By Valerie Baldowski
When Ashley Vicos decides to bake a cake, it's not the ordinary culinary creation found in the local supermarket or bakery.
Vicos, a McDonough resident, owns Sweet Ashley's, a company she operates out of her home. Vicos custom-bakes her cakes by special request.
She has appeared on the TLC reality television show "Ultimate Cake Off," and one of her cakes was featured on the cover of the July 2008 edition of American Cake Decorating.
Vicos plans to participate, this weekend, in the American Cancer Society's "Cakes for a Cure" event in Charleston, S.C., which will be held on Saturday and Sunday, as the emcee and host.
"Cancer is one of the only charities I publicly support," she said. "My mom is an oncology nurse, so it's something I've always been very involved in."
Vicos has been professionally decorating cakes since 2000, and first became interested in it as a child.
"I got an Easy-Bake oven when I was 5 years old," she said. "My mom let me cut up cakes, and I still have a picture of my first three-dimensional cake I ever made. It was a little rabbit covered in coconut for fur. It was horrendous looking, but I thought it was the most beautiful cake I'd ever seen in my life."
She said she made and decorated cakes through her middle and high school years.
"I made all my own birthday cakes, and all my girlfriends' birthday cakes," Vicos said. "When I was in college, I did it on the side for extra money."
After graduating college, she decided to make her love of cake decorating into a business.
In the past, Vicos said she has supported the Leukemia Society of Georgia, and the Henry County Relay for Life.
Last year, she said the American Cancer Society held a "Cupcakes for a Cure" fund-raiser. This year's national fund-raiser is "Cakes for a Cure," said Vicos.
"They're having a lot of the competitors from these television shows do a mock cake challenge, and make cakes. They will sell tickets to the event," she said.
Vicos participated in the most recent TLC "Ultimate Cake Off" competition, held in Glendale, Calif. The show aired on April 19. The contestants baked, iced and decorated cakes with an assigned theme. The theme was a swimsuit bikini fashion show, Vicos said.
She also took part in previous "Cake Off" competitions.
One involved baking, icing and decorating a cake with the theme of the Aquarium of the Pacific, in a nine-hour time span.
"We filmed the pilot episode in May 2009, and they aired the first show in August 2009," she said. "They required your cake to be a minimum of five feet tall. 'Ultimate Cake Off' also required you to have three electrical components in your cake."
The biggest obstacle, she said, was creating a cake that did not collapse on itself.
Noah Mark, her producing partner on TLC, spoke highly of Vicos' culinary abilities.
"She's phenomenal," said Mark. "She has incredible talent. She can do what most can't do, in terms of making a cake look realistic."
Mark began working with Vicos in May 2009, after the two met when Mark was working with TLC during production of the "Ultimate Cake Off."
He praised her ability to create a cake with moving parts, while working against a deadline.
"She's a visionary when it comes to cake decorating," he continued. "It's a very hard thing to do. It's something above and beyond what they [bakers] would normally do."
Vicos became involved with TLC because of cakes she previously baked for another television show.
"I started on the Food Network," said Vicos. "The network has a cake show called 'Challenge.' It's cake decorators and pastry chefs who compete against each other. They give you a theme, and you create a cake for it, in a timed challenge."
From the concept stage to the finished product, the contestants have eight hours to create a completely iced and decorated cake, she said.
Vicos also made cakes for a Disney challenge and a "Shrek" challenge on other "Cake Off" competitions.
"In my Disney challenge, my theme was 'Snow White,'" she said. "I did a three-foot-tall replica of the evil queen holding out that apple in her hand."