Culinary Adventures: I can finally talk about it.

Fair warning: This might become long and at some points a ramble because I’m so very excited about it all and I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that this actually happened to me.

I’m one of those people where if I have exciting information, I want to share it with all my friends. It’s been so incredibly challenging for me to keep my mouth shut about this whole thing. Since the casting process began in March, I’ve had to keep silent. But now, I can finally talk about this super duper exciting and amazing thing!

Since I was a teenager, I’ve been glued to Food Network. Whenever my brother wasn’t playing video games or watching something on the TV that we shared in the den, I was watching endless hours of Food Network. I’ve always had a passion for cooking and baking, so learning from all the TV chefs on the network just fueled that desire. I always told my parents and brother that I was going to be on Food Network one day. It became a dream of mine. At the time, I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but it was spoken aloud that it was going to happen somehow.

Over the years, I taught myself about baking and cooking. I never went to culinary school nor did I think about it as a career option. A lot of my learning was trial and error in the kitchen, making mistakes and researching online what went wrong. Once I got the basics down, I just took off from there and experimented on my own, saw what worked and what didn’t work, and testing how far I could deviate from baking ratios before a recipe becomes a failure.

I still watch all the Food Network shows as now baking and cooking are my passion, something I see as a hobby.  I love Bakers vs Fakers. Two amateur bakers face off against professional bakers in two rounds of competition. The judges and the contestants don’t know who’s actually the professional bakers and the person who puts out the best dish while meeting the challenge wins. I’ve never been a competitive person, especially with my food endeavors. I never knew how my food stacked up to people who went to culinary school or people who do it for a living. I always thought I would do horrible in a timed competition. And yet, I wanted to do this.

Through the casting process, I would be lying if I said I didn’t struggle. I’m a person that loathes to be in front of the camera. I can talk to crowds, I’m great at public speaking, I have no issues talking on the radio. But a camera pointed at me has me running the other way. I have issues with anxiety, insecurities, self-doubts, and depression. I was fighting against this the entire time and to be honest, I nearly withdrew multiple times. What kept me going was that I knew if I didn’t follow through as far as the whole process would take me, I would regret it.

Then I got word that I was selected to be on the show. I was in shock and disbelief. They really wanted me to be on the show! I had to fly to New York City, a place I’ve never been to before, for filming in early May. And even as I sat at the boarding gate, I had a hard time believing that it was happening.

FlightInfo

When I got there, I was taken to my hotel and I stayed in. As much as I wanted to explore a place I’ve never been to before, I wanted to be at my best for competition the next day. Plus, I’m a night owl, pick up time for filming was 7am, and with the time difference, I had to get as much sleep as I could. But sleep didn’t come easy. I was anxious, my mind was racing, I was trying to keep my self-doubt from taking over, and I was trying to stop myself predicting the future in the worst ways. I did manage to get some sleep, thankfully.

The next morning, I was even more nervous than the night before. I was freaking the fuck out. I couldn’t believe I had gotten myself into a TV competition against TWO professional bakers and another amazing home baker. There were going to be cameras filming me. I had zero control over what they were going to record. I knew they were going to record all my bad angles and broadcast it. Finally, instead of just sitting there and letting my anxiety get the best of me, I blared music from my phone and danced out my nervous energy as I got ready.

I went into this not expecting to win mainly because a time limit is intimidating. I just kept promising myself I will do my best, that I would bake to the best of my abilities, while also keeping my brother’s words of wisdom in mind: “Don’t be the first one out.”

ReadyToGo

We got to the filming location and I still couldn’t believe that I was seeing and walking through a place I’ve seen on TV so many times before, in person. I was actually there. The other contestants were nice and seemed so cool, collected, and not nervous at all. How were they okay with what was happening? How were they not flipping out? In my mind, I kept hoping that I didn’t come off like a complete moron with how nervous I was. A friend told me before I flew off that once I started baking, I’d be fine because I already know what to do and that’s my comfort zone. That part couldn’t come soon enough.

When we got onto set, the judges came in as well as the host: Robert Irvine, Daphne Oz, and Lorraine Pascale. I admired all of them. I’ve seen them on TV so many times. I follow them on social media. And now, I was seeing them in person. I felt like I was in some sort of surreal dream.

The first round, we were tasked to make carrot cake and incorporate lime ingredients. The carrot cake part wasn’t hard as I make carrot cake frequently. A lot of people have complimented my carrot cake saying it’s the best they’ve ever had. Mixing in the lime ingredients to select from was a bit tricky, mainly because I didn’t want to just give them a piece of cake. So I made my carrot cake into a parfait with lime yogurt in the cream cheese frosting. For texture and a touch of saltiness to cut the sweetness of everything, I made a walnut crumble and added the lime tortilla chips with it.

CarrotCakeParfait - Edited

After the first round, we went into judging and I still couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that the judges, chefs and TV personalities that I’ve been watching for so long, were actually eating my food. But not only did they taste the food and complimented it, they offered feedback that is invaluable to help me improve my baking and skills. When all the judging was done, it was time to see who won the round and who would go home.

When they announced my name as winning, I was stoked! And in shock. They really liked my dessert that much! Amazing! Another contestant was voted off and it was revealed that he was not a professional baker. It’s winner take all for Round 2, so the fact that I won Round 1 gave me a bit of confidence…but at this point, I started freaking out even more in my head because now I know I’m up against two pros.

We were allowed to bake whatever we wanted in the second round, but the twist was that we had to incorporate a pickled ingredient that was offered up to us. That was tricky since you don’t think of desserts and pickles. I had never baked with pickled anything before. I ended up picking pickled blueberries to make into a compote out of with fresh blueberries, lemon, and sugar. I mixed that into a cream topping which included goat cheese and sweetened condensed milk. I also put some topping for a matcha and black sesame shortbread cookie.

Shortbreads

I had some issues with the cream topping, so going into judging, I felt like they were going to totally pick up on the fact that I was an amateur. The desserts made by the other two contestants looked so amazing that there was no way I’d win despite some of the kind words said by the judges. I was worried about the pickled blueberries being too overpowering, my cookies were a touch overdone, and the cream wasn’t quite what I wanted it to be.

Despite that, they announced that I had won! They let me keep the snazzy card announcing who the winner was. It’s on a shimmery gold paper and I’m so happy that I got to keep it. But then, the hardest part was not being able to say a word to anyone. I had just beat out two professional bakers and another amateur baker! I WON! I did great! But we’re not allowed to tell anyone anything until after the show airs. I had to keep this a secret from everyone and the only reason I didn’t spill the beans was because I signed non-disclosure agreements and legal paperwork. That was enough to keep my mouth shut!

WinnerCard

While I had gone through the filming and knew the results, I hadn’t seen the final product of the episode fully edited and pieced together as a show. It finally hit the TV on Sunday, October 8th. It was amazing seeing my social media light up with so many kind words, congratulatory words, and pictures of me on TV sets as my friends and family watched with the Food Network logo right there! I really was on Food Network! My teenage dream had come true.

And, not only that…but the episode has now aired TWICE in England! I’m international!!!! How cool is that!?

TVinEngland

And, as it is with anyone who was born and raised in Hawaii does something awesome, the local news media back home got in touch with me. ALT 105.9 gave me a shout out on their Facebook page. Fernando, a friend of mine I met at my first radio job, talked me up on his podcast. I had an article about the win run in the Star-Advertiser’s Crave section. KHON News did a segment about me on a newscast. I’m so happy to be able to represent Hawaii as my home, so this was so cool to me.

With my winnings, I will be taking my parents and brother on a vacation. I’m also spending some of the money to continue on with my cooking and baking hobby. I will tell anyone that baking is like any other skill – you have to practice to improve and no matter how great you get, there will be failures along the way. Just learn and grow from them.

To answer some questions that people have asked me most often: Yes, everyone was really nice. Yes, Robert Irvine really is as muscular as he looks. No, we didn’t get to taste what the other competitors made. Yes, I do look fucking fantastic in a chef’s coat (and that was my first time ever wearing one)! Yes, recipes of what I made will be posted. And sorry, but there are some things that I’m not allowed to disclose at all.

Overall the experience was beyond words, I cannot explain how amazing it was. It was just so incredible and surreal, but it really happened! The advice given to me by the judges aren’t something I’ll forget as it will help me become a better baker. The entire production staff for the show was amazingly kind and supportive and positive. The best part of it all was making my family and friends proud. Also, despite how calm I looked on the episode, please know that I didn’t feel as cool and composed as I appeared. If I had the chance to do it all over again, hell yeah. I’d do it in a heartbeat.

So with that, I amend my dream: I will be on Food Network again.

Screenshot 2017-10-09 at 3.13.08 AM - Edited

If you missed the episode and would like to see it, some of my friends have found it On Demand through their cable services. Amazon Video and Google Play also have the episode for sale to purchase and watch within the United States. I’m on the episode titled “In a Pickle” that features carrot cake and pickled ingredients.

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