Cupcake Wars 2017

This was the kind of battle where no one got hurt and everyone got a taste of victory.

The competition between three teams of bakers, designers, builders and musicians — all San Fernando High students from the school’s Career Technical Education Department — presented both cupcake and display creations based around 1950s themes.

The March 17 competition was the second such collaborative event at the school, this year taking inspiration from the cable television program “Cupcake Wars” on The Food Network.

“Last year we did an art show with a theme of surrealism, and each of our classes contributed to that,” said culinary instructor Tina Hartounian. “We had made cupcakes based on art by surrealist artists. And afterwards me and [art instructor] Tarah Davis got to thinking, ‘what if we did ‘Cupcake Wars?’”

They gathered students into teams — Team Elvis, Team Drive-in and Team Diner — and spent nearly a year going over recipes, artistic designs and music to invoke memories from the decade of “Happy Days,” early rock-and-roll, sock hops, hot rods and crew cuts.

The budding bakers, led by Hartouinian’s advanced students, turned out some highly delicious cupcakes. Flavors ranged from carmel corn to peanut butter and banana buttercream, double chocolate with strawberry filling to chocolate chip with chocolate frosting, and some included edible decorations like 45 records and Crackerjack-style popcorn.

Jessica Hernandez, 17, a senior, was one of the Team Elvis student bakers. She said it was fun trying to create something “not from this era, and having to think about what they did back then.”

Karina Sala, 17, a senior, recalled her work on decorating the Team Elvis cupcakes with frosting and other edible additions. “It took me like half a day to get it right,” she said. “I didn’t think it was going to be that hard but my hands were cramping at the end. But it was only really stressing the [day of the judging].”

Team leaders like Lizzie Rodriguez, 18 a senior, had to be versatile enough to step in and help out wherever needed. “I helped with baking, did one or two ‘Elvises…it was really a process. I thought it would go faster but it was really something you had to pay attention to.”

Another team Diner leader Maria Vega, 17, a senior, said she enjoyed the process, even though at times she felt stressed. “Sometimes our cupcakes would come out like muffins and we’d have to re-do it.”   

But the food was only the half of it.

“The culinary kids came up with the concept of the theme — the 1950s — then they met some of my students and we came up with the designs for the displays, which were built in the woodshed,” said art instructor Tarah Davis. “We also did the designs for the T-shirts.

The other students were eager to flex their artistic muscles.

Consuelo Pérez, 17, a senior, designed the image of Presley on a stage for Team Elvis. “I’ve seen his music videos,” said Perez, who is a fan of Presley’s early music. “I think it came out amazing. It took a few months but it was fun working on it.”

Guitarist Jason Trinidad, 17, a senior, took delight in learning a bunch of 1950s songs a band played for each team’s presentation. “We played ‘Hound Dog,’ ‘Jailhouse Rock, ‘Sleepwalk,’ and ‘Johnny B. Goode,’” Hernandez said. “But not one Ritchie Valens song. I was surprised.”

Each team made 200 mini-cupcakes to be eaten by students, and approximately 100 larger ones as their entries.

The entries were then sampled and reviewed by three celebrity judges: Joleen Medina, a pastry chef who has appeared on the cable program “Fabulous Cakes” on TLC and “Cupcake Wars” on The Food Network; Antonia Lofaso, who has appeared on The Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen” and ABC’s “Real O’Neals”; and Christian Navarro, whose story about overcoming alcohol dependency to become a much in-demand chef and caterer was featured on the Oprah Network.

The judging was on a 1-5 scoring system, “one” being considered “novice,” and “five” being “master teen chef.” Among the judging criteria were use of the theme, cupcake flavor and texture, frosting flavor and texture, the background displays supporting the entries, and the oral presentation by the chefs on how the entry was made.

This isn’t just about baking,” Hartounian said. “You need to be able to articulate your ideas clearly. But the judges were really impressed at the professionalism and the detail. Almost everything was made by hand or in-house.”

Team Drive-In, led by Kevin Figueroa, 17, a senior, was judged to have the winning entry — the Crackerjack carmel corn cupcake. They also came up with a banana split cupcake with a strawberry mousse frosting plus a chocolate drizzle and a cherry candy on top.

“We just thought about when you go to the drive-in and the food you get can be like popcorn and ice cream and thought ‘this is it,’” Figueroa said. “It was kinda scary to make all these cupcakes, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. 

 The school’s culinary program is part of C-Cap (Careers through Culinary Arts Program). There is a yearly competition for students, and Jessica Hernandez is headed to the finals with a chance to win a scholarship based on her performance.

Everyone who took part was a winner, from Hartounian’s perspective.

“I was amazed at the [students’] dedication and work ethic. If I had a catering company and could hire them, I would. They are teenagers so they’ve got one foot in childhood and one foot in adulthood. But what people need to understand is they are capable of so much, and they go above and beyond,” she said.

“What the teachers loved was being able to see the talent showcase, because it really was that. We guide and direct them, but it really was their work.”