Thursday, May 1, 2014

That OTHER Time I Was Almost Famous, When "Cupcake Wars" Called...

As most of you know, I spent about 12 years baking wedding cakes, dealing with awkward cake requests and even odder customers, built a bakery that almost took over my life, taught me to multitask like nobody's business, got to work with Gordon Ramsey/become almost famous, then closed it and came home to actually live my life...

But there was one phone call that I took, back in the summer of 2009 or 2010 (can't remember), that could have changed everything.  Who knows if it would have been good or bad?  

I remember it was hot out, and I was wrestling a 50-pound bag of cake flour out of my car in front of the bakery, when my business phone rang, with an out-of-state phone number.  Not one to miss a phone call, because--hello, that's just the kind of phone service I provide, OK?--I balanced the flour on my hip with my right arm, jammed my cell phone between my ear and my shoulder, threw my purse over my other shoulder, reached up to close the back hatch on my car with my free hand, and tried to sound like I wasn't standing in 95-degree heat holding 50 pounds of flour with one arm.

Me:  Hello, this is Stefanie, how can I help you? (almost shut the trunk, but not quite, so they can't hear the *click*)

Caller:  Hi, Stefanie! This is Cameron.  From FOOD NETWORK.  How are you today?

Me:  Hi, Cameron! I'm great, how are you?  (like he calls me all the time...)

Cameron from FOOD NETWORK:  Good, thanks.  Hey, I'm calling to see if you've heard of a new show we have on Food Network, called Cupcake Wars, and invite you to be a contestant!

YOU COULD BE FAMOUS! or fail horribly on cable TV...but either way--YAY! TV!
Me:  Oh.  Um...I love Food Network, but I don't actually *have* TV, so...

Cameron:  You don't have TV? (people always say this like you just told them you live in a van down by the river).

Me:  (my arm is starting to shake a bit, because I'm standing in the street holding 50 POUNDS OF FLOUR).  Yeah, but I've always enjoyed when I get a chance to watch cake challenge shows.  What's your show about?  

(He seems disappointed that a baker of my obvious stature in the cake world hasn't heard of his little program.  I feel just a little bit superior, but I try not to crush his enthusiasm, because I'm nice like that.)

Cameron:  Well, we call bakers, like yourself, from around the country, and you come and compete for a chance to win $10,000.  The winner has to fully design and construct a display, based on a theme, then bake and decorate a million cupcakes in 2 hours, for a big event that will be a surprise. The event will be something really important, like the Oscars or the Grammys or the Space Shuttle Landing or something.  

(Also, I think the quantity of cupcakes was actually 1,000.  But if you work alone, one thousand cupcakes might as well be one million, trust me).

I'm thinking, first of all--why ME?  I'm a WEDDING CAKE shop, not a cupcake shop.  And at that time, Lord knows, they were popping up everywhere.  You couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a new cupcake shop owner in a pastel apron.  "Best cupcakes in TOWN, I promise!"

Me:  Oh.  Wow.  You know that I'm not a cupcake shop, right?  It's myself...and I do wedding cakes.  How'd you

Cameron:  We found you online, and we LOVE your work.  If you win, or even if you just compete, you get to be ON TV, and you could win $10,000! Your bakery will have a chance to be a household name.  (I'm in "Remember that baker who EPICALLY FAILED on that cupcake show?) If you're interested, you'd need to be free for 3-5 weeks to come stay in L.A., bring all your own tools, and pick an assistant to bring with you. We provide two helpers for you to build the final display that you'd need to design, and your assistant can help with everything else.  

He must have seen THIS on my website.  It was pretty cool.  But still...not my forte
I'm thinking, "Assistant?" bwahaha.  Oh Cameron.  Dear boy.  If I had an assistant, do you think I'd be working 16 hours a day and standing here in the sun holding 50 POUNDS OF FLOUR ON MY HIP?

Me:  Umm, well, it sounds pretty cool, but--aside from the fact that I don't have any assistant to bring, and I can't afford to leave my work and my family here and travel to L.A., and I don't actually make cupcakes...I also have a full wedding cake schedule through that month.  So...

Cameron:  Great!  You can email me for details.  Here's my address.  Do you have a pen?

Me:  Oh.  Well, actually, I'm standing here in the street, holding 50 POUNDS OF FLOUR right now.  Can you just email me a link?

Cameron:  Sure. I will email you the audition application right now.  Hope to hear from you soon.

And we hung up, with him somehow still convinced that I'd want to drop everything and jet off to L.A. with my non-existent assistant, to make one million 1,000 cupcakes, on cable TV. 

Another of my large cupcake deliveries.  I remember being so worried about how wobbly this stand was!
Long story short(er), I did go ahead and fill out the application and send it in, but I rebelliously refused to make an introduction audition video and send it, possibly because I was busy working on 5 weddings that weekend and had no time. I did look up the show and saw some of the other auditioning bakers, and sure enough, they were all big cupcake bakeries from big cities, where baking 1,000 cupcakes was what they do every day before breakfast.  I'd never made more than like 200-300 cupcakes at one time, and I thought THOSE were a challenge...
Like THIS?  See?  Two to three of these PER SEASON doesn't really qualify me.

THIS was more my thing.  I LOVED hand painting these beautiful feathers

Or THIS--ivory with appliques, which looked so pretty at this particular venue
Why didn't someone call me to do one of THOSE?  

I wasn't really interested in getting famous (or infamous) in the cupcake world at the time, so I wasn't sorry that I didn't pursue this offer.

Plus, I talked to some friends in the cake industry who'd done these challenges, and they said that, not only were the competitions so stressful that you absolutely want to kill yourself before you're done, they throw in drama (because what reality show is complete without it?), and expenses (like, you pay your own way and your ingredients are *not* free, or something), so that by the time it's over, if you didn't win (or throw yourself on a cake knife), sure--you were ON TV--but you're also BROKE AND STRESSED OUT BEYOND BELIEF.  One went so far as to say, "Seriously? If you win, that $10,000 prize will just cover what it cost you to be there."  

I also heard that, to make it interesting, they would randomly throw in a fun Secret Ingredients for the bakers to deal with.  I heard the words..."salmon" and "beef jerky" bantered around, in the same sentence as "cupcakes".

What the..HECK?  Beef jerky??  Are you even kidding me?!?  So, even if I'd had a) the money or b) the patience or c) an assistant, I'd have still totally been that baker who got on TV and had them say, "Today's secret ingredient is...beef jerky", and I'd have untied my apron and been like, "I'm out."  I'd have voted myself off the show.  

Plus, I'd have had no idea how to build a theme-related cupcake display to hold one million 1,000 cupcakes and reflect the Oscars or the Superbowl or whatever, and then try to tell two L.A. guys in flannel shirts how to built what I want.  I pictured them standing there, toolbelts ready, and me staring at a blank "sketch" paper, going, "Ummm..." while the clocking is ticking, tick tock ticktockticktockTICKTOCK YOU ARE RUNNING OUT OF TIME ON CABLE TV, AND THE WHOLE WORLD WILL REMEMBER YOU FOR THIS.

One of my other friends was like, "Stef.  Maybe that's why they called you.  So you could be *that* one.  You know...the one who everyone remembers because they told the judges to bite off, or gets cut from the first episode because they forgot the baking soda in the cake batter and then punched their assistant in the face?"  


Oh, yeah, Cameron.  I'm on to you, baby. 

Obviously, I didn't hear from them again.  But, I didn't really expect to...

I know--it's been four years, but I finally Googled the show and saw some of the displays for the first time ever:  (source for photos below = Google Images.  Not sure it matters, but I'm sure someone would say it does)
What?  See?  There's no way I'd have been able to design THAT--

So, now you know...the rest of the story.  (And if you get that reference -- *high five*)

Ever have one of those Fork in the Road phone calls? Ever have a chance to epically fail on cable TV?


  1. My comments are messed up again.

  2. Oh...sure....THAT one takes...not the thoughtful one I wrote out at first...

    1. I hate it when that happens! :(

  3. Just came here from TheBloggess (where you kindly commented so we'd find you!) and I just want to say, one million cupcakes aside (and I think that show is really pretty ... bad, actually!) - that peacock feather cake? is BRILLIANT! You *painted* those?? wow! I am SO impressed!

    1. LOL. Thanks! I can't even imagine making 1,000 cupcakes in two hours. I've still never seen that show.

      And the feathers were AHmazing to paint, definitely one of my favorites, even though I had to leave the cake in the fridge and sit in the open door and paint it while freezing half to death, because it was filled with mousse or something.

      The things we do for art...(and brides)

  4. Beautiful cakes! I'm glad you didn't sell out. I'm still working on perfecting my techniques for my kids' birthday cakes. They are getting more complex as they get older. Just tackled some ColorFlow animals on the last one.

    1. Thanks! Color flow is fun...I made a really pretty red Asian-themed cake once and did the decorative fans out of color flow. Feel free to email me if you ever have questions, lol.

      I still have whole cabinets full of luster dust, airbrush and paint...and I just got inspired enough to offer to make the graduation cake for my oldest's class in June, so we'll see what we see. Guess I *can* still pop out of retirement now and then.

  5. Do you ever paint anything other than cakes? You're very good.

    -Doug in Oakland

    1. Hi Doug, Thanks!! I have always loved painting stuff. I grew up drawing horses nonstop, then did a little oil painting ages ago (my dad and grandpa were painters), but I haven't done much since going into my "cake as art" phase. Now that that is over, and since I just finished painting our whole upstairs...I'm kind of craving painting on regular canvas again.

  6. WOW. You are such an amazing artist. I can't believe that lace, and those feathers, and THAT RIFLE! omg. Seriously.

    I'm not a huge fan of that show, so I'm glad you knew your limits and opted out. I think that takes a lot to turn down something that *sounds* like all that and a bag of chips, when in fact, it would be awful.

    didn't there used to be a cake show? Cake boss or something ...oh but I guess that was all about the one guy. You should be the new cake boss!

    1. Thanks Beth! Yeah, I loved Cake Boss and Ace of Cakes back in the day...I haven't had TV in so long that I don't know if they're still on, but I did just watch a marathon of Cake Boss on Netflix last week. Maybe that explains my wandering down memory lane...;)

  7. Can I get that high five for the Paul Harvey comment???? lol I love reading your blog Stef! You are HILARIOUS!!! Put it all into a book so I can buy it! and laugh all of the time all in one place!

    1. *HIGH FIVE* Love it!

      And thank you! Sometimes it seems like I only make mySELF laugh, which I guess is OK, but it's nice to know you're out there laughing too. :D

      And I'd totally love to charge you for all this fun, but I'm too lazy to even finish a cookbook for my family...