Who would ever guess that a professional cake decorator would also have a degree in molecular biology, and be a registered nurse?
Meet Janine Schwendinger, a Hy-Vee Barlow cake decorator, who recently walked away with the top prize at the Hy-Vee Cake Designer Challenge.
More than 190 designers competed in six regional semifinal events, with the top three at each advancing to the finals in Des Moines, Iowa. Among the panel of judges was Joshua John Russell from Last Cake Standing and the Food Network Challenge.
Schwendinger also won the coveted Designers Choice Award.
“That is very special because it is all the decorators who vote for the winner,” she said.
Schwendinger thrives on a challenge. All of the contest finalists had to decorate two cakes in four hours: a wedding cake and then one of their choice. She chose to duplicate one similar to what she had donated to a March of Dimes benefit recently: something of a fairyland theme with three large mushrooms and whimsical elements such as a little fairy house and flowers. It is on display at HyVee.
Schwendinger’s cakes are works of art. Her specialty: sculpted cakes that can look like a castle, an animal, anything that she imagines.
“I first draw out what I want to do on a sheet of paper and then engineer how I can make it work,” she said.
Known for her creative and sometimes over-the-top work, Schwendinger said, “I have regular customers who come back again and again and ask me to create something for whatever event.”
She finishes off her cakes by hand painting by brush with luster dust mixed with vodka. (It gives a nice sheen, she says.) Another of her specialties is decorating with pulled sugar — a favorite decorating technique.
Schwendinger has never been to a cake decorating class. “I am purely self taught,” she said. “I have learned by doing and that is to my advantage, because I think outside the box.”
In truth, not everything she does is cutting-edge. Schwendinger decorates 20 to 50 cakes per day working alongside the other decorators.
What’s next for her? “I would like to get into the training side of this,” she said. “I want to teach the new generation the fine art of cake decorating and break away from the stigma of grocery store decorators.”
She already has been approached to do just that. Reaching out to the very young, Schwendinger plans to run a contest, “Calling All Kids,” this summer for ages 13 and under. It is still in the planning stages, but entrants will submit an essay she will judge. The winner will then get to bake and decorate a cake with her. Entry forms will be available soon at Hy-Vee Barlow.
How did Schwendinger come to cake decorating?
“I didn’t want to be in a lab all day,” she said. “I am a people person. And I loved nursing but I wanted to do something with my artistic abilities and cake decorating seemed to fit.”
She also is a quilter and has a pottery business, Wolf Tracks Pottery.