Amber Serrano already knows whether she won “Cupcake Wars” and the $10,000 in prize money. The rest of us will find out when the show airs Sunday on the Food Network.
Serrano is the owner of Parkland’s Yummers 2 the 3rd Power cupcake shop. In October, she flew to Los Angeles with her cousin Jeffrey Rowe for several days of prepping and filming. The weekly series pits four teams – each consisting of a baker and an assistant – against each other.
The show has three timed challenges, with one team eliminated by judges after each challenge. Each episode has a theme and while Serrano wouldn’t reveal her show’s theme, past episodes have revolved around the Rose Bowl, SeaWorld and a golf tournament.
Now in its third season, “Cupcake Wars” has two regular judges, Candace Nelson and Florian Bellanger, and one guest judge each week. Serrano wouldn’t reveal the identity of the guest judge on her episode, but did give a cryptic clue: “Mohawk.”
In the Parkland shop, Serrano’s daily flavors include red velvet, chocolate truffle, coconut and vanilla bean. But, as she said, “We prefer doing more out-of-the-box flavors.”
That translates to salted caramel, avocado, sour grape and a strawberry lemonade version made with fresh strawberries and lemons. “That one is my number one seller. When people taste it, they go crazy.”
“Puerto Rican Vacation” reflects Serrano’s Puerto Rican heritage. Based on her father’s favorite dessert, it is a plantain cupcake with salted caramel butter cream and a balsamic reduction drizzled on top. “Monsters” is made with Monster energy drink and Pop Rocks. “French Toast Bacon,” also a best seller, is topped with candied turkey bacon. “It tastes like a Cinnabon with a piece of bacon on top,” Serrano said.
Serrano auditioned for the Food Network show soon after she opened her business a year ago. She had previously tried out for the FOX network cooking show “MasterChef” and made it to the second round of auditions. That gave her the motivation to try out for “Cupcake Wars.”
The “Cupcake” experience was an eye opener for Serrano, who had previously thought “reality” shows were, in fact, real.
In truth, most competition-reality shows are edited to fit a script, participants are given lines to say, and their dirty looks are staged. The omnipresent confessional sessions, in which the participants are suddenly sitting in front of a well-lit seamless background to explain the drama while it happens? They are shot well after the action is over.
In each “Cupcake Wars” episode, the teams are photographed climbing into their cars at their respective shops and waving goodbye. In reality, the teams were flown to Los Angeles. The shop and “departure” scenes were filmed at Yummers in January, three months after the competition.
An incongruity viewers might notice is the portrayal of Rowe as the lead baker and Serrano as his assistant. The show’s producers were taken by Rowe, a strapping man heavily inked from the neck down with tattoos, and asked Serrano to make him the baker for the show.
Serrano agreed to the switch, but it led to some awkward moments. “When he got in front of the camera, he got stage fright. He’s completely not a cupcake person, but he did awesome.”
While the contestants were paid a daily $250 stipend, Serrano had to pay for her cooking supplies. “That was shocking to me. We had to buy everything. We had to be good at math and figure out what we needed for the whole show.” She estimates they baked 1,200 to 1,300 cupcakes for the show. At her shop on a normal day, she bakes about 200 cupcakes.
Serrano said they took culinary risks on the show, and they suffered some setbacks. “I definitely dug a couple of holes,” she said, but wouldn’t elaborate.
Serrano and Rowe did prepare for the show. “We got our game plan. Who was going to attack what. Who’s going to watch the cakes. Who’s going to cook. Did that work out for us? That’s another story.”
But Serrano said it was worth it. “It’s nationwide advertising. People are going to know you from all over the place. It was fun to do – a great experience. But stressful. The stress you see is 100 percent real. The clock is really ticking.”
And what if demand for her unusually flavored cupcakes overwhelms her small Parkland shop? “We have staff on call. We’re ready for it.”
Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541