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Mahaffey takes artistic approach to food
Lora Mahaffey is a self-taught cook who managed a bakery in Alaska before moving to Stuart. She brings her artistic background to her cooking, especially when it comes to cakes. (Bulletin photo by Ben R. Williams)
Bulletin Staff Writer
Lora Mahaffey has been a fixture at the Stuart farmer’s market for two seasons. You also might have seen her on television.
Mahaffey, 50, appeared on a 2005 episode of “Food Network Challenge.” The episode’s theme was cupcakes. The team Mahaffey led competed against five other teams to see who could make the most impressive 3-foot-tall presentation piece.
Mahaffey’s piece, “Floral Fantasy,” was the judges’ favorite, earning her team $10,000.
Mahaffey has traveled extensively. She is originally from San Diego, and she attended Trinity College Dublin in Ireland. She also took classes at the University of Roehampton in London, graduating with a degree in art history.
“It took me seven years to get my degree because I traveled,” Mahaffey said.
It was on one of those vacations to Anchorage, Ala., in 1994 when she met her husband, David Mahaffey, also known as “MacGyver,” because “he can fix everything,” Mahaffey explained.
At the time, Mahaffey was still living in London, “painting murals (and) being a nanny.” She moved to Anchorage and lived there for 12 years, marrying her husband in 1996.
While in Anchorage, “I managed a bakery for a friend of mine,” Mahaffey explained. It was a temporary arrangement, but a successful one, inspiring Mahaffey to start her own bakery, Calliope Designs and Confections.
Mahaffey is “completely self-taught” when it comes to baking, she said. “I’m a mess-maker ... I learned by making a lot of mistakes.”
Mahaffey particularly enjoys cake design, viewing it as an extension of her love of art. For her, “cakes are a canvas ... a vehicle for ornamentation,” she said.
The Food Network Challenge opportunity came about through Colette Peters, a famous baker and owner of the New York City bakery “Colette’s Cakes.” The two met at an event hosted by ICES, the International Cake Exploration Societé.
Mahaffey invited Peters to come to her bakery in Anchorage and teach a cake workshop, an offer that Peters accepted. While in town, Mahaffey told Peters, a Food Network regular, that she was interested in appearing on the network. Peters told Mahaffey that she would recommend her.
Peters ended up being one of the judges on the Food Network Challenge, along with Jacques Torres, a master pastry chef often referred to as “Mr. Chocolate.”
Mahaffey’s $10,000 success on Food Network Challenge “didn’t change things too much,” she explained, although it did get her a promotion. She had been teaching a free cake baking workshop at the University of Alaska. After winning the cupcake contest, she was made an adjunct professor in the culinary department, teaching basic and advanced classes in the construction and decoration of wedding cakes.
Five years ago, Mahaffey and her husband decided to leave behind the hard Alaskan winters and make a move to a warmer part of the country. During their travels, they found a house in Stuart that they both fell in love with, “and the town came with it,” Mahaffey said.
“The people here are just great,” Mahaffey said. “We really like the community... you can make a difference in a small town that you can really see,” which is more difficult in a big city, she explained.
Last year, Mahaffey began attending the Stuart farmer’s market, selling produce and baked goods. She had missed having a venue for her baking, she said, and the farmer’s market “satisfies the urge to do that.”
Mahaffey’s scones and cookies are always popular, along with her Nanaimo bars. Nanaimo bars are a type of cookie that originated in Canada in the 1950s. Mahaffey found her recipe while visiting Vancouver Island.
She also brings seasonal items to the farmer’s market, such as ginger bread during the colder months.
Also available at Mahaffey’s market stall is her debut jazz album, “At Last.” On the album, Mahaffey lends her vocals to a number of jazz standards. She is currently gathering material for a second album.
“I’m an artist before anything,” Mahaffey said. Whether the medium is baking, art, or music, “to me, it’s all under the same umbrella.”
Recently, Mahaffey has been preparing for the sixth annual “Cookin’ for a Cause” event, which is being held today at DeHart Park in Stuart. The highlight of the event is a competitive cook-off between local people. The event also will feature live music, a silent auction, a raffle and prizes for the winning cooks.
The event is free to the public, although donations would be appreciated. All proceeds will benefit the Caring Hearts Free Clinic and the Patrick County Food Bank.
To Mahaffey, the event is just another expression of the small-town atmosphere she loves in Stuart: “Everybody here has an effect on everybody else.”