Instead of 80 candles, there were supposed to be 80 cakes — one for every year of exuberant life lived so far by culinary star Jacques Pépin. But when his chef friends caught wind of the concept, more and more of them wanted in. So, if the final dessert tally at the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ annual conference is any indication, Pépin is well is on his way to becoming a centenarian.

“There’s 23 to grow on,” said the IACP’s Doug Duda, as he arranged the 103 cakes on a long banquette. “We couldn’t say no.”

Those 23 extra cakes are also a good omen, one of several reasons Pépin’s fans and friends breathed a sigh of relief this week. The cookbook author and TV chef suffered a minor stroke last weekend and spent a few days undergoing treatment in a hospital near his Connecticut home. He is expected to make a full recovery, but under the advice of his doctors, he canceled his appearance Friday at IACP’s conference in the Marriott Renaissance Hotel downtown. It was a birthday party without its guest of honor. (It was also a birthday party without a birthday — Pépin’s isn’t until Dec. 18 , but his colleagues plan to celebrate him all year long.)

When José Andrés heard the news of Pépin’s stroke, “I sent him flowers,” the chef said. “I’m very sad because this event, with him here, would be amazing. But only somebody like him could gather so many high toques not only from D.C., but from all over.”

Andrés was just one of those high toques. Milling about the room in chef’s whites were former White House pastry chef Bill Yosses, who reminisced about the time Pépin cooked at the White House Easter Egg Roll; DBGB’s Daniel Boulud, who wished him “joyeux anniversaire,” baker (and chef of the newly open North Bethesda restaurant City Perch) Sherry Yard; cookbook author and TV host Joan Nathan; New York Times food writer Florence Fabricant; and L’Academie de Cuisine founder François Dionot. If you were to accidentally elbow someone in line for a glass of wine, chances are it’d be a James Beard Award winner.

Jacques Pépin salutes guests at his party Friday via Skype. (Andre Chung/for The Washington Post)

Others delivered video messages: “Eighty, well, it’s the new 50,” said cookbook author and TV host Rachael Ray. “You look fabulous.”

“You were there for me, so in a lot of ways, I owe it all to you,” said Anthony Bourdain.

Pépin Skyped into the conference, with the help of PBS’s “American Masters” film crew and Jamie Tiampo of SeeFood Media, who called himself “Jacques’s avatar.” Tiampo walked around the conference with an iPad, showing Pépin the cakes and encouraging friends to make speeches. Everyone could see his reaction on giant screens. Pépin, who is also a painter, sat at a computer in front of his easel, occasionally holding a curly-haired black dog in his lap, sometimes joined by his daughter, Claudine.

Several times throughout the night, he was serenaded with “Happy Birthday” — in English, French and Spanish. During a raucous round of toasts, Andrés asked for a lighter. Chef Victor Albisu supplied one, and Andres blew out the substitute candle.

“After 60 years of cooking, I cannot think of a better world or a better life,” Pépin said. “My only sorrow is not to be able to be with you tonight. I love you all.”

The 103 cakes were the most tangible manifestation of that shared love. Although they knew he wouldn’t be there to taste them, chefs tried to incorporate some of Pépin’s favorite flavors, such as praline and hazelnut, and created elaborate designs that reflected his career. One by Arlington chef David Guas re-created Pépin’s Legion d’Honneur award, the highest civilian honor from the French government, while others replicated his chef’s coat and favorite ingredients in miniature.

“Jacques, I hope you can feel the love in this room because even the Coast Guard made you a cake,” said PBS host Barbara Fenzl.

A lobster pot cake was one of the treats made for culinary star Jacques Pépin. (Deb Lindsey Photography/IACP Conference)

Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Tameka Avans surveyed all of the cakes near hers — a lifelike lobster in a bronze “pot” by Patrick O’Connell of the Inn at Little Washington; a re-creation of the set of Pépin’s show made entirely from sugar for KQED, a public TV station in California, by Charm City Cakes of Baltimore. Avans’s cake, which she made with Petty Officer 1st Class Kevin Saiyasak, depicted the Coast Guard logo in patriotic colors.

“I feel like, Oh wow, one of my cakes is here with all of these chefs’. It’s a big-time thing,” she said.

Others took it as a corporate branding opportunity, tacking the logos for Whole Foods, the Food Network Magazine and on basic birthday cakes — it was a conference, after all. Nearly 40 of the cakes were made by Susan Limb’s Bethesda bakery Praline, which acted as a proxy baker for chefs and writers who couldn’t make the trip. Homemaking doyenne Martha Stewart was originally on the list to contribute a cake, but after Pépin’s health scare, she decided to skip the conference and deliver it personally to his home, Duda said.

Others weren’t deterred by the distance. Yard, who lives in Los Angeles, brought her cake, with its 40 paper-thin layers, on a flight from Arizona, where she participated in a James Beard dinner the night before.

“I wouldn’t want anybody to go near it” on the plane, she said. But now that the chocolate-praline-espresso cake covered in chocolate beads had arrived safely, “it’s like the bear Corduroy. I hope someone wants to take it home.”

That’s because all of the cakes were being auctioned off to benefit the IACP’s philanthropic arm, the Culinary Trust. Basically, it was the world’s best bake sale.

(Full disclosure: Washington Post Food editor Joe Yonan is the programming committee chair for the conference, and the 80-cakes idea was his. The Post’s Bonnie Benwick and Roxanne Roberts contributed a cake, constructed to look like Pépin’s cookbooks, with an edible figurine sculpted by Burton Farnsworth to look like the chef.)

Bids for the silent auction were accepted via a mobile app, but bidders were stymied by intermittent WiFi outages.

“I’m going to lose because of technology,” moaned Lara Nixon, a board member of the Culinary Institute, who had bid on seven cakes, including one made entirely of foie gras by purveyor D’Artagnan.

Presumably, there were some winners who would take a gourmet cake up to their hotel room and enjoy it in their pajamas while watching reruns on Bravo, but no one would cop to that.

Meanwhile, everyone but Pépin got a chance to enjoy the chef’s favorite cake.

Before the conference, Duda said, “I called [Pépin] up and said, ‘What’s your favorite cake?’ And he said [chocolatier Jacques] Torres’s Oreo cake. Oreo cake? Of all the things in the world, I was expecting some French cake of his youth. And he said, ‘Ever since I came to the U.S., I love Oreos.’ ”

Torres also designed the centerpiece of the evening, a nearly life-size stove made of chocolate, scattered with edible replicas of memorabilia inspired by Pépin’s life. There were copies of his paintings, family photos printed on edible paper, even a chocolate box of Duncan Hines devil’s-food cake mix — one of Pépin’s and Torres’s shared guilty pleasures, the chef said.

“Jacques is very complex. Jacques is a painter, he’s a writer, he’s very well educated,” Torres said. “Jacques lives the life that he wants, and I think that’s very important to him. . . . He’s true to himself. That’s the way I think about him.”

It took Torres and a team of volunteers from the International Culinary Center (ICC), where he is a dean along with Pépin, three weeks to construct the chocolate stove. The hardest part was transporting it all from New York.

“We drove a very scary drive,” said Jansen Chan, the director of pastry operations for the ICC. “There are a lot of bumps in the road after this winter season, and every bump in the road, we could feel.”

Except for a Q that refused to stay upright with the other letters in the guest of honor’s name, they pulled it off. But what would happen to the chocolate stove after the party was over and all the other sweets were gone?

“I think it’s going to get destroyed tonight,” Chan said.

“We should take a hammer and break everything,” Torres said. “Take a hammer and let’s eat it! I’m okay with it.”