Mark Keating and Olivia McCaw celebrate life events with cake decorating and baking talent
As the first Rowan College at Burlington County students to ever enter the “Let Them Eat Cake” competition, held in Philadelphia in March, Olivia McCaw, 20, and Mark Keating, 23, set the bar high by taking home the top student prize.
Keating, a Cherry Hill resident, fell in love with baking at a young age.
“Ever since I was little I was baking; with my mom, we’d make little random cakes, and ever since then I fell in love with it,” Keating said. “Over the years, I’ve built the talent of loving to do it and constantly doing it over and over. It’s such a passion of mine.”
Keating and McCaw competed against more than two dozen bakers, comprised of students and professionals, coming in first with the “Best Student” award. The award, Keating said, accounted for the cake as a whole, including the appearance, flavor and concept.
“We took about two weeks to complete the cake,” McCaw, a Cinnaminson resident, said. “We did most of it beforehand and just finished assembling it at the competition.”
The theme given to the contestants was “childhood fun and fantasy,” which the students met with a Candy Land design.
“I was thinking of different ideas we were tossing around and then I started thinking about kids and, I don’t know why, I started thinking about sweets and candy,” McCaw said. “All of sudden I was like, ‘Candy Land, that’s perfect,’ because it’s a childhood game and everyone kind of relates to it or knows of, or has heard of, it. I thought it would be perfect.”
McCaw said her grandmother inspired her to take on baking as more than just a hobby.
“When I was younger, I always liked to watch people baking; I used to watch shows and movies,” McCaw said. “My grandmom, she bakes a lot and I’m inspired by her.”
Before college, McCaw would bake birthday cakes for friends and family, but nothing like what she is capable of now, she said.
“It sounds cheesy, but my favorite part is seeing people’s reactions to things,” McCaw said. “Everyone’s always going to celebrate something, like a birthday, and it’s fun. It’s never going to end.”
The pastry arts students said they were hesitant at first to participate in the competition when their chef recommended they sign up. However, they showed up with the mindset of having fun, rather than winning, and credit this to their success.
“You know, we were first-time enterers, our school has never been in it, we didn’t expect to win,” Keating said. “Just going into it for fun is kind of what made us really want to do it.”
“We figured we’d give it a shot,” McCaw said. “There’s nothing to lose, even if we didn’t win or anything, we were still able to be a part of something like this.”
The Candy Land-themed cake was a play on Tiramisu, Keating said, with a vanilla bean cake soaked in coffee and rum with a cream cheese mousse and Swiss buttercream frosting. The students were shocked, they said, when the judges called their table for the award.
“We both just looked at each other like, ‘what? Is this really happening?’ We entered this just for fun and we’re taking home the Best Student award. It felt really good and we’re both really honored,” Keating said. “It’s really cool to be one of the first RCBC students to enter this and win it. It’s a cherry on top.”
Both McCaw and Keating are planning to stay local after college, at least for a little while. McCaw works at ShopRite as a cake decorator, something she hopes she can continue after she graduates this spring as she looks to start a career. She said a dream would be to open her own bakery.
Keating works as the cake decorator for Sunflour Bakeshop in Mt. Laurel, as well as LuluLemon. He said he’d like to make the move to Philadelphia in the future, but right now he is happy with where he is and what he is doing.
“Olivia and Mark’s dedication to their craft and developing their talent were key attributes to their success in the competition,” said Chef James Brudnicki, interim director of culinary arts, hospitality and tourism, in a release. “Successful students like these are a big reason that we are recognized as one of the top culinary schools in New Jersey.”