Whipping up an award-winning cake

Start with delectable purple yams, add in a mouthwatering coconut cream filling, top it off with a gleaming marble vanilla mirror glaze and 90 minutes later, there you have it, an award winning cake. Sophomore Megan Vergel de Dios and her team from the Aster Study Center took first place at the national Art of Living baking competition.

Vergel de Dios began her cooking career at age 12, attending cooking classes at Aster, a study center in Los Angeles. She began taking classes after following the footsteps of friends she made at Pathfinder Leadership Camp, who recommended Aster to her, two years prior. Vergel de Dios started regularly attending cooking classes there throughout her middle school years and consistently practiced at home, giving her the experience needed to compete at a national level.

“A lot of the people [at Aster] make it a really fun place for people to come to. The experience of cooking and putting ingredients into the process all pays off in the end. Even if I mess up, at one point, I know what I’m doing the next time, so it’s a learning experience that I get to share with my family and friends,” Vergel de Dios said.

Following Aster’s tradition, Vergel de Dios began competing nationally as a representative of the center. The center competes along with other study centers across the country under the ___ program. Over the course of three months, the team prepared over 10 versions of the ube cake they would later bake for their competition on April 23, at the Shelbourne Conference Center in Valparaiso, Indiana.    

“Before the competition, I was really stressed because our cake was really hard to make, and it took us a long time to perfect it,” Vergel de Dios said. “Practicing really helped because when we did things over and over again, we knew what we needed to do the next time we [made our dish].”

Vergel de Dios and her teammates toured Chicago for two days before driving to the Shelbourne Conference Center in Indiana for their cooking competition. The Art of Living program the team attended is a hands-on program that teaches home economics to high school girls. The baking competition they competed in was scored on taste, teamwork, creativity and cleanliness. In addition to its baking competition, the program also hosted a cooking and table setting competition.

“During the competition, it was really intense because there was a huge audience. Once the cake was done, I was overjoyed because it turned out really well,” Vergel de Dios said. “My favorite part of the competition was the feeling of accomplishment when we finished because we spent so many months preparing and we felt really good having done really well.”

In addition to competitions, the Art of Living program offered seminars on topics ranging from philosophy to calligraphy. At seminars, staff who also went through the Art of Living program as young girls taught life lessons regarding love, self-knowledge and truth. Many staff members shared stories from their own lives and gave advice based off past experiences.

“My experience [at the competition and seminars] helped me follow my passion for cooking and baking and find new ways to add little pieces of happiness in the lives of everyone that I meet. [We were taught about] the importance of putting effort and love into every little thing you do and to do it for others, so that’s always just a little reminder for me that I remember throughout [each] day,” said Vergel de Dios.

Vergel de Dios currently has no plans on pursuing cooking professionally. However, she continues participating in classes at Aster for her own enjoyment and cooks at home for family and friends despite not considering a future in cooking.  

“Right now, [cooking is] just a hobby for me. I love to do it with my friends and I like to go to Aster to learn how to cook and bake,” Vergel de Dios said. “My favorite thing about cooking is making other people happy. If my [family] ever needs me, I can always share [my] passion [for cooking].”  

By Isaac Le, Staff writer
Photo courtesy of Megan Vergel De Dios

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