Friday, August 30, 2013

YA Friday: Cupcake Wars

Starting a few years back, when the teen services department was just getting up and running in my library district, my branch's teen person decided to offer an Iron Chef-themed program for teens. Since then, Iron Chef and other food competition-style programs have been surefire hits when part of our teen programming schedule. This summer, I helped my branch's main teen staffer put on just such a program: Cupcake Wars. Here's what we did:

The Preparations: My colleague and I prepared the program room for the competition by setting out all our tables, covering them with tablecloths, and setting out individual work stations complete with paper plates, plastic utensils, and rubber gloves (a necessity for a program in which customers are handling food). We also set out a pretty impressive table of supplies; in addition to the cupcakes, there were a variety of icings, candies, fruits, and odd items (Chex mix, bacon bits) available for the competing chefs to use in their creations. Preparations also included pre-ordering un-iced cupcakes from our local grocery store and picking them up before the program.


The Challenge: Once teens had arrived for the program and made their way to the work stations, we shared the rules of the event. Each teen would be working individually (sometimes teens work in pairs or teams, but we had enough supplies for a solo competition this time around). The challenge was to choose a book--any book--and create a cupcake creation somehow inspired by or related to that book. Each teen had three cupcakes with which to work, and each teen could use only four additional types of food items from the supplies table. Final creations would be judged by peers on appearance and fidelity to book inspiration, and a panel of official judges (staff and a designated teen participant) would also judge based on appearance and taste.

The Competition: Once rules were explained and questions answered, teens went to the supplies table a few at a time to gather their ingredients. To avoid total supply-grabbing chaos, we had teens head to the supplies based on birth month. Once supplies were in hand, teens had a total of about 30 minutes to work their cupcake magic. They could return to the supplies table for additional quantities of any of the original four supplies they had chosen.

The Twist: What's a cooking competition without a twist? With five minutes of work time left, we announced that each chef could add a fifth food element to their creations. Cue the run on the supplies table. (My favorite was the boy who chose Chex mix as his fifth element, not because he wanted to add it to his cupcake but because he was hungry.)

The Peer Judging: When work time had elapsed, teen chefs were instructed to put down their materials and plate their best cupcake to be judged. Each teen was then given two popsicle sticks. These popsicle sticks were used to cast peer votes; each teen had two votes, and each teen could only vote for his or her own creation once. Teens were instructed to look at all the creations in the room and then cast their votes based on best appearance and best fidelity to book inspiration. These votes were then tallied while teens ate one of their other cupcakes.

The Official Judging: One by one, each teen brought his or her formally plated cupcake to the judge's table for presentation. Teen chefs were asked about their book inspiration and how that translated into their cupcake creation. Judges sliced into each cupcake and tried a small piece for taste.


The Awards: After tallying peer votes and conferring over appearance and taste, the official judges announced four winning cupcakes: the top two peer-voted creations, the tastiest book-to-cupcake interpretation, and the most daring cupcake. Our peer-voted winners were a cupcake based on The Maze and one based on I'd Tell You I Love You But Then I'd Have to Kill You. The tastiest went to the cupcake inspired by The Sin-Eater's Confession, and the most daring was definitely the cupcake based on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (yes, that's marshmallow fluff with bacon bits that you see; not particularly tasty). Each of these four winners posed with their creations before being awarded a rather large, fancy, store-bought cupcake. All participants were able to choose an ARC or leftover summer reading prize book as well just for participating, so everyone left happy.

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We've hosted a number of Iron Chef and Cupcake Wars programs in the past, and interestingly, they tend to attract lots of teens who don't normally frequent library programs. We're not quite sure why this program is so much more appealing to these library-lite teens; have you had any experience with this phenomenon, and to what do you attribute it?

Also, any plans to offer a food competition program? Let me tell you, hosting a snacks-themed challenge around the Super Bowl is always a hit.

14 comments:

  1. So fun! I bet your teen patrons had a blast. Will recommend to my youth services librarians.

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  2. This program looks amazing! I will definitely be adapting some of your ideas for my library, if that's ok with you. I've had a Iron Chef program in the past and it was very popular. Thank you!

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    1. Adapt away! I'm glad to help share what works in our library in hopes something may work in others, too.

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  3. Hi Amy! I'm very curious about the snack based superbowl party you talked about. How does that work?

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    1. For the Super Bowl edition of this food wars program, my teen person buys a bunch of items that could, in theory, be combined to make interesting dips for chips and/or vegetables. Sour cream, cream cheese, seasoning mixes, refried beans--basically anything that comes from dip recipes you could find on Pinterest.

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  4. I am having a Cupcake Wars program at my library next week. I love what you did and I am taking some of your suggestions. What types of ingredients did you use?

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    1. As you can see in the photo, we used all manner of ingredients--different icings, candies, marshmallows, sprinkles, savory items (Chex mix, pretzels, even bacon bites)... Basically, if we could envision a teen trying to use it on a cupcake, we tried it. Have fun!

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  5. One big draw is that many kids go hungry. There is a poverty of food resources that is well hidden within mostly functioning society. If we can have food at a Teen Event, it will always have a bigger turn out. This is a good program for allowing creativity, and food. :)

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  6. Hiya! Did you have frosting cones or did they frost with a knife?

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    1. I don't completely remember, but I believe they frosted cupcakes with either plastic knives or the backs of plastic spoons.

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  7. Did you pre-select the books the kids got to choose from? I did this last year, and that was one of the challenges--they only got a few minutes looking at the book before they had to start decorating. For the second annual this summer, I am having trouble choosing books! I have a few repeat kids, so don't want to use the same books. Any help!

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  8. Amy,
    Last summer I did cupcake wars and had the kids choose the books from pre-selected titles. This year, I don't want to repeat titles because some kids are repeat participants. Do you have titles that you used?

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    1. Claudia, the program was several years ago, so I don't remember specifics. Since this is a repeat program for you, however, I wonder if you could give the kids the heads up before the program to come with a title in mind. Either that, or choose some major titles that have been popular in your library, or that are on state award lists, etc. Classics can be a good route, too.

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  9. We did an Iron Chef Candy Sushi program over the summer, and had great attendance. And they were actually teens! I was looking to do a Cupcake battle, and I love what you did. Hope it's okay that I plan unabashedly steal your idea!

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