Since episode 2 aired, the question I find myself answering over and over again is “what was it like to compete with Stephany Buswell and Joshua Livsley? The short answer is AWESOME!
Stephany’s energy is magnetic. Don’t let her age fool you, she thinks fast on her feet and is in great shape. After our first four challenges it is obvious she is a strong contender for the win. I felt a kinship with her; we even called ourselves the “Pastry Soul Sisters.” A former barefoot hippy in San Francisco, Stephany still goes to concerts and rocks out! By the time the second episode was recorded, we’d had some time to hang out outside of the kitchen. When we explored the city of New Orleans she insisted on going into every voodoo shop in the French Quarter!
Needless to say, I was so excited to be paired up with Stephany for a pre-heat challenge. Our challenge was to make a hand pie using a maple leaf cutter. My initial thought was to make maple butter. At the bakery, I always have homemade maple butter on hand because it keeps forever and it has a bold flavor that packs a punch. When Stephany and I planned our pies we both realized that we had the exact same family recipe for crust that uses cream cheese. Honestly, what are the chances? We decided to make an apple pecan pie hand pie that is glazed with maple butter. Working alongside Stephany was a blast. I remember thinking, “This is going to be awesome and we are going to win this challenge because we are clicking so well together.” Then, when the two of us stood in front of the judges, we received very mixed reviews. Nancy said our plate looked like a tornado and Lorraine told us we should have toasted the pecans. As much as it hurt to hear, I had to agree with the judges. They also said, however, our cream cheese pie crust was amazing and that the maple butter was delicious.
Since the challenge, I’ve had time to analyze what I would have done differently. I would have stuck to one pie filling (apple or pecan, but not both) because it was unnecessary and it would have been better to make one fantastic filling rather than two average fillings. We should have had one person handle how the plate was decorated. It came down to the wire for us and we both scrambled to decorate the plate in the last moments, which resulted in a messy “tornado” instead of cohesive plate.
Let me tell you, after the 2nd pre-heat challenge, I felt so insecure! At this point I was three challenges in and it was so clear to me that this was going to be a lot harder than I had first thought.
Joshua was not helping my deflated ego. This kid drips with talent. He’s the guy you want on your team because he is incredibly generous with his ideas and he wants everyone to excel, not just himself. He is poised and thinks quickly on his feet. In this competition it was obvious to all of the contestants that he was the one to beat and we lovingly called him “The Wiz Kid” and “Josh Ganache” behind the scenes. One thing Joshua does well is make the people around him look good, so I was happy and honored that he picked me to be his partner for the main challenge.
Working together, our challenge was to create a plated duo dessert that highlighted orange and chocolate flavors. It was Joshua’s idea to create a plate inspired by Santa’s milk and cookies. In anticipation of the show, I had about 10 recipes I knew I wanted to use during the competition. One of them was a chocolate budino, which is a baked chocolate custard. I suggested to Joshua that I could replicate milk with a layered pudding dessert. He chimed in that he could make the king of all cookies: the French Macaron.
Two hours is not a lot of time to prepare a layered pudding dessert. My intention was to have a chocolate budino custard at the base, a blood orange pudding in the middle, and a meringue foam on the top to replicate milk froth. For my garnish I wanted to make a chocolate straw. The idea I had was to take tempered chocolate and pour it into a plastic straw. It is a technique that I had never done before, which should have been a red flag! Half-way through the competition, the host Jesse informed us that we had to incorporate eggnog into our desserts. It threw me off for a couple of minutes as it forced me to switch gears. I then realized that I had to drop the foam layer and turn it into an eggnog pudding.
Minus the chocolate straw, these are all desserts that I have a lot of experience making. After I put on the last top layer, I had 15 minutes to try and finish the chocolate straw. To my disappointment, the chocolate was not coming out of the plastic straw at all. In a previous critique I was traumatized by Nancy’s insistence that the plate look like Christmas, so I became convinced I needed to have a straw in order for the judges to see that it was a milk and cookies plate. I ran, and I mean RAN, to the pantry and saw that they had those crunchy hazelnut wafer cookies and I thought it looked like a straw. I quickly piped out a red snowflake that was so rushed it ended up looking like a spiderweb. For Joshua and me, the rushed plating of our desserts came down to the last second! It was incredibly intense.
The challenge was done and I had no confidence at all! Once again, Joshua’s cookie looked perfect. Working alongside of the Wiz Kid was fantastic, but having my dessert up against his in a competition is intimidating. To make matters worse, we were so busy plating during the last couple of minutes that I did not have time to taste any of my pudding layers or my garnishes.
I stood in front of the judges and my main thought was that this could be the dessert that will send me home. I was judged first and was told that my wafer cookie looked like Santa left his cigar in my glass. Duff pretends he is smoking a cigar and I am mortified.
Seconds later, they tasted my dessert and the tides changed. The feedback I started to hear was incredible. Even Nancy, the judge who had been the toughest to please, tells me that it tastes like silk. All three judges were impressed with how perfect each layer was, and I started to cry. Not only did they love the dessert, they loved the way I combined the flavors. Duff asked me why I was crying. I lied and told him it had been a long day. Yes, it had been a long day, but the tears were just an outpouring of relief.
Once it came time to announce the winner, I was surprised to hear my name! I knew I would probably stay another week, but I had no idea that I would come out on top. When they announced that Pablo would be going home, Stephany breathed out “not Pablo!” It would have hurt to see anyone leave, but I had Pablo pegged as a contender for the finale. Pablo is an incredible pastry artist that makes chocolate sculptures and beautiful wedding cakes. Surely if he would have gotten a structural or showpiece challenge he would have shined. Pablo’s departure reinstates the obvious reality that at any point any one of us could be sent home.
One of the hardest parts of being in a competition like this is that I need to keep silent about what happens on the show. That night I bought a bottle of wine and celebrated silently by myself in my hotel room. Months later, now that the show has aired, it has been fun finally being able to celebrate a win!
My next goal I want to achieve is to make it more than halfway through the competition. I am one step closer.