Winner of Food Network's Chopped Sweets
Well, I'm a Chopped Sweets champion! Never thought i'd say that. As someone with no formal culinary or cooking training, never worked in another company or business' kitchen or bakery, and not able to make a single marshmallow item during the competition (which I've dedicated the last 6 years of my life to), this was pretty surreal.
I'd love to give a little backstory and peek behind the curtain of what led up to this (we're going to jump around, so, stick with me on the ride):
I get contacted to audition for the show, a new sweets edition of the cult-favorite Chopped. What. Me? Why? Who cares, I'm going to audition. haha. Now, I've watched this show since it first came out, and I know, you're timed, and have to make everything in one-take, in under 30 and 45 minutes, respectively. Those are the rules. The clock does not stop (trust, there's no "tv magic" here, it legit starts, and counts down in real time- the drama is real). I already knew, there's zero chance I can make marshmallows on the show (if you're a wizard and know how to make marshmallows from start to set/finish in under 45 minutes, give me a call, we can go into another venture together haha). Luckily, I love baking, and, humbly, make some pretty good baked goods. Is it something I get to do even on a semi-regular basis? Hell no. So, to say I was primed and ready to compete would be a lie. But, going into the unknown (let's all sing it like Frozen, together) is pretty much my MO. So, I was up for the challenge.
I made it past the audition, and got my competition/film date. I tried to get as much practice under my belt with the limited amount of time I had (not only leading up to the film date, but, you know, also trying to run a business full time). You never know who you're going to compete against, but you always have to anticipate it being someone who has a lifetime of culinary or pastry experience. Or, it could be someone like me, a scrappy sweet tooth with a competitive spirit (with good sportsmanship, of course- the right attitude is really what's important). Well, when it comes down to it, all you can do is enter with a good attitude, and try to stay focused.
My only goals for entering the competition were to have fun, and try to make it past the first round. That was it. Even if I didn't make it past the first round, just being there, on the set, getting to do this was pretty awesome. Call time was 6:30am (I never usually have to be anywhere by this time, but we're doing this). I'm still early, getting to the location, but I'm the last in my group to arrive. So, I entered a small room with my other competitors, silently filling out paperwork (remember, this was in February, so, no social distancing "necessary"). It was intimidating. No eye contact exchanged yet, no words said yet. When everyone is finishing up/finished, it's time for us to move on to the set. We all get up, and move out of the room. My fellow competitors were Ruthann, Rod, and Mike. As we start to walk down the hall, Ruthann (Ru) turns around with a huge smile and compliments my headband. I will never forget that. that one small compliment put me at pure ease, and I knew (as corny as it sounds) that we would be longtime friends. We get into our holding room, and start talking to one another. I literally could not have ended up with a better group of people. Rod had such a laid back vibe, just talking to him can calm your nerves. Mike has a witty and sarcastic humor that just makes you laugh and smile. I knew, no matter what happened, they helped create this beautiful experience.
Now, through the competition/show itself, there are things that I can remember very well, but others are a complete blur. I felt like the clock would start, and I blacked out, and thinking, "what the hell just happened" after each round. Of course in the back of your mind, you always hope you'll make it to the end, but I didn't think I'd get there. When I made it to the final round, some people who have competed may have said or thought they knew they'd win. That wasn't me. I had no clue what the hell would happen. To me, it was anyone's game. You're supposed to have a stare-down moment on the show and give each other playful lip, which is not my style, and I've never looked someone in the face telling them I'm going to "beat" them haha. Now, I'll also mention, the show you watch is an hour (40ish minutes without commercials). The day on set started at 6:30am, and was released just before 10pm (your phone/watch gets taken away until you're released, so, you have no concept of time, but, it's a long day, and by the final round, you've been there quite a long time and you're probably tired and hungry- don't worry, they definitely feed you throughout the day, but, I was too nervous to eat haha). Getting to that point, I was so happy to have gone that far, and felt accomplished, either way. But to hear Scott say that I was the champ, was pretty weird (no joke, this wouldn't be on camera, but after I was standing alone before the judges after the announcement, I quietly mouthed to the judges, Maneet and Zach "what the f**k??" in disbelief- luckily, they laughed).
From first entering this whole thing, I only wanted to be able to prove to myself that I could do this. No one else. Of course, I'd want to make my parents proud, but hell, they're the most supportive people on this planet, that if I just got to audition and that was it, they'd be proud. So doing this competition was for me. I'm terrible about bragging about myself. I'm the token holder of impostor syndrome. Sometimes (ok, lots of times), I don't stop to appreciate some of my accomplishments and things I've done. However big or small, we all need to do more of that. We need to be ok with, humbly, being proud of ourselves and our capabilities. We need to be grateful for everything that we have, to enable ourselves to be able to do what we do. Far too often we get caught up comparing ourselves to others. We feel badly about ourselves. We get jealous. We get sad, or angry, or think, why me or why not me. It's all garbage. You are not anyone else, and no one else is you. That is your competitive edge. That is your gift. And what and how you choose to use that superpower, is totally up to you. You try something. You failed. So what. Congratulations, you just got a lesson and are now stronger. Don't be embarrassed. Don't be ashamed or feel like you're a failure. You may have failed at something, but you're not a failure, because you tried. We can't all be rockstars at everything (no matter how awesome that would be), and that's not being a downer, that's just life. But as long as you're doing your best, trying new things, and doing things that make you happy, and trying to create that same joy for others, you're winning.
This whole experience, no matter how it panned out, was a win for me. Having a title is amazing, don't get me wrong, but realizing what you're made of, and saying, f**k it, I'm going to do my best, that's the real stuff. So, what happens now? Well, for one, the past 6 months since filming have been a hell of a rollercoaster (that's a whoooole other post), but I'm healthy, and still able to work, so, I'm grateful. Will I try to do more competition shows (once those start again)? I'm totally down! Will I try to integrate more pastries into what I do? Possibly. But what I do know is, I did it, and it was one of the coolest experiences of my life. A big thank you also to the incredible crew of the production- so kind, professional, funny, and nice. It was a privilege to have been on their set. Thank you, and stay tuned...