The business of baking: Teen hones skills at Tupelo bakery, heads to international contest

Summer Williams of Tupelo, who is headed to Johnson & Wales University in September, spent about 14 hours decorating this display cake, which she designed. She'll take it with her to the International Cake Exploration Societe's convention in Lexington, Ky. next month. (Lauren Wood)

Summer Williams of Tupelo, who is headed to Johnson & Wales University in September, spent about 14 hours decorating this display cake, which she designed. She’ll take it with her to the International Cake Exploration Societe’s convention in Lexington, Ky. next month. (Lauren Wood)

By Ginna Parsons
Daily Journal
TUPELO – Summer Williams probably should have known in kindergarten when she dressed as a chef for career day that a culinary degree was in her future.

And so it is.

In September, the soon-to-be 18-year-old will head to Charlotte, N.C., to study at the prestigious Johnson & Wales University, which is internationally recognized for its Culinary Arts program. It has five campuses in the U.S.

Fortunately, she has a little experience under her belt. Williams began working for Rose McCoy at Creative Cakes in east Tupelo about a year and a half ago.

“At first, I did retail stuff, like working the front counter, stocking, helping customers,” said the recent Tupelo Christian Preparatory School graduate. “Gradually, as I learned more I started decorating cakes for the freezer. Now, I help with wedding cakes. It was a gradual process.”

Williams wants to earn a culinary arts degree, but she also wants a business degree.

“Johnson & Wales was the only place where I could get a bachelor’s in business along with baking and pastry,” she said. “I think my ultimate goal at some point is to own my own bakery. I’m not sure when that will be. It depends on what opportunities arise along the way.”

Williams said her parents, Roger and Lisa, have been extremely supportive of her college decision.

“They’re really open to it,” she said. “They even took me to look at the Rhode Island campus, but I chose Charlotte because it’s a little bit less of a culture shock.”

The teen, who received a Presidential Scholarship, said her course load will be heavy on academics the first semester, and the second and third semesters will focus on culinary labs. Her sophomore year will look much the same. Her last two years will be mostly business-centered.

“They also have a study abroad program,” she said. “They have an intern/extern program and you have to do one or the other, so I’ve thought about studying abroad. But a lot of big companies here have programs, too, like Disney and Bank of America.”

In the meantime, Williams will turn her attention to attending her first ICES convention in August in Lexington, Ky. The International Cake Exploration Societé’s convention is not a competition, although participants do take decorated display cakes to show off to one another.

Williams will be taking a four-layer original design decorated in dark teal, blue, lime green, gold and ivory. The top layer and the third layer are hand-painted.

“It’s the biggest cake I’ve ever done by myself,” she said. “If I had to guess, I’d say I spent 10 hours just painting the two layers and then another four decorating it, so about 14 hours in all, I guess. It took a long time.”
Williams will take away ideas from the ICES convention, but the time spent there won’t begin to compare with her experience at Creative Cakes.

“I’ve learned so much here, so many tips and tricks,” she said. “I feel like I’m really prepared for school. But it’s not just about the decorating. It’s also washing the dishes and everything else that goes with it.”