STC culinary arts students put spin on classic Thanksgiving feast – Monitor


Chef Larissa Reinitz, culinary arts instructor, with the Thanksgiving Feast table her students made out of cake on Wednesday in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

The Thanksgiving feast prepared and presented by South Texas College’s culinary arts cake decorating students Wednesday appeared decidedly more savory than sweet.

But everything on the table — from the carrots and the tamales and the ham right down to the carving knife and the tin foil pie pans — was made entirely out of cake.

Cake green beans with little squares of bacon on top. A cake cornucopia. Even a cake whole roast pig, trussed up on a platter atop a base of delicately folded almost lifelike leaves of lettuce.

“We wanted to do something a little different,” said STC Culinary Arts Instructor Larissa Reinitz. “Everything is made out of actual cake, everything is edible down to your silverware.”

It’s not easy to say which cake was the star of the show. The basket of biscuits looked so lifelike you almost expected them to be drowned in gravy; the baker who’d made the mashed potatoes had taken the time to add two shiny squares of butter and a sprinkle of green garnish.

As far as sheer magnitude, the roast pig stole the show. Clocking in at just under 30 pounds of cake and fondant and buttercream, with curled up ears and black beads for eyes and a set of utensils (also cake) propped up on the corner of the pan.

That pig was the work of 20-year-old Victoria Cruz of Weslaco, a student who is currently a baker at H-E-B but hadn’t ever tackled a project like that pig. She didn’t want to either — she had planned on doing a simple gravy boat, but picked her project last and the whole hog was the last thing on the list.

“She was very intimidated by it,” Reinitz said. “And she was actually one of my first students to finish because she was so proud and so dedicated to it that she was able to finish it a little bit ahead of time.”

Cruz put a lot of work into that cake before she got to that point. She started four weeks ago, planning and churning out pounds of buttercream and fondant. She started setting up the cake the third week, stacking and filling it, setting up supports and then carving it before she tediously rolled out the fondant by hand.

“I was really nervous, because of course an actual roasted pig does not look appealing,” Cruz said. “It does not look nice. They actually look really weird, and I was getting real nervous seeing the pictures because I didn’t want to make an ugly looking cake.”

Finally, Cruz added the fondant, spending hours hand-painting the cake and detailing it to make the pig look like it had actually been roasted.

“I’m not gonna lie, I was so terrified,” she said. “Anybody who would listen to me complain or freakout over this cake, I would let them hear it.”

A cornucopia made from chocolate is seen on the Thanksgiving Feast Table at South Texas College on Wednesday in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

When Cruz’s classmates got a look at the finished project, she found out she’d worried for nothing. They oohed and awed over the finished product. Some said they should call Cake Boss.

Cruz, who is planning on going into the hospitality industry and maybe opening up her own bakery one day, says she’s glad she got stuck with the pig.

“I feel like it really took me out of my comfort zone, and it helped me grow as a baker and as a cake decorator because I didn’t think I had it in me to do something like that,” she said. “I didn’t possibly think I could ever do something like that.”

That’s exactly what Reinitz, her instructor, was hoping would happen.

“The joy and pride in her face itself, as an instructor made me so happy to know that she was happy and she was proud of the work that she did, knowing that she’s never ever carved a cake before — especially a pig,” she said.

According to Reinitz, STC’s culinary arts program is expanding and the community. Previously only offered at the college’s Pecan Campus, STC will be offering its introductory cake decorating class at the institution’s Mid-Valley Campus this spring for the first time.

“We’re hoping to expand across the Valley,” she said.