For Katie Knowles, cake department manager for Marketplace Food in Minot, North Dakota, bringing smiles to customers’ faces is an everyday reward for a job well done. The winner of the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association’s (IDDBA) 22nd Annual Cake Decorating Challenge says she loves the aspect of making someone’s occasion truly special.

Click here to view a slideshow of the IDDBA 17 Cake Decorating Challenge.

“When they come pick up their cakes and the kids are happy and they think it’s so cool what we’ve done for them, that’s what I enjoy,” says Knowles, who competed June 4-6 in the IDDBA’s Cake Decorating Challenge, along with two other contestants. “I have been with (Marketplace Food) for 12-plus years. I worked part time for a long time while my kids were little. The last few years I became a full-time employee. Now I manage the cake department where I have five other staff members, and we make cakes all day long.”

Knowles was presented the top award on June 6 by Jewel Hunt, IDDBA chairman and group vice president, bakery for Albertsons Companies.  

Meghan Rolls of Harps Food Stores in Springdale, AR, placed second, and Kassie Mather of Hy-Vee in Cedar Rapids, IA, finished third.

These top cake decorators in the nation’s supermarket industry were selected to compete in the prestigious annual event.

There are three phases to the competition. On the first day, each contestant decorated enough cakes to fill one multi-level, eight-foot bakery case. On the second day, they decorated a themed cake, which this year was based on this summer’s Disney/Pixar blockbuster movie Cars 3. On the final day of the competition, they decorated a tiered wedding cake.

“I did the top tier by piping with royal icing and, for the middle tier, I did an embroidered look, where you use royal icing to feather it in with a paint brush,” Knowles says of her wedding cake. “I finished the bottom with some fondant ruffles. I love doing wedding cakes. We always do a lot more in the summer. To get people that special centerpiece on their wedding day is a lot of fun.”

She prepared for the Cars theme competition by watching the movie three times with her children. ‘I wanted it to look like a stage,” she says. “A stage cake has been around for a long time, and I made the stage look like the stand of the racetrack where Lightning McQueen races. I also incorporated some of the Radiator Springs aspect, as well.”

Each day of the IDDBA Cake Decorating Challenge was open to attendees to vote for their favorite decorator for the People’s Choice Award.

Knowles won the People’s Choice award for her Cars theme cake. Mather won the People’s Choice award for the cake case and wedding cake.

Jay Ward, Cars Creative Director from Pixar Animation Studios, presented Rolls with the Disney/Pixar Award of Excellence.

The IDDBA competition judges were Mark Bastian of Dawn Food Products and Dustin Humpherys of Maplehurst Bakeries.