The cupcake competition I never went to…

For the last two months I’ve been neck deep in recipe testing. Yep. Recipe testing.

What many people don’t know is that I have two culinary degrees from the California Culinary Academy AND I’m an insanely passionate chef.

I’ve been hiding though. My thoughts tend to focus on more reps, boosting productivity, nurturing clients, running businesses, and scaling everything up…logically I don’t have time to perfect my craft in the kitchen.

I didn’t have time.

No.

Wait.

I didn’t MAKE time.

Yeah. That’s more like it.

When I decided to launch a cooking show this year, it was/is my intent to inspire people to LOVE healthy cooking. To teach ways of making healthy food actually taste good and to show how easy it could be? Now THAT was something I could make time for.

I found an ad on Facebook for an upcoming VegFest at the OC Fairgrounds and thought, “Man, if I enter this cupcake competition it would be a great way to get my name out there before the show launches!”

Three weeks of devoted cupcake testing, my team of taste testers were blown away…

“THIS is vegan?!?”

Yep. I know! It’s crazy right?!

I had everything down to a science.

Except the frosting.

After testing so many cupcake sponges and finally locking the best two flavors in, I figured the Italian Meringue Buttercream (made with Aquafaba in this case) would be a snap. I mean, I’ve done it a million times with egg whites.

What could POSSIBLY go wrong?

Everything. That’s what.

I woke up early the day of the competition. I made vegan malted-hazelnut marshmallows and caramel sauce ahead of time so the garnishes would be ready for plating. I even purchased some fancy cupcake papers and holders for added oomph in aesthetics.

I made a fresh batch of both flavors of cupcake sponge: Caramel Root Beer and Chocolate Stout. The latter decided to fall while baking so I made a second batch with success.

Cupcakes cooling, I began to whip up my first batch of Aquafaba…

Aquafaba: the liquid remains from a cooked batch of garbanzo beans. Can also use the liquid from a can of garbanzo beans. This liquid mimics egg whites in many ways.

First batch: never fully whipped. Problem: I measured the liquid in the same cup I used for measuring coconut oil. Apparently, aquafaba and egg whites have this in common. Note taken.

Second batch: great whip! BUT upon adding the vegan butter I ended up with soup. Problem: the kitchen is now 98F and for some reason we are having a heat wave TODAY of all days. Ugh.

Third batch: great whip, again. New recipe in hopes of working didn’t work. Ended up with a big batch of royal icing instead. Problem: I have no F*’n idea.

You can imagine my frustration…

After a brief breakdown call to my mom, and a commitment to not give up, I looked at the time and realized there was no way I’d make it in time even if I decided to just go with a basic shortening-powdered sugar frosting. I sat down on the kitchen floor, laid my head back on the cupboard door and shed a few tears.

How can I use this setback to my advantage, not give up, and still find a way to get the masses to know about me?!?!

In true fashion, I gave myself a time limit on my pity party (which in this case lasted all of 60 seconds), reviewed the situation as-is, then picked myself up to make the most of this experience.

What came next was pure magic!

I gave myself permission to experiment for the sake of just that: experimentation.

Instead of sticking to the original flavor combinations to wow the judges I shifted them all around to create two very flavorful combinations I would be proud to share with our clients that night at the Halloween party.

The second I did that, my creative juices fired up and I ended up with some incredibly tasty treats and a killer photo shoot…just me and those incredible pieces of heavenly bliss…

Caramel Praline Vegan Cupcakes made with Root Beer
The Ultimate Black n Tan: Vegan Chocolate Stout cupcake with malted hazelnut marshmallows and spiced apple jam

And as for the client feedback that night?

“These are the BEST cupcakes I’ve ever had!”
“It’s so moist! Can I say that?”
“These are VEGAN?! They taste so good!”
“I can’t stop at just one!”
“I lost count of how many I ate…”

One guy dropped a bit of frosting on the ground, picked it up and ate it so he didn’t miss out on any of the eating experience. :P

Since that day, I’ve been testing a new recipe EVERY day AND doing a proper photo shoot for each, of course ;) I mean, let’s face it, food isn’t good unless it has it’s own Instagram account, right?

Because of that one fatal moment in time, I dug SO deep into my creative capacity and renewed my immense love for cooking. I literally conjure up new flavors and presentations in my sleep.

I study proper angles and lighting, practice shots with different settings on the DSLR iPhone app I use.

I work to master vegan substitutes for the classical French methods I’ve been trained to use.

And btw, I have not given up my conquest to master the art of aquafaba based baking! Though I did join a support group on Facebook in hopes, no, INTENTIONS of getting it right the next time. And yes, it DOES exist.

Now, when my show launches…construction permitting (that’s a story for another day)…I’ll be SO ready! In the meantime, I’ve got loads of recipes and beautiful images stacking up for the new blog. Like this one…

Vanilla Bean Vegan Panna Cotta with Fresh Strawberries and Pomegranate Seeds

The moral of the story here: learn to make the most of your adversity and you’ll succeed far beyond your imagination!


Alida is a gym-junkie, student of comparative religions, yogi, amateur gardener, and a Unicorn. Other non-fancy titles include: Certified Transformational Nutrition Coach, Co-Owner of Mind Soul Fit OC in Newport Beach, Life Coach (Founder of Ambassador for Goodness), Blogger, Chef and Speaker.

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