she won the amateur competition. Last year, she won the professional competition.
A former graphic artist, Ms. Becker was a 3-D animator, designing fly-through renderings for architectural companies. But a layoff in 2008 pushed her to pursue cake baking more seriously. Until that point, it had been merely a hobby.
"Let Them Eat Cake!" is a cake-decorating competition and benefit for The Midwife Center in the Strip District. Last year's theme was "Six Degrees of Separation," celebrating the event's sixth year, so Ms. Becker's winning cake featured six iconic Pittsburgh images:
A Clark bar, a Heinz ketchup bottle, a Klondike bar, a Primanti's sandwich, an Eat'n Park Smiley cookie and an Iron City Beer cup -- all sculpted from cake.
The theme for this year's "Let Them Eat Cake!" benefit is "1982... Birth of a Dream Come True," celebrating The Midwife Center's 30th anniversary. And yes, Ms. Becker is entering again, but is mum about the design.
Saturday's event at 7:30 p.m. at Pittsburgh Opera in the Strip District will feature gourmet appetizers, open wine and beer bar, Champagne tasting and live 1980s music. A VIP pre-reception, starting at 6:30 p.m., will feature live music by a Pittsburgh Opera performer.
Cakes will be judged by Angelique BambErg and Jason Roth of Pittsburgh City Paper; Megan Hart, TLC's "Next Great Baker" contestant and cake designer for Dozen Bake Shop in Lawrenceville and Oakland; Chuck Kerber of Chaz Catering, Upper St. Clair; Frank Locante of Penzeys Spices, Strip District; Don Winkie of Tuscan Inn, Hampton; and Ray Klavon of Klavon's Ice Cream, Strip District.
Eight professionals and 17 amateurs have registered to compete, some with more than one cake.
Tickets are $45 online or $60 at the door. VIP tickets that include the pre-reception cost $75.
For information or tickets: midwifecenter.org or 412-321-6880.
Ms. Becker is in the process of opening her own shop, Madison Ave Specialty Cakes, in Perrysville, planning to sell cupcakes, cookies, mini-pies and even dog treats (it's such a big dog-walking area). Ms. Becker will continue to take orders for special-occasion cakes as well as holding children's birthday parties and cake-decorating classes for children and adults.
In 2010, she designed and baked a scale-model Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall cake for the hall's 100th anniversary.
"My architectural background was a big help as I used the actual 100-year-old blueprints to make it," she said. The cake served more than 300 guests.
In keeping with Food & Flavor's theme this week of farmers markets, note that when it's early in the season, one thing you often can get at the farmers market is plants. I used to buy herb plants for my windowsill at the East Liberty market when we lived in a little apartment in Friendship. (No garden? No problem.)
Here are two additional places you can pick up your vegetable and herb plants this month:
Seedling Sale: Fill your garden with locally grown flowers, vegetables and herbs while supporting small local farms. Pick up plants Saturday and Sunday, May 19 and 20, at Pittsburgh Public Market, Strip District. Market hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. pittsburghpublicmarket.org.
Herb Plant Sale: Herbs, books, handmade and flea market items will be hawked from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 26 at the Herb Society's Herb Plant Sale at Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve in Fox Chapel.
The event will feature a wide variety of herbs, including the "2012 Herb of the Year" -- roses. (Who knew?)
Word is the pickin's are better the earlier you get there. Customers are encouraged to bring their own containers.
The Western Pennsylvania unit of the Herb Society of America maintains public herb gardens at Mellon Park in Shadyside and Old Economy Village in Ambridge. Lunch meetings are held on the third Monday of each month. Information: herbsociety.org/units/western-pa.html.
Farm to Table Lunch and Learn: Nathan Holmes of Clarion River Organics discusses CSA (community-supported agriculture) shares at 11:30 a.m. Friday, May 18, at Pittsburgh Public Market, Strip District. The class is free, and lunch is provided. Pre-registration is required by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Waynesburg Sheep and Fiber Festival: My fellow Food & Flavor columnist Miriam Rubin will demonstrate Elysian Fields Farm Rosemary-Garlic Grilled Lamb Rib Chops at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, May 20, at the Sheep and Fiber Festival at the Greene County Fairgrounds in Waynesburg. The fest runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday: sheepandfiber.com.
Wine and Local Produce Dinner: Evolution Grille in Sarver and Wooden Door Winery in New Kensington are teaming up to pair wines with locally grown produce for a dinner at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Evolution Grille. The dinner, consisting of five courses and five wines, costs $75 per person. For reservations, e-mail email@example.com or call 724-294-2088. Information: evolutiongrille.com.
A Taste of Greece: This festival is a smorgasbord of all things Greek -- souvlaki (lamb) and Greek chicken dinners, spanakopita, gyros, Greek salad, calamari, Greek yogurt and cheese, pastries and even something called a "Baklava Blizzard" -- vanilla ice cream topped with baklava shavings, chocolate syrup, whipped cream and a cherry. The festival runs from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. May 24-27 in Holy Trinity Church's interim location, the former Northway Elementary School, 495 Browns Lane, Ross. The church is in the process of building a new cathedral near La Roche College. holytrinitypgh.org.
Submit information about food festivals, special dinners, chef appearances, charity banquets and other food-related events to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll list your information in an upcoming Food Column.
Rebecca Sodergren: email@example.com. First Published May 17, 2012 4:00 AM