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Tears of joy rolled down Alice Cooke’s face when she was crowned winner of Food Network’s cake design competition show “Cake Wars.” Her hard work had finally paid off.
Cooke, owner of Cakealicious in New Town, took first place among four professional cake decorators who competed on the show in an episode that aired Aug. 8.
“Competing was very interesting because it was so much fun, but there was lots of stress too because of the time constraints,” Cooke said of the experience. “But I absolutely loved it and would do it again.”
It was a life-long dream come true for Cooke, who began “baking” as a little girl in Danville, Va., where she would make mud pies in the yard.
“I pretended the rocks were nuts,” Cooke recalled with a laugh.
Little did she know she was practicing for a career as a cake designer.
“My grandmother was a baker, and her specialties were coconut cake and buttermilk biscuits,” Cooke said. “I watched her and learned a lot from her.”
Though her mother was not much of a baker, “she likes to take credit for what I do because she says she craved birthday cake when she was pregnant with me,” Cooke joked.
Cooke used to prepare homemade birthday cakes for her two children when they were growing up. Though she worked in real estate, her dream was to operate her own cake design business. She began taking basic decorating classes, watched videos on the Internet, and studied under famed pastry chefs and cake designers such as Ron Ben-Israel, Bronwen Weber, Mercedes Strachwsky, and Colette Peters.
In 2002, Cooke opened her first business, a retail shop that carried a variety of her homemade items, though her cakes were the most popular sellers.
“I didn’t know the cakes would be what would really take off,” she said.
Eventually, she decided to focus solely on baking and decorating cakes for customers for numerous occasions, including birthdays, anniversaries, and, especially, weddings.
“We do a lot of wedding cakes, that’s our biggest thing,” she said. “But we also do birthday cakes, and cakes for anniversaries, retirements, you name it.”
She opened Cakealicious in Yorktown in 2011, but quickly outgrew the building and relocated to its current location in December 2013. Now, in addition to the cakes, she sells coffee, tea, smoothies, cupcakes and other sweet treats, including homemade gelato. Cooke trained with an Italian instructor to learn to make genuine gelato.
“I also learned how to be a barista, something I didn’t think I would do,” she said.
It typically takes two days from start to finish to design a cake. Some of her more memorable creations have been a Godzilla cake, a lighthouse cake, a chainsaw for a groom’s cake, a diver’s helmet for a retirement cake, and the stadium of Virginia Tech, also for a groom.
“That took a long time, but that was a lot of fun,” she recalled.
More recently, she designed a cake of a shark coming out of the water with its jaws open for a seven-year-old’s birthday.
“That was interesting,” she said.
Also interesting was her appearance on “Cake Wars” in which Cooke, with assistance from her daughter, Ashley, had to bake and design cakes celebrating the 75th anniversary of the children’s book character Madeline. Cooke took top honors for her cake, a pink champagne cake shaped as an inverted Eiffel Tower with Parisian shops standing on top.
When her name was called as the winner, “time kind of stopped and it felt like a dream,” Cooke said. “I still can’t believe it happened but now that I have actually seen it on TV, I realize it’s real. I am so blessed and grateful to be able to do this.”
Cooke took home a $10,000 award for winning the contest.
“I don’t have any plans for the prize money yet,” Cooke said. “It would be really nice, though, to take a small vacation. I love going to the beach.”
As far as for what is next, Cooke hopes to expand Cakealicious, and perhaps open a second location. Her daughter will continue to be by her side.
“She’s a budding decorator, which I think is pretty cool,” Cooke said. “I’ve been waiting for it.”