By Alyssa Brant Decked out in the iconic pink cupcake costume, the Chris Akin struts throughout the Jester second floor dining center, rallying excitement and enjoying the ability to entertain the UT-Austin student body along with supporting a good cause.
"It isn’t every day that a guy gets to dress up as a cupcake and go around campus,” says Akin, a Corporate Communication sophomore who served as this year’s “Cupcake Guy.”
Chris Akin, a marketing intern with the UT Department of Housing and Food Services, was given the frosty job by DHFS marketing coordinator Kathy Phan. He served as the voice and host of the campus wide baking competition, Cupcake Showdown, on Feb. 27.
"I couldn’t resist. They offered it to me, and I was just very grateful and thankful,” Akin says. “I was like this is something I would enjoy doing on campus.”
Cupcake Showdown called on student organizations to bake a cupcake that represented their group and then submit a video explaining the uniqueness of their creation. Four finalists were then chosen to come and compete in the live bakeoff where they created a completely different cupcake from their submission incorporating mandatory ingredients selected by the DHFS. The special ingredients included pecans, honey, peaches, grapefruit, cornmeal and peppers, but the teams were not required to use every item. The four teams were Gigglepants Inprov, Texas Kappa Delta, Texas Spirits and UT National Student Speech Language Hearing Association.
Each team had their own personal chef from J2 to assist them in attaining ingredients and using the kitchen appliances. The teams made everything from scratch, from the batter, to the icing, to the decorations. Part of the competition also included them arranging the cupcakes on a display in a creative manner. After one hour of intense competition, a panel of six judges evaluated their tasty works of art.
Each event wouldn’t have been as successful if it wasn’t for the incorporation and enthusiasm of the Cupcake Guy mascot along and the crafty advertising by the DHFS.
"I have accounting class with [Akin], and the day before the competition, he came into class dressed as a pink cupcake handing out t-shirts,’ sophomore Ina Delos Santos says. “He was super excited, and the cupcake costume alone was enough to get me to want to go. You can say he did his job very well.”
Last year was the first time DHFS hosted a student cooking competition. The theme was centered more around the show Iron Chef where each team had to create a four-course meal. After receiving feedback from students, the idea of a cupcake competition was suggested to make the event a stronger success than in the past.
"Some of the feedback that we heard was that students wanted to be able to try the food, so we were thinking, what should we do to make this more interactive,” Phan says. “We came up with the idea of cupcakes because we can make many cupcakes at once and also make mini versions so that students can actually try them.”
Students were able to watch the organizations bake their cupcakes live and try samples, but in addition, other activities were spread out throughout J2 to increase involvement and knowledge of the event as a whole. They incorporated a prize wheel based on baking trivia questions, a cupcake themed photo booth and a “Decorate Your Own Cupcake” bar to repeatedly establish the theme throughout the evening.
"We just wanted to make it a bigger event overall and really wanted to give back,” Phan says. “That is why we also added the donation aspect.”
Along with all the other activities, the event held a food drive to collect canned food that will be distributed to a local Austin area food bank. The winner of the competition, Texas Kappa Delta, was also awarded $1000 to donate to their charity, Girl Scouts of America.
"We decided to get involved in this competition because one of our main pillars is philanthropy and service,” Emily Twa, freshman Texas Spirits team member, says. “And being a women’s organization, it is really important to us to give back to the women’s community of Austin.”
The competition had an impact on the organizations competing, but the experience also left a lasting influence upon those, like Chris, who were apart of Cupcake Showdown from the planning period.
"The best experience has probably been the cupcake, the cupcake costume,” Akin says. “I have really enjoyed it and again I got to thank Kathy. I have just been very blessed to have this opportunity.”
Kappa Delta: 1st Place
- "One of my friends actually saw the sign in Jester, and they knew I really liked to bake, so they texted me about it. I talked to some of my friends in KD and they were like yeah we have to join. We just thought it would be something fun to do and a good way to get money for charity.” - Sam Cade - sophomore
- Cupcake: Peach crumble cupcake with vanilla frosting and honey drizzle
- Being the winners, they are awarding the money to the Girl Scouts of America
Texas Spirits: 2nd Place
- "We decided to get involved in this competition because one of our main pillars is philanthropy and service. St. Louis House is an Austin charity, and we spend so much time with them, going for things like Mother’s day, Valentine’s Day parties. We just absolutely love working with the kids and the moms. And being a women’s organization, it is really important to us to give back to the women’s community of Austin.” - Emily Twa - freshman
- Cupcake: Honey Cornmeal Cupcake with Grapefruit curd and grapefruit buttercream
- Winner of the canned food drive
NSSLHA (UT National Student Speech Language Hearing Association): 3rd Place
- “I originally saw it on Facebook first, and I really like baking, especially cupcakes, so I was like, ‘Oh this is an interesting opportunity.’ I brought it to my organization and then had people interested, so we got people together and thought of ideas and sent one in.” - Rebecca Lee – sophomore
- Cupcake: Peach cupcakes with mint honey buttercream frosting
Gigglepants Inprov: 4th Place
- “One of the concepts of inprov is “yes…and.” You say yes and then add to it, and that helps in scenes and things. But as a group, we also do “yes…and” all the time in every day life, like “ hey do you want to go get lunch…yes.” We are quick to say yes as a group. So Luis showed us this flyer, and we were like yeah why not do this. It seems like it would be a lot of fun. And that is why we are here.” - Reid O’Conor – junior
- Cupcake: Peach cupcakes with brown sugar and chocolate cream cheese frosting