The EB gives it 2 thumbs down
Near about every day someone will say to me “You guys should be on Cupcake Wars.” Like this is our magic bullet and it will make Jarets Stuffed Cupcakes blow up huge! Well intended advice but total bullshit. But this is something I’m used to. I owned a small restaurant before I began my journey toward cupcake excellence. Everyone unfamiliar with the restaurant industry seems to know exactly what will make a restaurant successful. Owners get advice on a daily basis. “You know what you should do? You need to put this rice lasagna my Mom makes on the menu. I’m telling you, everybody loves it. You’ll make a fortune.” Others offer up their own personal recipes for various dishes. Yet they came to eat in my houe so I believe there should be a presumption that I am in possession of numerous recipes of my own. They freely explain how carrying this beverage or serving that fish on your menu is “what you need.” I wonder if they made suggestions to an electrician, or a carpenter. “Hey, use the green wires more, people really like that. You know if you use copper nails it will last longer.“ Or even worse, tell a doctor how best to treat an ailment. “You know if you prescribe more valiums you will have happier patients.“ (yea, that was my advice but I really think that one will work!) After all now that we have WebMD so who needs a professional? Now we can treat ourselves. The food business is something easy. That’s how they know all about. Why the hell they don’t have their own restaurant? When I had a restaurant I got more advice than Dr. Phil gives in an entire season. So now that I’m a cupcake engineer and no longer a chef, they advise me to get on cupcake wars. Just do that and I will become famous.
The truth is I have been asked, over 3 time now and when first told about Cupcake Wars I was quite naïve about the show . When I was asked to be in Cupcake Wars it conjured up an image of troops of small cakes slugging it out on battlegrounds like wood tables covered in flour, stainless steel tables, and gigunda mixing bowls. The combatant cakes are outfitted camouflage cupcake liners and carrying the appropriate weaponry of any kitchen worth its baking soda. Duking it out with war tools such as knives, spoons, whisks, spatulas, an rolling pins. They engage in fierce battles smashing innocent cakes in the process and await the reinforcement of the heavy artillery. In come the big machines. The food processors, power mixers, batter dispensers, and enormous rotating ovens. The cupcake war escalates into a shock and awe campaign as huge flames arise from the oven hearth and extreme heat takes over the war theater. The sound of forced gasses and flickering flames fill the air and the smell of burning gas penetrate the prep area as wafts of thin white smoke billow off the carbon etched, war torn cupcake pans. Cupcakes have declared war!
What’s next, Teddy Bear Battles? Hello Kitty Conflicts? How can anything as sweet and innocent and so amazingly tasty and satisfying possibly be involved in a war? Obviously I knew it wasn’t really a cupcake war but it did in fact warrant a little investigation. So on to Google and then Wikipedia where I found out that Cupcakes Wars is a reality based competition show on The Food Network. Reality based? What the hell does that even mean? Armed with this information I felt compelled to take it to the next level. The only sensible course of action for me was to engage in an activity that is extremely rare for me. When I got home I turned on the TV and tunes into The Food Network to watch the show.
Watching the Food Channel is rare? Most people are indeed shocked to find out that I so rarely ever watch The Food Network. They get very indignant and question me as if we were in the Culinary Inquisition. “But you’re a chef, how can you not watch The Food Network?” Apparently it’s the responsibility of a chef to watch shows about what they do for a living. It turns out the Food Network is designed to entertain people in all walks of life who have more than a passing interest in food, and not a network designed for chefs to share recipes and ideas. My response to them is “If I was a plumber, do you think that after plumbing all day long I would want to go home and watch shows about nothing but plumbing?” The truth is if the network were really designed to entertain chefs it would be mostly about inept waiters and waitresses during epic fails while the sweat saturated kitchen staff laughs so hard their ass bones begin loosening. That’s something I might watch. When I finish a long hard day in the kitchen and I sit down to relax the last thing I want to see is more kitchen. Give me serial killers, lawyers. Doctors and nurses, detectives, or even makers of meth. (Although techniquely the meth does get cooked!) I want to escape the world that I work in for sometimes 14 hours a day. I look towards TV to take me away from my ay to day an entertain me by allowing me to escape into new realms. But I needed to know what this Cupcake Wars was all about.
Needing to understand the concept of cupcake wars for myself I watched an entire show which fro me at least, was a tedious process. It turns out its not a war at all, but a competition between bakers based on an age old culinary tradition, the Mystery Basket. The mystery basket has been used for years to help teach young culinarians skills and to hone their creative process and resourcefulness. Its even used when a chef goes for a certification. The chef is given a basket, or tray these days, with an assortment of foods on it and they are asked to create complete meal, appetizer, entrée, and dessert using everything on the tray as well as some of the basic ingredients in the pantry. They are given a specific time constraint and they are judged on taste, presentation, and creativity. Quite often these days mini mystery baskets are a stage of the interview process where the potential employer may get a chance to investigate your style of cooking, your ability to prepare and blend flavors, and how well you work under pressure. I have always felt this somewhat ineffective and a waste of time because if your resume will reflect your style and capabilities. I have had to perform a few of these interviews and for me it was easy because improvisational cooking has always been my strongest suit. For many others who are equally as talented but may be the type who prefer to carefully plan an document their course of preparation (like an accountant may) the challenge could present unfair advantage to my loosey goosey cooking style. But is is a barometer of how well one can think on their feet an it is a great learning tool.
The major difference in the game how however is that other factors come into play. Drama and conflict. Without these two gratuitous concepts the show would be of little interest and as fast paced as watching a snail running from a French chef. They pit 4 pairs of culinary bakers, most of which own their own shops, against each other and try to create a diverse cross section of cute young entrepreneurs, grouchy old lifelong bakers, and some serious cupcake makers hoping to create their dynamic business venture into an overnight success via winning the contest. They are judged by 3 wannabe American Idol judges, a European who can be testy and sharply critical, (Le Simon). an everyone wins because I’m okay your okay compassionate woman who hasn’t a mean bone in her body, (Le Paula) and an influential guest judge that has a vested interest in the winner as they will usually hire the winner for a “special event”. (Le rotating Randy)
For me the show is part of a larger sub-culture of entertainment that portrays an industry I have vested way too many years in, and worked way too hard at to see turned into a novelty act. In my day chefs worked their asses off, put in ridiculous amounts of hours in, and earned enormous respect due to their talent and integrity. Now potential chefs graduate culinary school and hope to get a TV show. Granted it is entertaining to its demographic but to me it reduces my life’s work into a slugfest of personalities where its not the most creative and flavorful food that wins, but the best personality or the most manipulative. They attempt to increase the viewer enjoyment by creating challenges through forcing the usage of unusual products. That’s great if the challenge is meaningful, but to put things like tobacco, or nacho cheese and hot dogs is just for sheer enjoyment and not a creativity challenge. I get it, it’s very popular and has millions of viewers, but even if one make a great cupcake, if they have no TV presence they can leave the show scarred as a loser. And even those who win will experience a spike of popularity, and business will grow out of curiosity, but most times it isn’t long lasting. I want a solid business grown on strong principles and hard work. But if you do ever hear of a show that wants to showcase an honest existential cupcake poet, give me a call. Or better yet, I’ll get some people and you can call my peeps……..PEACE