If you’ve never attended the Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show held annually during the Tulsa State Fair, it can be quite the sweet treat for the senses.
Every year, students from OSU Institute of Technology’s School of Culinary Arts volunteer their time during the two day event to help out with everything from loading and unloading cakes, running errands for organizers and cake artists, assisting during cooking demos, and monitoring the cakes while on display to the public.
Some of the student volunteers were there for the second, maybe even third year, but there were also quite a few who the Sugar Art Show was a completely new experience.
Katie Harper is a first semester culinary student from Foyil who had never heard of the show before coming to OSUIT.
“I thought it would be pretty interesting to see it,” Harper said, and she wasn’t disappointed. “The things I see are pretty astounding, and they make it out of cake.”
The only thing fellow first-semester culinary student Tristen Blake could say when he saw the cakes was “how?”
“One lady told me she spent a week just making black berries for her cake,” said Blake, who is from Salina, Kansas. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to make anything like this. I can’t bake a cake to save my life.”
Joyce Vowell, another first semester culinary student, had a similar sentiment.
“I have trouble icing a cookie,” Vowell said, but that’s exactly why she wanted to be involved and volunteer at the Sugar Art Show. “When I started culinary school, I challenged myself to do all the things I didn’t know and didn’t think I was interested in.”
Although originally from Oklahoma, Vowell has spent most of her adult life in Oregon and after a very successful career in the cosmetology industry working for the Redken company, she decided it was time for a change.
Still, she didn’t know what to expect when she walked through the doors of the River Spirit Expo building.
“You’re overwhelmed. This is far better than what you see on the Cooking Channel,” she said. “This is invigorating to me. I’m starting a new career at 64. The magnitude of the work that goes into something like these cakes, the months of work, the steps that have to be taken.”
Chef Grady Perryman, an instructor at the School of Culinary Arts, has been a tasting judge at the Sugar Art Show for 10 years, about the same amount of time students from the school have been volunteering at the show.
“It’s good networking for the students. They get to meet these cake artists. It’s the best sugar art in the world, some of the best craftsmanship in the world,” Perryman said. “There’s always something you can learn. They may see something they thought they could never do.”
Harper said volunteering at the show has inspired her.
“I took a basic decorating class, but I’d like to be able to create cakes like this. This gives me a lot more insight into the industry. It helps me in the long run,” she said.
Vowell said volunteering at the show also helps hone other skills chefs and those in the culinary field need.
“I think it builds really good people skills, good communication skills,” she said.“You learn how to articulate when people ask questions about the cakes or about the show. It’s the same skills you need when customers ask about the food you’re cooking.”
Perryman said about 15 students volunteer every year to help out with the Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show.
“They really count on our students to be there for that extra labor,” he said. “I appreciate the students who volunteer. It’s long days, it’s a lot of work. I appreciate all their hard work.”
Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show winners from OSUIT School of Culinary Arts
2nd Place- Chocolate Professional Division: Chef Grady Perryman
1st Place- Chocolate Adult Advanced Division: Amanda Sparlin
2nd Place- Chocolate Adult Beginner Division: Cindy Jones