Cooks of the Week: Local bakers compete in TV reality series
Updated for show's correct day and date.
When American Baking Competition premieres at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 29, on CBS, suburbanites just might recognize a couple of faces.
Graduates of Glenbard East and Prospect high schools are among the 10 amateur bakers vying for a $250,000 prize and the opportunity to publish their own cookbook.
Each week, the contestants face three challenges that showcase their technical skills, their signature items and their showstopping treats. Their creations will be judged by chef Marcela Valladolid and star baker Paul Hollywood. The contestant who out-bakes the rest is named the week's Star Baker, while the one who fails to impress heads home.
In an unconventional Cook of the Week format, let's get to know our local bakers: Brian Emmett, 43, a Glenbard grad and Itasca business owner, and Darlene Miske Pawlukowsky, 51, a former Mount Prospect gal now living in Georgia.
"My siblings are a lot older than me so I spent a lot of time with my mom," says Brian, the youngest of five children. "My mom and my grandmother loved to bake; I remember peeling apples for apple pies."
He loved baking but didn't pursue it professionally, opting to work and pursue his MBA. Today he owns his own ad agency, Our Marketing Works, and bakes breads, pies, pastries and savory treats for clients, neighbors and his family: his wife, Lisa, and daughters, Shayla and Julia.
Today he shares with us an apple strudel and Stromboli, but he considers cheesecakes his specialty.
"The key to a good cheesecake is poaching (in a water bath); that really prevents the top from cracking and provides great texture."
During the competition, which he can't discuss, Brian faced the added challenge of wearing a leg brace. While in Georgia taping the show and promotional footage, he slipped on a wooden bridge, breaking an ankle and tearing a ligament.
"It happened right at the beginning; I just had to stay positive," he says.
When it comes to tonight's premiere, Brian says he'll be watching at home "with one eye open" and a table full of treats to share with family and friends who stop by for the viewing.
Darlene's introduction to baking came the way it did for many of her peers, with a light bulb and an Easy Bake Oven.
"I got it when I was 7 and would pull it out and make cakes for everyone," says Darlene, who now calls Johns Creek, Ga., home. "After a few years, my mom said I was getting too old for that little oven so I got to use the real oven."
Darlene recalls many holidays making all kinds of cookies with her mom and says she rekindled her love of baking while raising her own four children, one of whom is getting married two days after the show airs. Can you guess who's making the wedding cake?!
"I started baking a lot when I was a mother; I wanted the treats for my kids to be healthier."
From there, she started going all out for family parties and Bunco nights, creating themed events with elaborate desserts. Today she shares a favorite caramel-filled chocolate cookie.
"People started asking me to bring cakes whenever I went somewhere," says Darlene, a part-time project manager for a construction company.
In fact, it was soon after she created some desserts that she struck up a conversation with a stranger at the supermarket and ended up sharing smartphone pictures of her creations. The stranger told her about The American Baking Competition.
"One thing about bakers, we all love what we do," Darlene says of meeting the cast and crew. "We helped each other along; we made lasting friendships."