When the Sydney Royal Easter Show approaches, Dr Mark Schembri is baking up a storm in his kitchen.
“In 2002, myself and four other veterinary graduates signed up for the cake-baking competition at the Sydney Royal Easter Show. In all honesty, we were simply hoping to meet girls who could cook. Over the next five years, everyone else either pulled out, gave up or were disqualified too many times. I was disqualified twice in the early years—once for putting almonds in a sultana cake, and once for breaching the length restriction.
“I began to take baking more seriously, but my competition results were all a bit disappointing. I actually believed I could take on Mrs Australia in the kitchen. Unsurprisingly, that wasn’t the case at all.
“In 2008, I met a woman called Mel Parish. She sat in the crowd at the judging and quietly won most of the classes. I explained my interest to her, and she became my cake-baking mentor. That year I won my first ribbon—my sultana cake was placed second and my banana cake came in third.
“These days I’m the chairman of the Veterinary Committee for the Sydney Royal Easter Show. The committee has a panel of close to 50 vets who look after everything from cows and sheep to dogs, birds and mice.
“I still enter the cake competition and I’m hoping for success this year with my secret weapon, an awesome sultana cake. I’m going to enter an orange cake too.
“The judging is a pretty brutal affair. Initially, the cakes are given a visual inspection and are often cut open to make a second assessment. The judges can reduce a class of 50 cakes to about 15 based on texture, feel and presentation. There’s nothing worse than having your cake eliminated without anyone having a taste.
“I’ve loved the Easter Show since I was a kid, and still have a sense of anticipation as it draws close. I don’t bake outside competition time, but it’s a very intense month leading up to it. During that period I probably produce a cake every two days.
“A common occurrence at the Easter Show is for parents to pass on their skills to their children. Cattle farmers pass on their cattle-raising secrets, woodchoppers pass on their woodchopping secrets and I’ll pass on my secret sultana cake recipe to my daughter. I can think of nothing better than to see my kids win a ribbon at the cake competition at the Easter Show.”