As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Such has been my judging team-mantra for the last couple of years. In fact, the team of judges for Julia M. Usher’s Cookie Art Competition™ has been such a well-oiled machine that the last thing I wanted to do this year was to shake it up, especially with the very limited time between the end of last year’s competition and the start of this one.
However, all good things must come to an end, and such was the case with judge Ginny Levack, aka Creative Cookier. Ginny was one of my first judges, joining me at the last Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show back in 2018, and then the next year in Missouri where the competition was filmed for Food Network. (What a time that was!) She has applied a tremendous amount of energy and expertise to every competition ever since, and I couldn’t be more grateful for her thorough, reasoned, and very balanced approach to the judging process. As you may or may not know, Ginny recently opened The Pink Foyer, the most charming sweets boutique in Galveston, Texas. This new enterprise, on top of all of her others, has Ginny working triple overtime, and so something had to give. Unfortunately for us, it was judging this competition. Ginny, you will be so very missed – more than I can possibly express. I’m just hoping I can stop by Galveston after the competition concludes at That Takes the Cake (TTTC) Show in Austin to give you a huge hug and personal thank-you (and, of course, to taste some of your signature Pink Foyer macarons)!
But this is a bittersweet story. As sad as I am to see Ginny go, I am elated to welcome the über-talented gingerbread maestro Beatriz Muller to the judging team! In 2021, Beatriz won first place in this competition with a truly remarkable 3-D kitchen mixer with moving parts. But Beatriz’s accolades long pre-date Julia M. Usher’s Cookie Art Competition™ and have been growing exponentially ever since, as you can see in her bio below. Welcome, Beatriz, I am thrilled to have you on the team!
Last but not least, veteran judges Sandie Beltran (You Can Call Me Sweetie), Stephanie Kappel (The Hungry Hippopotamus), and Laura Saporiti (Laura Saporiti Pastry & Cake Art) return, bringing with them immeasurable technical knowledge and judging experience. That all being said, here’s what the 2023 team looks like in a snapshot . . .
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 all of the judges’ detailed bios below. As you’ll see, the 2023 team is comprised of ultra-talented and accomplished artists whose expertise covers just about every cookie decorating technique and medium you could imagine. I am so pleased and honored to have these cookiers on board this year!
Sandie Beltran is the founder of You Can Call Me Sweetie and Sweetie Academy, a custom cookie boutique and cookie decorating school located in Georgia 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.”
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 Decorating, Edible 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.
Beatriz Muller is a Certified Master Sugar Artist and a gingerbread architect and engineer. From her workshop in Ontario, Canada, she has been running Cakes by Beatriz for almost 20 years. During the holiday season, Beatriz and her staff called “Gingerneers” are dedicated to creating custom-order cookie art and intricate gingerbread buildings and structures. Beatriz’s style is very clean and precise, with delicate and intricate embroidery and royal icing details. It is inspired by the visual arts, architecture, and beautiful 00ornamental designs that are created around the world. Her work has won multiple awards including first, second, and third at the National Gingerbread House Competition in North Carolina. She is also a winner of Food Network’s Holiday Gingerbread Showdown and The Big Bake. In 2021, Beatriz won first place in the first virtual edition of Julia M. Usher’s Cookie Art Competition™ and, in 2020, she was nominated as a cookie finalist in the American Cake Awards. Her work has been featured in multiple blogs and magazines, and she has had many appearances on TV networks throughout the years. In 2022, Beatriz’s work debuted on the big screen when she was commissioned by Discovery+ to make six gingerbread pieces for the movie “A Gingerbread Christmas.”
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).
And, as the 2023 competition will return to an in-person format administered by TTTC Show, I can once again judge instead of simply overseeing the process! Yay! (We judge all entries blind, meaning that no judge can know the identity of the entrants. When the competition was online in 2021 and 2022, I received all entries and so was relegated to a supervisory role.) Anywho, since I am officially a 2023 judge, I’ll toss in my bio for your perusal too
Julia M. Usher is a world-renowned sugar artist most recognized for her pioneering work in 3-D cookies. She is also the author of two books, 13 e-books, and an app, all about cookie decorating. When not spreading her love for cookie art in classes across the globe or online, Julia produces videos for her popular YouTube channel and website; oversees Cookie Connection™, the world’s largest online cookie decorating community; designs cookie stencils and cutters under her JULIA brand; and manages Julia M. Usher’s Cookie Art Competition™, which was filmed in 2019 for a Food Network documentary. Julia is Past President of the International Association of Culinary Professionals and has received multiple food writing, decorating, and video awards, including James Beard Food Writing Award finalist (2008), Cordon d’ Or Food Writing Award winner (2009), the first-ever Cake Masters Magazine Cookie Award winner (2013), Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show (OSSAS) Medal of Honor (2014), both Edible Artists Global Academy Association (EAGAA) US and International Sugar Artist of the Year Awards (2016), Cake Masters Magazine Cookie Icon (2017), TASTE Breakout Foodie of the Year (2019), and Best Online Cookie Decorating Classes from The Spruce Eats (2020). She is also a two-time Global Sugar Hero finalist in the Australian Cake Artists & Decorators Association (ACADA) annual Cake Oscar Awards (2021/2022), and currently a finalist in the global 2023 Positive Leadership Awards for her impact on the cookie arts community. Most recently, she launched a series of licensed 3-D cookie decorating courses in Asian markets with the world-renowned Japan Salonaise Association. Julia’s favorite mantra is “live sweetly”, which she urges everyone to do every day!
A huge round of advance applause to my judges for the extraordinary effort that they will soon be putting into judging your entries.
Oh, and if you’re interested in sponsoring this competition, I would love to have you! I’m trying to make this special return-to-in-person year another record-breaking one in terms of prizes! A link to the 2023 Sponsor Offering is also below.