The cost of a custom cake for her son Koda’s first birthday inspired a business idea for one Wyoming woman that’s evolved to her competing to be America’s best baker.
Dustee Collar, Green River, has already made her way into the finals of the online 2023 Greatest Baker competition, which pits 1,000 bakers from around the world in an online popularity contest.
Bakers posted photos of their most creative cakes, and people vote on the baker with the best-looking creations to determine who advances to the finals.
Voters can buy additional votes, too, with proceeds benefitting the Andrew McDonough B+ Foundation, which helps families dealing with childhood cancer.
Now that she’s in the finals, the list will be further whittled away for another week before a winner is selected.
The winner will not only get $10,000 and have their work in the magazine “Bake From Scratch,” they’ll also get to meet Italian celebrity pastry chef Buddy Valastro, otherwise known as the Cake Boss.
That’s a pretty exciting opportunity for Collar, who has only been baking professionally for seven years. She’s always been a huge fan of Valastro, though, watching him on Food Network’s “Cake Boss” since she was in high school.
Collar’s grandmother taught her a good, basic cake recipe when Collar was young, and she has fond memories of cooking with her grandmother.
“She taught me all kinds of little tricks and things to do so that your cakes aren’t stuck in your pans, and she really helped me with the fundamentals of everything,” Collar said.
Watching Valastro’s show, meanwhile, helped build Collar’s confidence.
Still, Collar never expected to start an actual cake business. That was a complete accident.
She was planning her son’s first birthday party and just couldn’t believe the eye-popping prices for a custom cake.
“Even a simple birthday cake came to, in Montana, it was like $200 to purchase,” she said. “And I was like, that’s crazy. That’s like a 30% markup on everything.”
There was no way Collar was paying that much for a cake. She would just make it herself.
Cake Can Be Anything
For that first cake, Collar used her grandmother’s recipe. It was small but good, nothing special, but cost way less than $200.
It was the second birthday cake where her creativity decided to poke its head into the kitchen. She decided to make her son, who is a car fanatic, a Hot Wheels cake.
It was an ambitious idea that took her four tries, Collar recalled. The wheels and tires required some sculpting, and there was a bit of a learning curve with that.
Watching Valastro on TV “showed me that failures happen to everyone,” she said.
Finally, Collar had everything just the way she wanted it. And it was so much fun. It also helped drive home something else she’d learned watching Valastro’s show.
Cake can do anything, be anything. A baker is really only limited by what her imagination can dream up.
A Panic Of Dinosaurs
Collar soon found she really enjoyed letting her imagination run wild in the kitchen.
When her son wanted a “panic” of dinosaurs, that was a bit of a head-scratcher. Finally, she figured out that panic really meant paddock, or a dinosaur’s range of territory.
So she stood a sheet cake up on one end, carved it into the ultimate frosted T. rex, and then caged it in edible fondant and chocolate.
“I just wanted to be able to give him, like, that slice of magic,” Collar said. “Where he’s like, “Ahh, it looks so cool!’ Or, “It looks so realistic.’ And he does it every single time.”
Her daughter, meanwhile, recently wanted a 3D sun, and then a friend wanted a haunted carousel cake that moved.
It was really no problem. Piece of literal cake, actually.
And Collar loved it.
“I love seeing the faces when I’ve gone over the top on something like that,” Collar said. “When I pulled up and walked in there and set (the carousel cake) down and told her to press a button and it rotated, she almost started crying.”
When To Quit Your Day Job
It only took a couple of years of baking these fun, over-the-top cake boss ideas for Collar to start getting orders from people who wanted to pay her to bake them cakes.
She’d never even thought of owning a cake business until one day she had found she had so many orders, she didn’t know what else to do.
“I quit my day job and started staying home and making cakes,” she said. “And it’s made it so easy to be at home with my kids, cooking and doing what I love, versus being in a corporate job.”
That particular business was in Montana, but Collar is planning to turn up the heat on her baking career in Green River. If she happens to win the Greatest Baker competition, she’ll put some of the $10,000 into restarting her cake business.
“We’ve been talking about maybe opening like an actual storefront where like people can pop in and buy cupcakes or, you know, a smaller cake and just have something written on it,” she said. “They could also come in and sit down and meet face-to-face with me, to show me their ideas and we can come up with something together.”
If there’s anything left over, Collar said she’ll probably think about going on a vacation, somewhere warm and peaceful.
Then she’ll be right back to baking more cakes than ever in her Green River kitchen and planning the opening of her new business in January.
Sugar High Sweets and Treats will start taking orders in January, she said, regardless of whether she wins Greatest Baker.
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.