Watching their own actions, errors and triumphs unfold on television before a nationwide audience has been a surreal experience for Melody Larsen and Adalberto Diaz, two competitors with Utah ties on Food Network’s “Holiday Baking Championship.”
“I sit there and I’m watching all nervous, like I’m watching it for the first time,” said Larsen, who went to Brigham Young University and now resides in Mesa, Arizona, with her husband and three sons. “It’s hard watching yourself.”
Diaz described watching his past actions on television as a “fun experience.”
Watching the show each week has also provided him with opportunities for reflection. Diaz, who owns a bakery called Fillings and Emulsions in Salt Lake City, said it has been interesting to see how he handles things in the moment as well as what recipes he ends up choosing when he's under pressure during the short time frame of an episode.
He said there have been multiple times when he has watched the show and thought, “Why didn’t I go with a different recipe?”
He has realized, though, that on the show he’s competing and trying to get the job done. Thinking clearly during the show was also hard because food burns and machines break, said Diaz, who is also an instructor of culinary arts at Utah Valley University.
In one particular situation during the show's fourth episode, Diaz cut his finger right at the beginning of a challenge. Despite the amount of time the incident took away from his baking, he ended up winning that round with his butternut squash pudding cake.
“I wasn’t very happy with the way the cake looked,” Diaz said. “It was kind of a surprise (winning the round) because I wasn’t expecting that was one of my best jobs I’ve ever done. But the flavor of the cake is amazing, and I’m pretty sure that made a difference.”
One of Larsen’s major successes on the show came during the fifth — and most recent — episode when she won the cookie challenge. She made each of her sons’ favorite cookies for this round. Her Molasses Krackle Cookie was a “$50,000 cookie,” according to one of the show’s judges.
That episode aired Nov. 29. By Dec. 1 at 8 a.m., Larsen said, she had sold every single Molasses Krackle Cookie at her shop, Sassy’s Cafe and Bakery. She said the fifth episode has driven business more than the others.
Larsen holds “Holiday Baking Championship” viewing parties each week at her bakery. When the season first began, approximately 60 people attended the gatherings, she said. Now, five episodes into the season and with Larsen still in the running, that number has more than doubled.
“I’ve had such an overwhelming outpour of support from the community,” Larsen said. “Before the show, so many people didn’t know that I existed, but now they’re so excited that one of their local girls is getting national exposure. It has made me feel so great.”
Similarly, Diaz has enjoyed seeing people come to his bakery and try the things he has made on the show. He considers it to be the most rewarding part of being on “Holiday Baking Championship.”
Larsen always wanted to be featured on a baking show, saying it is “every marketer’s dream to have that kind of advertising." But she never dreamed she would ever be picked for such an adventure.
“When they actually chose me, I started feeling doubt,” Larsen said. “I thought, ‘Can I really do this? Who am I going to be competing against? Do I really have what it takes to go and compete against these people?’”
It was all a matter of stepping out of her comfort zone.
“I was pushed to a limit that I never thought I could do,” she said. “I had to keep thinking of why I was doing this. I was doing this for my family and for my kids and for my employees.”
Larsen says her faith as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has guided her through the experience.
“I prayed a lot, and I feel like I couldn’t have done it without my Heavenly Father,” Larsen said. “He sees the hard work, and he blesses it. You have to go for it, and then Heavenly Father helps you. I feel like that has helped me 100 percent in this whole process.”
Diaz said his greatest challenge in being on the show was discovering what the judges really wanted when they issued a challenge.
“It’s not about your interpretation of the challenge,” Diaz said. “It has to do with what the judges have given you and how you have to use that to create something that the three of them would love. Finding that balance takes a lot of feedback and time, and if you can figure it out, that’s what actually makes a winning recipe.”
Being on the show has been a learning experience for both of the chefs. As a bakery owner and instructor, Diaz is used to being the boss. The show has turned the tables, and Diaz has learned how it feels to be criticized. He said this has helped him develop more empathy toward his students and employees.
Larsen said it was a blessing to be featured on the show and to have the opportunity to grow as a baker and as a person.
“I feel like from day one, from the minute they chose me, that it was just what I was supposed to do and, really, what I was born to do,” she said. “It’s been such an amazing experience, and I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.”
Ten chefs started the competition, and Larsen and Diaz are two of five remaining contestants.
“Holiday Baking Championship” airs on Sunday evenings on Food Network.