Watch the Frost Fright

Rancho Cordova, CA  |  By Jacqueline Fox
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Joining Burgess on the team are Las Vegas sugar artist Frederick Isla, who won Cake Wars: Christmas Season 1; David Smith, master pumpkin carver from Westerville, OH and owner of Frost Lion, as well as a former Cake Wars competitor; Danny Kissel, pumpkin carver from Newville, PA and former Halloween Wars competitor, and the other newbie: Frank Reaver, an artist and pumpkin carver from New Windsor, MD. Photo courtesy Food Network

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Rancho Cordova resident, Jewel Burgess. Photo by Jacqueline Fox

Cake Wars Halloween Spinoff Features Local Baker

Rancho Cordova, CA (MPG) - It started with a birthday cake. Then, through the magic of social media, came a recipe for horror. Actually, a few recipes.

Let us explain. Rancho Cordova resident, Jewel Burgess, is not evil. She just loves to bake. The cake that kicked it off for her was an intricately crafted version of a Mickey Mouse Club House cake she made in 2014 for her son Benjamin’s first birthday. She had no prior baking experience, but dabbled in artistic endeavors and thought, what the heck, YouTube can help. 

“The cake caught the attention of some online friends and, from there, word spread,” says Burgess. Layer by layer, the Sutter Health administrative employee by day found herself owner and operator of a home-based cottage corporation, Cake Jewel. By night and on weekends, Burgess stays busy, crafting one-of-a-kind cakes from the comfort of her own kitchen.

Cake Jewel specializes in custom, novelty cakes. Actually, Burgess calls them cake “experiences” and that means they may come in many forms, heights, shapes and even smells.  Replicas of full-sized gumball machines with a dispenser and actual gumballs; a “majestic mermaid’s tail” cake; bedazzled, four and five layer wedding towers; a stack of pancakes with an egg on the side and a pig for a topper; a brown turtle nesting on a green grassy knoll, ready to chomp down a meal and so life-like it almost creeps you out to think of digging a fork into it.

The Burgess home bakery is perpetually open for business.  Tools of the trade are strewn across the kitchen table: an electric drill, knives, a craft box loaded with dozens of different sized metal icing dispensers, a wood platform and screw contraption for holding cakes in place as the work is done. Cupcakes are cooling on the counter, batter mixes stand ready for the mix. Taped to the cupboards are sketches of cake designs Burgess has already baked and long-since sold, others still in the making. On the wall is her permit for the home-based business.

“It’s become a full-fledge operation,” says Burgess.  “I made the cake for Benjamin and I’ve been making cakes pretty much non-stop ever since.”

Now, here’s where the horror comes in.  Roughly a year ago Burgess, or rather her cakes were discovered via her Instagram account by a producer from the Food Network.  And, just like that, she found herself the only woman on a five-person team comprised of other culinary sugar artists and expert carvers from around the country to compete on three episodes of the channel’s 2017 Halloween Wars spinoff, “Hayride of Horror.”

Burgess was whisked off to a real-life pumpkin patch in Moorpark, CA just north of Los Angeles last fall, where she joined her teammates for the competition tapings.  The first, “Scarecrow Comes Alive,” is set to air Saturday, Oct. 2, followed up by “When the Pumpkins Fight Back” on Saturday, Oct. 9th, and wrapping up with the finale episode, “Possessed Zoo” on October 16. All episodes are set to air at 10 p.m. EST.

On the show, you’ll see Burgess and her teammates baking, carving, sculpting and frosting three live-sized, walkable and frightening scenes of horror, all competing for a $15,000 purse for each episode.  We can’t tell you too much about the scenes or who wins. That would spoil it for you. Even the identity of the judges are secret at this point. 

What we can reveal is that the three episodes involve some heart-stopping, blood-curdling Halloween gore: body parts, sinister black crows, green monsters, classic graveyard ghosts, witches and skeletons made to melt in your mouth, or, even better, crunch.  And, oh yeah, a lot of pumpkins.

 “It was all a total surprise,” said Burgess.  “I got a phone call from a producer from the network one day and she said she’d been following me on Instagram and liked my work. She asked me if I was interested in joining the team and I said of course.”

Burgess said the experience of competing alongside four other, male and, in three cases, more experienced bakers and sugar sculptors was, at first, a bit daunting. (Three had competed on previous Food Network shows.)

“I was one of two newbies on the show,” Burgess said. “The other three had competed on the network before. So, being the only woman on the team and being self-taught and new was challenging at first.  There was a little bit of ego flying around and, to be honest, at one point I thought about coming home. But then, when I was asked to show them what I could do my passion kicked into gear and I got down to work.  I put in my earbuds and said ‘OK, everyone leave me alone.”’

Her creation, and we won’t give it away so as to avoid spoiling that for you as well, wowed the producers, other competitors and her teammates, putting to rest any doubts she (and they) had about her newness.

Each of the two teams were given a set of creepy criteria to follow and, using only sugar, pumpkins and cake, they were challenged to come up with a themed scene for each of the three episodes.  The set, which will have judges arriving by hayride and walking through to scrutinize the entries before selecting the wining scenes, Burgess said, could not have been better suited. Nor could the weather.

“It was cold every day, and very foggy out there in this huge pumpkin patch down in L.A.,” said Burgess. “It couldn’t have been more realistic. It was amazing.”

Despite the challenges and the egos, the experience was positive, says Burgess. “I’m ready to do it again,” she said.  Meanwhile, she’s back home in her kitchen planning her next creation: A replica of her church’s pulpit for an upcoming congregation-wide celebration.

“This is going to be a challenge,” says Burgess. “But you know, the way I do it is I say ‘Yes, I can make that.’ Then, I go and figure out how.  I got the inspiration for this from my son. The passion for it and the ability, with a little help from YouTube and some great mentors out there, just came really natural to me.” 

Joining Burgess on the team are Las Vegas sugar artist Frederick Isla, who won Cake Wars: Christmas Season 1; David Smith, master pumpkin carver from Westerville, OH and owner of Frost Lion, as well as a former Cake Wars competitor; Danny Kissel, pumpkin carver from Newville, PA and former Halloween Wars competitor, and the other newbie: Frank Reaver, an artist and pumpkin carver from New Windsor, MD.

www.cakejewel.com  

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IF YOU WATCH:

Food Network Halloween Wars: Hayride of Horror
Episode 1: Premiers Saturday, Oct. 2 at 10 p.m. EST
Episodes 2-3: Oct. 9 and 16 at 10 p.m. EST