Don’t let the pastel frosting and sprinkles fool you. This baking competition is no cakewalk. In fact, the “Food Network Challenge” is more like the Tour de France of the culinary world — and come June 7, you can watch neighborhood baker Lauren Kitchens, owner of Fancy Cakes by Lauren, duke it out in the ultimate chef showdown.
Have you always baked?
I studied film at SMU, but I have always baked cakes, I just never saw it as a way to make a living. That is, until a friend’s aunt paid me to make a birthday cake; that was my ‘ah-ha’ moment. I started teaching myself to decorate cakes and selling them out of my parents’ kitchen, which is so illegal on so many levels, but I eventually made it legit and opened this bakery about eight years ago.
So how did you end up on the “Food Network Challenge”?
One of the TV show’s producers found my website, so she called and asked if I’d audition.
And what was your first thought?
Oh, I said no way. I had watched the show, I saw how horribly nerve-wracking it was. It’s the best way to achieve national humiliation.
What changed your mind?
Well, the producer was so nice. And I figured I really didn’t have anything to lose, plus this could be a chance to make a cake of whole new caliber.
So what kind of cake did you get to make?
It was a Disney-themed episode, so I made a “Mary Poppins” cake. The rules said my cake had to be inspired by the movie, so I had to make Julie Andrews’ face out of sugar.
How’d you pull that off?
I studied her face. I watched that movie every day here at the bakery, plus over the weekends. I will never be able to sit through “Mary Poppins” ever again.
What was it like actually being on the show?
Surprisingly, it’s very calm. But once they edit the show, it looks like a tornado. They take the judges to the next room to talk trash about you, so you don’t hear it. But you do have to go face the judges right after you’ve been baking for eight hours straight, which is pretty rough.
You bake for eight hours straight? How hard is that?
It was hard, horrible and terrible — but I loved it. My assistant and I totally forgot to bring our snack bag, so we didn’t eat the whole time. Next time we are bringing Powerbars and water — that was a rookie mistake.
Next time? You’re doing another episode?
Yes, and this time the episode theme is “Sesame Street” to celebrate the show’s 40th anniversary, so I’m doing an Elmo cake. We actually get to do a little interview with the characters, so I get to interview Elmo. But “Sesame Street” actually gives us a list of questions we cannot ask the characters, and we’re not allowed to ask if Bert and Ernie are gay. Isn’t that funny? That’s actually on the list.
So what are you going to ask Elmo?
Just simple questions, like what is his favorite type of cake. My 4-year-old daughter thinks it’s so cool that I get to meet Elmo, because of course she thinks he’s a real person. She drew a picture of him she wants me to give him.
What did you enjoy most about being on the show?
It was an opportunity to meet the best cake decorators in the country and to be judged by experts in our field. Plus, I got to be on TV — I didn’t mind the limelight at all. It was a lot of fun.
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