It was July 2015 when I decided to apply to the Food Network AGAIN for the LAST TIME. I had applied religiously every year since 2011 each time getting closer and closer to being cast on a show. I knew Cake Wars was the show for me- I am super, duper, UBER competitive and I love the rush of working on a tight time schedule.
One month later Super Delicious contacted me asking for a video submission. I was in San Francisco on vacation at the time and I halfheartedly told them “ya, ya, you’ll get a video.” I’ve been through this step many times… A week passed and I totally forgot about it. Again Super Delicious called me asking for the video and I paused and thought “huh… they really want a video from me. Can it be?! Will I get cast?!” So I submitted a video showing off the bruises covering my knees from an aggressive game of air hockey the night before at an Arcade, PROOF that I was competitive. A month later I get the golden phone call ” Congratulations! You will be competing on Season 2 of Cake Wars”
OH EM GEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!! My episode was set to film a month later. I didn’t know the theme, I didn’t know anything. What I DID know is that I wanted to WIN!!!!!! There was no doubt in my mind I was taking my mom as my assistant. When I told her she said “No, Shantal, take one of your cake friends! I’m slow, I’m old and I’ll make you lose!” I told her “Win or lose, I want you as my partner because no one else deserves that spot.” Plus I valued the memory of being on tv with my mom WAY MORE than winning the $10,000. But don’t misunderstand me…I still wanted to win hahaha!
These are the steps I took to improve my chances of winning:
Step 1: Treat the competition like a COMPETITION. Just like sports players watch previous games over and over again to analyze game plans, I had to do the same. I don’t own a television so I missed most of Season 1 of Cake Wars but I found all the episodes on YouTube. I grabbed a pen and paper and watched every single episode, noting down what the judges said, what they liked, what they didn’t like, what the competitors did wrong in short amount of time, what worked and what didn’t work. I watched each episode at the very least 3 times. Yes, I made time for that. I learned that Ron Ben Israel loved clean, square edges and that his favorite cake flavor was almond. I learned that Waylynn Lucas wanted the central characters to be LARGE on the cake and the main focus. These were very important things to remember!!
Step 2: From the moment I learned I was going to be on cake wars I used every and any opportunity to practice baking! With every customer order I turned on the timer in my kitchen and I timed myself with every test, going faster and faster until I met my time goals. If something was taking me 10 minutes, how could I do it more efficiently? WHY was it taking me 10 minutes? How can I maximize EVERY MINUTE of my time?!?!?! Time is money and in this case that’s $10,000!
Step 3: This was the trickiest- delegating tasks. I’m used to working alone, with occasional help from my mom (who I was taking as my assistant on the show). My mom and I are like oil and water sometimes…we have epic battles in the kitchen about design, but at the end of the day we are a great team. She knows what I like, how I like it and how to execute it. She does run into problems here and there and most of the time sculpts things out of scale (even when I give her the scale I want it in hahaha) … but on Cake Wars if you make it to round 2 you are given 2 assistants! That’s 4 people I need to delegate work to! I’m such a control freak! What would I give the assistants? Not knowing the theme was tricky… but I made a tentative plan as to what I could assign to the assistants. The baking was out of the question since flavor could make or break a winning cake!
Step 4: Even though Cake Wars provides most ingredients and tools, we were allowed to take whatever we wanted. I was already going to be unfamiliar with the new baking space so I took everything that would make me feel at “home.” Like a child is attached to a blankey, I am attached to certain tools and ingredients. I knew how all of my ingredients behaved, so I forwent their free stuff and took my own. A little financial loss was a great expense if I ended up winning! The more comfortable I felt, the more confident I would be.
Step 5: Before starting to film, we were allowed a few minutes to get acquainted with the kitchen space. I touched EVERYTHING, turned on EVERYTHING, and made sure I had all of my questions answered about how equipment worked. It was my first time using a fondant sheeter ( and oh my gosh, it was a baker’s dream come true, dare I say orgasmic?! it was AMAZING to use a sheeter!) and I wanted to minimize the number of surprises during the competition
Step 6: During that short prep time I made sure all of my tools were organized in a way that made sense. If I needed a whisk I knew where to reach, if I needed more chocolate I knew exactly where I’d find it. TIME was very important and I had to save a lot of it by being more efficient. This all backfired on me when we made it to round 2 since we didn’t have time to prep for round 2 and all of our tools were all over the place after we washed everything…so round 2 was very hectic!
What I learned in Round 1:
1. No matter how well you think you prepared yourself for competition, something always goes wrong! I didn’t realize I chose a glass bowl to melt my chocolate in the microwave and as a result I burned chocolate for the first time…and on national television. Doh!!
2. 75 minutes is gone in the blink of an eye hahaha! Seriously, that’s not enough time to bake and cool a cake, then fill, frost and decorate!!!!!!
3. Television is a lot of fun 🙂
4. I was really nervous about Ron Ben Israel tasting my cakes… I’m a self-taught baker and don’t by any means call myself a master chef. Being critiqued on national television about my flavors from the cake god himself was nerve-wracking!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! But he called my cakes delicious!!! Both rounds!!! I can’t believe it!!!!
5. Working with my mom was amusing and frustrating at the same time. I overheard the judges say “we’re not sure who’s boss in that team” hahahaha! I had to turn to my mom and tell her “listen, I know you’re my mom but here you’re my assistant and have to do what I ask.”
6. My hard work paid off practicing- we finished the cake a whole 5 minutes before time was up!!!!! go #teamshakar
We had a brief lunch break between the rounds. I needed some good comfort food for that emotionally abusive round. What they said to Manuel made my eyes tear up and I gave him a massive hug after he got eliminated (the cake world is full of love). So I opted for chinese food. Can you believe this was my fortune cookie?!?!?!!
I remember turning to my mom and telling her: it’s a sign!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
During that lunch break my mom and I came up with a game plan. Now that we knew our theme was Archie Comics we knew roughly what our cake design had to look like… it had to have most if not all of the characters. These were the new steps we took:
1. We quickly discussed what went wrong in Round 1 and we brain stormed on how to improve our mistakes!
2. We discussed our strengths and weaknesses. I asked my mom what she felt comfortable focusing on most in the next round. I tasked her with sculpting the figurines.
3. I knew I wanted to design something a-typical…and most likely would include a structure. So I drew up a game plan of what the assistants would work on while I worked on the structure.
4. I would be the one in charge with baking, but if I needed help with the baking I would write down the steps for my mom.
5. My mom promised she’d listen to me hahahahahaha
Round 2 was EXHAUSTING!!!!!!!!!!!! At this point I was awake for 8 hours and was going off of 5 hours of sleep. My feet hurt, my brain hurt and I had 4 hours of competition ahead of me plus 1 hour of cleanup! Coming up with an Archie design was not easy…I swear it was the most difficult design I have ever whipped up! There wasn’t much wiggle room for creativity. But it was all worth it when I saw Jon Goldwater’s face when he looked at my cake design. His eyes lit up and as soon as I saw his smile, I no longer cared what the other judges said. HE was my customer and I knew I succeeded in making him happy!
Funny moment moving the cake:
There were so many easter eggs in my cake! The surf boards had Uruguay and Armenia flags, we tried to incorporate as much of those colors everywhere. I chose “Sugar, sugar” for the record not only because it was the number 1 hit song, but because Shakar means sugar in Armenian and my mom and I would be Shakar and Shakar…or Sugar, Sugar 😉 it was my shout out to us!
If you don’t know the Sugar, Sugar song, hear it here:
Here are some fun details that weren’t caught on camera:
2. My mom was THE MOST injured person on set. She burned her hands, cut her hands, and forgot to remove her hands from under the cake when we placed it on the stand. Once the cake was down I asked her to show me her injuries. My mom was facing the judges when she lifted both hands and flipped her middle fingers in my direction… the fingers she injured…but she was facing the judges and accidentally sent an “F YOU” message to them hahaha! The camera guy ran out so happy yelling “I caught that!!!!”
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Here are all of the pictures:
With Jon Goldwater- the CEO of Archie Comics