When I walked into the 2023 Edible Book Festival at Martinelli’s Market, I was immediately struck by the beautiful four-foot-tall cake submitted by Field of Sweets. For April’s edible book competition, Tiara Winfield, the owner and cake baker of Field of Sweets, made a tiered cake with a chocolate, life-sized likeness of author and actress Viola Davis and an edible book with quotes from the memoir. Field of Sweets’ cake won both Best Visual Presentation and People’s Choice for the 2023 festival.
Since last month’s competition, I’ve followed the baker on Instagram and been consistently impressed with the artistry of her sweet designs. In between arranging cake events and completing cake orders for Champaign-Urbana, the cake professional answered my questions about competing in the Edible Book Festival, designs of desserts past, and where she likes to go for dinner in C-U before her slice of cake.
Smile Politely: Hello, Tiara! What was it like competing this year in the Edible Book Festival?
Tiara Winfield: It was amazing! This question brings me back to how I felt that day: full of emotions but hiding it all. This was a first experience for me in a lot of areas. First, because I rarely get to see the reactions people have when they see my art. This was an experience that I often crave. Their reactions felt motivating and affirming in a way. And secondly, my dream “first competition” was to compete with no time limit, freedom to create what I wanted, and in an environment where I could meet new people like business owners, artists, experienced bakers, even bakers just having fun with it. People who are passionate about what they do as a career or as a hobby, people I could relate to. This was it for me!
SP: Why did you pick that book?
Winfield: I have always been a fan of Viola Davis. Her acting was so different from a lot of actors and actresses I’ve seen. Watching her on screen doesn’t feel like watching tv. It doesn’t even feel scripted. It makes me, as a viewer, feel like I’m there, like what is happening on screen is real life. Her art as an actress stands out to me.
I was gifted the book Finding Me a few months ago, but embarrassingly, I had not opened it. I do like to obtain information and learn, but I’ve always found reading to be a weakness of mine. My brain works differently and reading isn’t enough stimulation for me to focus, so I got her audiobook!
I originally “read” her book in hopes to get a better understanding of what her motivation is, but I wasn’t expecting her story to speak so loudly to my current healing journey. Her story confirmed to me that this woman who I idolize is exactly the strong woman I envisioned her to be. She took her past and made it strengthen her into who she is today. She didn’t let it destroy her. I chose Finding Me because if her story spoke so loud to me, maybe it could do the same for someone else, anyone else, also working on their healing journey.
SP: How did you construct the Viola Davis cake?
Winfield: I was tagged in the Edible Book Festival on Facebook by a client. I gave myself 13 days to brainstorm and execute. I spent the first six days brainstorming and gathering supplies, and the last six days, I was hands on. And, I also had an order due the same day as the competition.
When I brainstorm, I often look for videos and pictures similar to my design in mind. I searched the internet for days. I was looking for sculpted cakes of black women. The only two designs I found were not as hyper-realistic as I planned to make her face. With limited help from the internet, I watched Woman King, How to Get Away with Murder, The Help (to get a better view of her natural beauty- without make up), Suicide Squad, and videos of her winning her EGOT over and over again to get all angles of her face.
This was my first face-cake. I have never made a cake for myself until I was given this opportunity. It felt different. I spent about 40 hours sculpting and shaping her face. I wanted to give the image of how I see Viola Davis after reading her book: a pheonix, rising and blossoming from the ashes. Phoenix took about 80 hours total [to complete].
I also wanted to include parts of her book that spoke to me loudest — and that may do the same for my viewers. I did so by making edible sugar sheets with some words from her book.
SP: What flavors did you use for the Viola Davis cake?
Winfield: Viola Davis mentioned in her book Finding Me that her wedding cake was a triple berry cake with whipped icing, so I made a triple berry cake with whipped icing and brown sugar crumbs.
I chose to make her face with a cake flavor that I’ve recently added to my cake menu. Lemon blueberry cake with sugar crystals is a personal favorite.
SP: How many other cakes have you made? Is this the biggest one?
Winfield: I’ve made over 300 cakes now, and this one was the tallest by just a few inches. Phoenix was almost four feet tall!
SP: How did you get into making cakes?
Winfield: Art has always been my outlet since I was a young lass in high school — an outlet I discovered thanks to my art teacher at Rantoul Township High School. My art teacher would sometimes invite me to come back after school to just work on stuff, on days when she had to stay late. I found paper-mâché art, clay, and anything with sculpting to be most enjoyable.
SP: Sounds like you do great work with your hands. Do you remember what the first cake you made was?
Winfield: The following year, I made my first cake with a classmate for a school project. It was a Cookie Monster cake. I don’t remember the flavor of the cake, but I do remember feeling proud and I remember not wanting to cut it. I wanted to put it in my bookbag somehow and take it home to keep forever. Instead I have a photo and a memory — something I’m still learning to accept.
SP: What would your dream cake look like?
Winfield: I do have a dream cake. It is a cake design with some skills needed, [ones] that I have yet to explore. I’m slowly able to get closer to these skills with the help of my clients.
I also have a goal I have yet to meet. I have a feeling that by the time I hit my goal, I will have enough skills to create my dream cake. When I hit my goal, regardless of where I stand on my artistic confidence level, I will attempt to make my dream anniversary cake. I cannot, however, eat it alone!
SP: Of course! Do you have favorite cakes besides your own?
Winfield: As a caker/baker, I taste test my products. I don’t want to lose my love for cake, which is why I don’t often eat cake unless it’s to experiment or explore, to improve my business. My favorite dessert, however, I chose to not add to my menus for the same reasons! I don’t want to lose my love for it. My favorite dessert is actually cheesecake. The Cheesecake Factory in Chicago; holy sheetcake! *chefs kiss* So many textures, so many flavors, so much happiness in each bite!
Locally, my favorite place to go for cheesecake was at Old Chicago. I finally gave in one day and asked them about their cheesecake. I needed to know what kind of addicting ingredients they put in it. They explained the process and told me it took five days to make the cheesecake by hand. It was a sad day for me when they closed. I am still searching for a local restaurant or bakery to replace my go-to Old Chicago for my favorite dessert.
I do enjoy seeing new cake art from Sugga Shaii Sweets, and I always have! I’ve been a fan girl of her work for years! I have tasted cakes from a local cake artist Kamahri Belk. This girl puts so much thought into her flavor combinations. I cannot wait to try her strawberry brownies for myself.
SP: Do you ever sell Field of Sweets cakes at the farmers’ market? How can people eat your cake?
Winfield: I wanted to begin selling at farmers markets this summer, but as my business is growing, I don’t have much time to take advantage of that option to network. I use social media as my “everything source.” Social media is where I keep my cake art gallery and memories; it’s where I express my creativity, and it’s where my clients find me. I also accept orders via email or by phone.
SP: What’s the hardest part of cake making? Is it not eating the cake?!
Winfield: Yes! Well, kind of. Knowing that the cake will no longer look the same — consumed to the very last crumb in less than 24 hours — is the hardest part. I’ve recently been given the opportunity to serve cake at private events. I had no idea how hard it would be to slice into my creations.
SP: Wow! I bet that is tough. Are there any celebrity bakers that you admire?
Winfield: I did and do! I grew up watching Cake Boss. I used to dream about working with Carlos. Every few months, I would search the internet to see if there was ever talk about him opening a bakery in Illinois. My first cake turntable was actually a Cake Boss turntable. I found it at a garage sale when I was in high school. It was made of white plastic and said “I Love Frosting” on it. It had a fancy lil’ lock on it to keep it from spinning. At the time, it felt like the most valuable thing I owned.
I did watch Is it Cake? on Netflix with my kiddos last year, season one. At first, I wasn’t paying attention as much to the show as I was to my kids’ reactions and excitement, but I really tuned back in when Andrew Fuller (the grand prize winner) and Justin Ellen were competing. I immediately followed them on social media and found that like music, each and every cake decorator has their own sound, their own style. I love that! I’m so, so, so thankful to have been accepted and loved by a village, allowing me to feel free enough to find my own sound, my own style. Both Justin and Andrew continue to amaze me to this day.
SP: What else does Field of Sweets make? I saw some cool chocolate Poke-balls!
Winfield: Yes! I have made hot chocolate bombs, tea bombs, chocolate covered strawberries and pretzels, breakable hearts and dinosaur eggs, strawberry trees, cupcakes with edible cupcake liners, cake popsicles, lollipops and donuts made with cake batter, and I will continue to expand my menus in my field of study. I enjoy any challenge given to me of anything sweet!
SP: I need to know. Do you have any favorite C-U restaurants when you aren’t craving sweets?
Winfield: Of course! I love food. I love food so much! Don’t judge me.
SP: I would never!
Winfield: When I’m in need of authentic Mexican food, La Mixteca and Maize at The Station are a no question. Maize has the best mole I’ve ever had. I wish they sold it by the gallon.
When I’m craving some spicy ribs, Li’l Porgy’s has always been it for me. When I had pregnancy cravings years ago, I used to sit outside their parking lot and wait for them to open just to get their extra spicy barbecue sauce. I wish they sold that sauce in stores, stores that are open early and close late.
I do like me some burgers at Farren’s Pub; I get the same thing every time: the Fire Burger with ghost pepper cheese. You mentioned when I’m not craving sweets, but breakfast doesn’t count. The banana nut French toast at Sammy’s makes my mouth water.