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posted: 7/29/2014 12:00 PM

From the food editor: Catching up with suburban chef-testants

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  • A sweet and savory cookbook by Brian Emmett, winner of "The American Baking Competition," is due out in April 2015.

      A sweet and savory cookbook by Brian Emmett, winner of "The American Baking Competition," is due out in April 2015.
    Daily Herald File Photo May 2013

  • Chef Paul Caravelli, right, shared a kitchen in Sacramento for a while with fellow "The Taste" contestant Adam Pechal, left.

      Chef Paul Caravelli, right, shared a kitchen in Sacramento for a while with fellow "The Taste" contestant Adam Pechal, left.
    Courtesy of Paul Caravelli

 
 

Think being on a reality TV food show won't change your life? Think again.

In the year since Itasca's Brian Emmett won CBS' "America's Baking Challenge" and nearly 18 months since Palatine native and former Libertyville chef Paul Caravelli exited ABC's "The Taste" (he was eliminated the week before the final challenge), things have been a roller coaster for these two guys.

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First let's check in with Brian, who says, "The competition totally changed my life."

"The American Baking Competition" put 10 amateur bakers through weekly challenges until one baker was left standing. While he's listed as the Season 1 winner, production of season two hasn't hit the ground and most signs point to the show not coming back.

Presales for "Bake Off: The American Baking Competition Cookbook," the book that was part of his prize package, started this month. Time at his advertising company has shortened this summer as he travels around the Midwest sharing recipes and promoting the book on local TV stations.

"It seems like people have been asking about this book forever," Brian says. He submitted the manuscript that includes 80 recipes to Simon and Schuster in April; it's due to hit bookstores April 2015.

"The hardest part was going in and putting down all the instructional pieces, from A to Z," he says. "The easiest part was putting down all the cherished memories of my family. ... I'd be writing and crying; it was very emotional."

Those who pre-order the book can be entered into a random drawing to receive a signed copy.

Brian says meeting fellow baking enthusiasts at baking demos and speaking engagements has been the best part of winning the competition; being asked for autographs has taken some getting used to.

"I love going around and meeting people who watched the show and share my passion with all these cities."

The free knives, bakeware and ingredients that companies send him to test hoping for product endorsements have been a bonus. "My favorite was a knife set from Spain. And I've gotten about 400 pounds of gluten-free products and flour. Some of it's good, but that's not me."

Through the phenomenon that is Twitter, he connected with a food editor in Malta and became the newspaper's resident chef in Malta. "It's like the Daily Herald in Malta," he explains. "I'm working with the U.S. embassy to get over there. People in foreign countries are curious about us."

As for Paul, today he's in Sacramento, California, making "the best pie in the country." That's pie as in Napolitana-style pizza at Trick Pony Pizza.

"Truth be told, I haven't slept since I arrived in Sactown March 2 because of my dough. ... I'm up and I'm down with the yeast when the yeast says so!" he says.

Between leaving 545 North Bar and Grill in July 2013 and arriving in Northern California, he lived in the Denver area where he hooked up with "Top Chef" Season 5 winner Hosea Rosenberg and his Blackbelly Catering.

His time in the mountains was life-changing. Biking and eating organically, he shed more than 50 pounds.

"Everyone in Denver had a backyard organic garden! In fact Hosea raised pigs, lambs, chicken, veggies, so anywhere in the Denver area we were no more than 20 minutes from our own organic candy store. The food there tastes better I'm telling you."

His cooking style has changed, he says.

"All I want from a chef when I'm out and from myself at all times is to be unexpected," he said. "I'll bring you spaghetti Bolognese (my favorite meal ever) but there will be a twist or turn somewhere ... Still happy to cook. Still like to cook for my friends and family than for pay."

Contact Food Editor Deborah Pankey at dpankey@dailyherald.com or (847) 427-4524. Be her friend at Facebook.com/DebPankey or follow her on Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram @PankeysPlate.

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