Americana in Paris: Cupcake Camp on the Fourth of July

thumb image

The U.S. Embassy in Paris holds a Fourth of July garden party every year but most of those on the guest list are French. I was relieved to learn that last week while on a private tour of the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence—relieved because I no longer feel snubbed for not being invited; I simply feel American. So when someone asked me this morning if I was going to the embassy event I proudly replied, “No, I’m American!”

There were various other Fourth of July parties in Paris, of course, but I didn’t get invited to any of them either. I could have gone to the Franco-American Fourth of July ceremony at Lafayette’s tomb, but I’d been there last year.

Still, I was feeling a bit red-white-and-bluish (not to be confused with the colors of the French flag which is blue, white, and red) today, so I accepted an invitation to Cupcake Camp.

Cat Beurnier and Bryan Pirolli. Photo GLK
Cat Beurnier and Bryan Pirolli. Photo GLK

Cupcake Camp was organized in Bistrot Vivienne, an otherwise pleasant bistro in the 2nd arrondissement that had been cleared of its pleasantness for the occasion, by Cat Beurnier, a cupcake baker who operates Sugar Daze, and Bryan Pirolli, a master’s student and part-time cook (photo left).

I’d hoped to learn more about Cat and Bryan during Cupcake Camp but they were quite the busy camp leaders since the bistro was a-swarm with people trying to make the best out of the 10-euro entrance fee which allowed for all the cupcakes you can eat plus one drink.

From the looks of things this afternoon it appears that if you give a couple hundred Americans (and assorted French friends) a choice of any beverage with their cupcake the majority will pick Diet Coke—or Coke Light as it’s called in France where no one will ever admit that she’s on a diet but where everyone wants to feel light.

“Proceeds from the event,” to quote Cat and Bryan’s press release, “will support a group spearheaded by friends of Cupcake Camp Paris, Rebuilding Haiti Now.” I’m not sure what the group actually does but I must say that only Americans are capable of using cupcakes to raise funds for earthquake victims, just one more thing we can be proud of.

The press release also states that “Cupcake Camp is a tradition that hails from California, created by Ariel Waldman” and that “the cupcake can be considered the US’ defining culinary contribution to the world.”

I know nothing about Ariel Waldman and won’t bother Googling the name because as far as I could tell Cupcake Camp Paris was simply an occasion to bake and eat cupcakes with proceeds going to charity. It didn’t feel like something that would “hail” from anywhere, let alone California, or need to be “created,” let alone by someone named Ariel Waldman!

Cupcakes in competition at Cupcake Camp, Paris. GLK
Cupcakes in competition at Cupcake Camp, Paris. GLK

Nevertheless, today’s Cupcake Camp was a rousing success to judge by the donations/entrance fees, the crowds, the general good cheer, and the quantity of cupcakes and Coke Light consumed.

Still, I’m a bit concerned about that “defining culinary contribution to the world” line. I only tried three cupcakes of the 30 or so varieties that I saw in the boxes, and there may have been many more that I didn’t see, so I can’t judge overall quality from my small sampling; I nevertheless came away with a vision of a dozen young women baking through the night while getting slaphappy on sugar and going heavy on the icing. Some things just weren’t meant to define us abroad.

Even as out-of-the-loop as I am regarding American baking trends, I have naturally been aware for a number of years now of the cupcake fad back home. When in the U.S. I can’t visit anyone with children under 25 without being offered a cupcake. At one party in New Jersey last year, ostensibly a Thanksgiving gathering, the oohs and ahs came not with the presentation of the turkey but with that of the cupcakes. A half-dozen tweens and teens stood around the dessert table waiting to see whose creations the guests would choose, each one smudging the icing of the competition so that hers would stand out as the prettiest. They were so disappointed when I didn’t pick one that I nearly felt unpatriotic for going for the pumpkin pie.

Oddly enough, going to Cupcake Camp on the Fourth of July didn’t make me feel any more patriotic. In fact, I was surprised to see how little effort was made to make the connection between our “defining culinary contribution” and Independence Day.

American-theme cupcakes, sort of. GLK
American-theme cupcakes, sort of. GLK

Entries to the “Most Patriotic Cupcake” competition (above) were so scant that I wondered if Cupcake Camp founder Ariel Waldman might have disallowed the combination of red, white, and blue icing in the camp rules. Either that or blue icing is hard to come by in Paris and no one realized that blueberry season has just begun.

Anyway, as you can see from the photos above, the entries to the various competitions did look quite good, and I’m sure there were some true winners among them.

The judges also looked quite good, as you can see below.

Cupcake Camp judges.
Cupcake Camp judges Lindsey Tramuta, Synie Georgulas and Heather Stimmler-Hall. GLK

On the right is travel writer Heather Stimmler-Hall. Click here to read an interview with her on France Revisited following the release of her book “Naughty Paris: A Ladies Guide to a Sexy City.”

In the middle is Synie Georgulas, a professional baker, owner of the bakery-tea room Synie’s Cupcakes, whom I’ll be interviewing later this month in further explorations into cupcakes.

On the left is Lindsey Tramuta, whose cupcake credentials include her musings on the blog Lost In Cheeseland.

I should note that the photo above was taking prior to the start of their judging duties, which may explain why they look so happy to be there.

Just kidding, Cat. It was a great event, just lacked a bit of Fourth of July spirit.

 

5 COMMENTS

  1. For note, I’m a female, not a fellow 😉

    CupcakeCamp was created as the merging of the participatory/free BarCamp model ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BarCamp ) with cupcakes. The BarCamp movement began in California but grew to be a model that people adopted worldwide, similar to CupcakeCamp. We created the first CupcakeCamp in San Francisco in 2008 and I “open sourced” the instructions on how to make your own CupcakeCamp at http://cupcakecamp.org/howto . It is meant to be an event that is created by the community, but that doesn’t negate it having organizers or an origin!

  2. Hi Gary! My company was one of the sponsors of the event, and if I remember correctly, I think the event just happened to fall on July 4th – due to space availability. So that may account for the lack of Red White and Blue… I think it was more of an afterthought. I’m impressed at your will-power to make it out with having only sampled 3 cupcakes, though!

  3. Hi Gary,
    Thanks so much for this post and for coming out to Cupcake Camp. It was really nice to meet you, albeit briefly. We were extremely pleased with the turnout of both expats and French cupcake lovers — though yes, it was a bit chaotic! – and the money raised for a good cause: over 1200 euros for Rebuilding Haiti Now, a non-profit started by a Haitian grandmother that is providing relief for those affected by the earthquake there earlier this year. Their main goal is rebuilding homes and schools for those who have been left without.

    The day could not have been possible without the bakers (almost 50 of them, both amateur and professional) who baked up over 1600 cupcakes — there was probably over 100 varieties; it’s a shame you didn’t get to sample more. And there actually were about 12 different cupcakes entered in each of the contests — the entrants spilled over on to the tables around the room so many more Patriotic and others — though I think you are right that there was not a blueberry in sight! Dommage!

    Anyway, we were just delighted to share this tradition of Cucpake Camp with Paris and hope to do it again sometime soon. Perhaps you’ll bring cupcakes too next time!?

    PS Happy Birthday to your Moumoon!

  4. Ariel: Thanks for the info. Much appreciated.
    [Note to readers: I originally referred Ariel to “fellow,” hence Ariel’s first line above, but have since corrected the error.]
    Kim: I’m saving my appetite for your next “Parisian Party.” When is it?
    Cat: I’m aleady working on my cupcake recipe for next year. If I promise to eat a lot of cupcakes between now and then will you let me be one of the judges?

  5. Hi there!

    What a great time that was on Sunday!! Great post.. I will get my post up on my blog this weekend.. I’m so behind… I hope we have another one soon!!!!

    Take care,
    Leesa

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here