If you were involved with Julia M. Usher’s Cookie Art Competition™ last year, then these faces will be very familiar to you. Yes, my 2021 judging team will remain intact for 2022 for the very simple reason that my judges are experts in what they do and the judging process. Plus, I trust them implicitly with doing your entries justice – I know in my heart of hearts that they will deliver the most thorough and fair evaluations imaginable! If you’re not familiar with these folks, it is my distinct pleasure and honor to introduce them to you now . . .

Most of these well-known contributors to the cookie community have been judging my competition since at least 2019, when it was filmed for Food Network, which means they’re among the very few who understand the unique judging requirements of 3-D cookies, particularly when the stakes are high. They’ve all had extensive judging or competition experience as well, and their collective cookie decorating and product experience leaves them with expert-level status in almost every technique, ranging from precision-piping to handpainting to airbrushing and stenciling. I couldn’t think of a more talented, capable, and qualified set of judges. And I know from firsthand experience that they all take the judging process extremely seriously. I recall many (extremely!) late nights of reviewing every entry detail and individual score, just to be sure that each entrant got the fairest and most instructive evaluation possible.

You can hear directly from three of the four judges in the video below, created back in 2021 but still relevant to this year’s competition. And, of course, I encourage you to read their detailed bios that follow beneath the video.

Stephanie Kappel, the owner and cookie artist at The Hungry Hippopotamus, believes that cookies are the perfect marriage of technical skill, artistic expression, and visible affection. Her work has been featured on ABC Action News and in American Cake DecoratingEdible Artists Network, and Southern Living magazines. She has been interviewed on Cookie Connection and the Power of a Cookie Podcast, and featured as a Superhero of Sweets by Ann Clark Cookie Cutters. Her clients include Disney and Williams-Sonoma, and she most recently competed in the finale of Holiday Gingerbread Showdown on Food Network. Stephanie is a Bluprint instructor, contributing educator for SugarEd Productions Sugar Art School, and proud baker for Icing Smiles.

Ginny Levack and her husband, Doug, are the inventors of the original Stencil Genie and duo behind Creative Cookier and Genie Products for Better Baking, which offer an array of products and services specially designed for cookie decorators. When Ginny is not coming up with new products, she produces themed cookie retreats and cruises that bring cookie decorating enthusiasts together with well-known cookie celebrities. Ginny and Doug have received two Cookie Connection Cookiers’ Choice Awards, as well as an EAGA Innovations Award. As one judge said: “I love that the Levacks don’t just see cookie artists as customers, but as friends and members of a community. This spirit infuses everything they do, and is, no doubt, the secret to their incredible success.”

Sandie Beltran is the founder of You Can Call Me Sweetie and Sweetie Academy, a custom cookie boutique and cookie decorating school located in Miami, Florida that specializes in made-to-order sugar cookies as well as group and private cookie decorating classes. Sandie began her love of cookie decorating in October 2012 with making cookie sets for her family and friends. The popularity of her sugar art grew so rapidly that, by January 2015, she was able to take her passion for cookie decorating to full time. Sandie has won Cookie Connection’s 2014 Cookier of the Year Award and been selected as a finalist for Cake Masters Magazine‘s 2015 Cookie Award. Says Sandie, “I truly strive for perfection and enjoy working with intricate and innovative designs that give the wow factor to any event. I love sharing my cookie journey with my students and helping them achieve their full potential in this wonderful world of cookie decorating.” 

Laura Saporiti, owner of Laura Saporiti Pastry and Cake Art, is a pastry chef and cake and cookie artist based in Italy. She worked in the past as an art historian, but currently loves to travel the world, teaching her passion of sugar art and furthering her mission of raising the professional stature of decorating. Laura has had the honor of being published in several international magazines, such as Pasticceria Internazionale (Italy), Cake Central (USA), Cake Masters Magazine (UK), Sugar Magazine (India), and Café & Gateaux (China). Laura has likewise received many awards for her work, including: first prize at Cake Design Italian Festival (2013), special prize for aesthetics at Italian Cup of Cake Design (2014), gold medal at Britain’s Cake International (2014), and Rising Star Award (2017) at the Golden Tiers Awards organized by American Cake Decorating magazine and the New York Cake Show. She has also won the title of Best Italian Painting Artist two times in a row, in both 2015 and 2016, and she proudly wears the badge of first-place winner in the 3-D category of Julia M. Usher’s Cookie Art Competition™ (2020, USA). Her impressive international reputation has earned her invitations to judge several competitions, such as Italian Cake Festival (2015/16), I’m Chef Bakery Master Championship (China, 2015), Istanbul Cake Show (2016/17), New York Cake Show (2016), and Cakeology Fest (India, 2019).

A huge round of advance applause to my judges for the extraordinary effort that they will soon be putting into judging your entries.  Speaking of which . . . if you haven’t yet registered, now’s the time to do so. My judges would very much appreciate getting a clear read on the number of entries they can expect, so they can allot the proper amount of time to you. And, remember, there is only upside to entering – learning and growth are guaranteed; plus, a record-breaking $19,000 in prizes is at stake! For more info about registration, rules, and our judging process, see the links below. And, don’t forget, entries are due September 15, 2022, 5 pm CT, so there’s still ample time to create!