A wildcard contestant broke through the gaggle of gâteau groupies and amateur bakers who were eagerly awaiting the start of the showstopper challenge. A single bead of sweat dripped down his forehead as he ran to get his bake in before the buzzer.
“Looks like we have a late entry!” the judges heckled the newcomer, Julian Dawes (Head of Evening Sales & Co-Deputy Head of Department, Impressionist & Modern Art), who was involved in a scandal earlier in the competition concerning store-bought dough (“From Costco!” a crowd member jeered).
This was the culmination of the first annual Great Imps Bake Off, the last of three challenges to have taken place in the past two months. The participants were mainly staff from the Impressionist and Modern Art Department of the auction house. Pointing to a bundt cake baked and decorated to resemble a Salvador Dalí clock, one of the contestants laughed: “Time is passing at the rate of that cake.”
Then, the judges arrived: August Uribe (Head of Department & Vice Chairman, Fine Arts Division), Ben Doller (Chairman, Americas), Lauren Gioia (Worldwide Head of Communications) and Daisy Edelson (Head of Business, Impressionist & Modern Art). The crowd settled and the contestants lined up to present their wares. First up was a vanilla and lemon curd Bouquet des roses dans une vase (1900), complete with a Renoir “certificate of authenticity” by Julia Leveille (Associate Specialist, Impressionist & Modern Art). The judges awarded her points for presentation, but Ben Doller grumbled that the flowers were inedible: potentially a fatal decision by the otherwise savvy baker.
Leveille was not alone in prioritizing presentation: late entry Julian Dawes was accused once again of using cheap pre-bought ingredients for his skull-shaped bake, a rhinestone-encrusted recreation of Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God (2007). In defense of his efforts, Dawes proclaimed the bejeweled cake to be a “100% edible shiny thing”. His moment of bravado was short-lived, however, as the judges barely hesitated in lobotomizing the glittering skull.
Feelings were not spared in this gavel-slamming competition, as Peter Vergara (Day Sale Administrator, Impressionist & Modern Art) discovered. “This is well above the bar you set for yourself,” Daisy Edelson told him, “because your last two sucked.”
Some contestants employed visual drama to attract the judges’ attention. Gabriella Corey (Restitution Specialist) presented a gravity-defying Rice Krispies sculpture based on Alexander Archipenko’s Torso in Space (conceived 1935-36), while Jessica Manchester (Associate Specialist, Cataloguer) wowed onlookers with six colorful mini-cakes in the style of Wayne Thiebaud.
One of the true showstoppers was Fontana Fondant by Nissa Cheng (Associate Online Sale and Business Manager). Comprising a dark chocolate cake covered in homemade fondant complete with the artist’s signature canvas cuts, the cake proved a crowd-pleaser.
Meanwhile, Chloe Greisman (Executive Assistant), took a riskier approach in commanding attention. “The inspiration for this was the notorious sale of Vincent Van Gogh’s Irises (1889),” she said, inciting shock in the crowd and amusement among the judges. Her spicy introduction was contrasted by her cake—a delectable, sweet vanilla sponge with lemon zest and raspberry mousse filling.
In the end, team spirit won. Daisy Edelson declared all the bakers to be stars and handed out T-shirts to each while teasing the next round in the competition: come summer, get ready for Guac Off.