It’s that time of year again at the Food Network brings the creepy and delicious together with the “Halloween Baking Championship!”
Beginning Monday, Oct. 3 at 9 p.m. ET/PT, a new season begins as seven terrifyingly-talented bakers come together to create the spookiest and creative works of art for judges Damiano Carrara, Carla Hall and Sandra Lee. The five-week competition will be hosted by funny man Jeff Dunham and his friend Walter.
In these five weeks bakers will be asked to take on tough challenges from bite-size creations to desserts with trick-or-treat candies and ghostly graveyards. Finally, the last three bakers still in the competition will design, bake and decorate a haunted “gingerdead” house (and I’m so going to be watching for that!).
The win is big as the Halloween Baking Champion will receive the hair raising $25,000 grand prize!
Veronica Von Borstel is one of the competitors for the “Halloween Baking Championship” who began her culinary training in Los Angeles. Her pastry apprenticeship was at Emeril’s Delmonico in New Orleans, Louisiana. She has also worked in kitchens from Miami to Philadelphia but now back in her hometown of San Diego. I had the complete joy of speaking with Veronica this morning about what made her take on the challenge, the experience and this amazing lady’s future!
Jeri Jacquin: Hi Veronica!
Veronica Von Borstel: Good morning Jeri, how are you
JJ: I’m great thanks and how are you.
VVB: I’m super excited, thank you for taking the time to hang out with me this morning.
JJ: Actually that’s my line to you and I’m also excited to be talking with you. I have gotten into watching bakers create such amazing things on the Food Network so I am thrilled that you would talk to me. So tell me what made you decide to get involved with the competition?
VVB: I have been in this industry about eighteen years at this point and I’ve done a bunch of things across the board in different spectrums – from moms & pops to fine dining. I’ve always kind of avoided television and a good friend of mine and mentor Chef Kerry Simon passed last year and I was thinking, “what would Kerry do?’” This opportunity was presented to me and this man lived every moment to the fullest. He was the hardest working person I knew. So I really remember him doing his first pilot when “Iron Chef America” came over from Japan and when I found out the company produced the same show I knew I would be in good hands. I was really excited to apply and try to be on the show.
JJ: When you were chosen, what kind of instant pressure what that?
VVB: Don’t mess it up! San Diego is my hometown and I have a lot of love for this area and it means a lot to me to represent San Diego. You see all these shows and you know they are under such difficult time restraints and I just really wanted to do a good job representing the wonderful culture and people we have here.
JJ: Especially since you are doing Halloween.
VVB: Yes! San Diego loves Halloween and we are right next to the border and as a border community we have a lot of Latin American influences. Dia de los Muertos is involved a lot and with Old Town San Diego really celebrating the culture in a big way is important in being able to showcase that on national television. This showcases to other areas of the country that may not have a large Latino population and that is super important to me in sharing our culture with them.
JJ: Did you have a chance to plan out the things you were going to do?
VVB: In about 30 seconds! They tell you what the challenge is and you have a minute to think of it.
JJ: I always wondered if you were given a little bit of time to think of something or how that worked.
VVB: Totally not! You are sitting there panicking racking your brain thinking of what it could be. They decorate the whole set so you try and gather clues as to what it might be. They are so great at their job that they twist and turn throughout the show keeping you on your toes.
JJ: I couldn’t handle that pressure.
VVB: It’s very stressful but fun. They try to make it fun for contestants which I think is really cool. They love their jobs and you can tell they love their jobs because it comes out in the finished product.
JJ: When you are putting your creation together and time goes by, do you catch yourself looking at what the other contestants are putting together?
VVB: I did a little bit, and then it started freaking me out. We had the opportunity to get to know each other more and hang out in the green room. Once you start hearing the other people’s resumes and backgrounds and experiences, you are thinking ‘oh shoot!’ These are people they have brought in from all over the country. They are amazing and strong competitors so if you look at their work you are going to be insecure about what you are doing for yourself. Really, at the end of the day, you can only compete against yourself. It was about keeping my head down and making the best use of the time and really trying to do my personal best. That’s all you really can do and hope the judges like it.
JJ: I know you can’t tell us too much about the competition but I have to ask; you are in front of these judges with your work, that has to be an emotional roller coaster?
VVB: It totally is! Having Jeff Dunham hosting who is an incredibly sweet, kind person and it’s nice because you have him there to defuse the stress of the situation. He helped keep us at ease, laugh and remember to lighten up because it was really tough. Then you have Damiano Carrara who probably the newest personality on the Food Network and has done a lot of the competition shows. He is a really sweet guy but tough though with very high standards so he has more of a European palate which is less sweet and more fruits and nuts. Then there is Sandra Lee who is one of the founding personalities of the Food Network and she has done it all and seen it all. She has more of a sweet, more traditional American flavor side. Then you have Carla Hall who is just extremely wonderfully talented and has also been on these shows and is front the South. Carla has a midrange of sweetness between Damiano and Sandra. Now you have three people with very different palates in a very specific spectrum so it’s tough thinking that Damiano isn’t going to like it if I use too much sugar and Sandra isn’t going to like it if I don’t use enough and Carla might want a little more salt. It’s a balancing act for sure.
JJ: When you were making your creations, especially with Halloween since there are so many directions you can go because it’s no longer just about pumpkins and witches, are you thrilled that you get to stretch your imagination? I mean we are in zombie mode right now; everybody loves a good zombie right?
VVB: Yes, I think that’s what is really great about this. I received my undergraduate degree in Fine Arts and so it was a little tough for me because I deal in things that are really very precise. I like being able to take my time and use my artistic background but I love the creative freedom that pastry gives you. You don’t get that in a lot of jobs. At the end of the day you execute the best you can and at least for me I kept true to the nature of my work by trying to keep that refinement and precision that I really enjoy having. It’s a challenge.
JJ: When you said you were precise my brain clicked thinking this had to be tough for you with time constraints and precision.
VVB: You always wish you had ten more minutes and you think ‘if I had ten more minutes I could do this or I could have done that’. I think when you’re a perfectionist it always nags you to think you could have done better.
JJ: And you are with other bakers who are thinking the exact same thing.
VVB: Yes, definitely. We all get into the green room and all of us go over how we could have done this or that.
JJ: Isn’t it nice that you can go into a room with your competitors and even though it’s a competition you get to talk with other bakers?
VVB: Honestly, that was the biggest take-away for me in this competition. I work for myself and a lot of time it’s isolating because I’m making art and it’s a solitary process. I don’t really get a chance to interact with people who also do this for a living. It was nice to meet people who are on the same level and experience the same struggles. We are not only artists but business people. It was nice to share how to stay motivated being your own boss and have your own business and doing bookkeeping – all the things that you don’t get to talk to people about. Now I have this wonderful support group and we talk all the time.
JJ: So this is baking and coming together!
VVB: We are already planning a reunion and what to do next as friends.
JJ: Tell me about your place and what you are doing and creating with your business?
VVB: I have had my own business since 2007 after being in the industry for quite some time. It has been interesting to see it evolve into different things. I think a big turning point for me was about three years ago when I realized I could only get through the day with the knowledge that I had. So I returned to San Diego State which is where I did my undergrad and am now pursuing an MBA degree. It has been wonderful and I graduate in December and I’m very excited to see the way I can apply all the things that I learned to my business and take it to the next level. Oprah and Martha Stewart are ladies that inspire me and you have to have the tools to get to that point. Through what I’ve learned at San Diego State I have been able to gain those tools as well as a network of really qualified people. I’m super excited to collaborate with all of them. I’m currently working on a book called “Sugar Mama” which is trying to save all of the heritage recipes that have been passed down through the generations. You know that sometimes grandma has passed on and she never wrote anything down or there are index cards in the back of folders somewhere. These are recipes that have made America what it is today. So I want to preserve them and make them easier for people today to use in the kitchen as well as candy making techniques from all over the world.
JJ: I want that book! My daughter and I around the holidays go on the internet and try to find a recipe for something we haven’t made before. I’m not saying we are always successful but we try.
VVB: What a wonderful bonding experience. That’s a tradition that keeps families together and can be passed down. It’s spending time with the family and not attached to electronics and – you get to eat it! You can’t beat that.
JJ: I do appreciate you speaking with me this morning and watch the show to see you and your creations.
VVB: Thank you too. I’m from San Diego and the military is a very large presence and I appreciate and respect all of our service members for their dedication. Their families as well because I know it is tough. I have a lot of friends in the service and I’m so very proud of them all!
I cannot wait to see Veronica on the Food Network’s “Halloween Baking Championship” this Monday at 9 p.m. ET/PT. Her can-do spirit is truly inspirational and her dedication to baking up amazing creations has me in the fan club!
So San Diego, tune in and join me in cheering on Veronica starting Monday on Food Network!