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Food Landscapes

Back in early December I was approached by Doug St. Souver with an offer to team up with Kevin Molidor and himself to compete in a new Food Network competition called Food Landscapes. The concept was based on the work of Carl Warner a professional photographer who over the past decade has developed a variety of landscape art from food for advertising agencies around the world. The first part of the process required that we submit a biography and photos for acceptance to the show to the producer at High Noon Entertainment in Denver Colorado.

We were told that the competition would take place in February so we eagerly awaited their answer, as were all very busy that time of year and wanted to practice our piece before time ran out. The fact that Doug and I were here in Michigan and Kevin in Chicago also made it a bit more challenging. Our acceptance was finally announced in the first of January and I was in Florida. We were then known as the Blue Team. We got together often by phone that week and decided that we would do a Tribute to the American Farmer and that that would be the name of our landscape.

Now with only four weeks left we had the task of developing our ideas, submitting a drawing of the concept to High Noon and dividing the work into tasks that suited the strengths of each of the team members. Kevin would research the details of the American farm and the elements that it contained. Doug would take on the base that the piece would be built on and the scale and perspective of each section of the landscape so when viewed by the judges it would look like a real life ten or twenty acre farm. My responsibility at that point was to source many of the ingredients that the crops and other elements of the farm would be made from.

With three weeks to go the three of us meet at Kevin’s kitchen in Chicago and went over all of our ideas and information. On day one of two we drew up our plan of attack. At that time it was agreed that Kevin would concentrate on the foreground, its crops, fence, tractor, road and so forth. Kevin had practiced making the tractor from clay and had a 1:16 scale model on hand that we used as a starting point. I would develop the mid-ground and its elements to include a continuation of the fence, road and crops along with the trees and the pond for the foreground. Doug would build the house, barn, silo, and windmill located in the background. If time allowed we would add other elements such as a farmer’s garden, fire pit and a pig in a muddy pen by the barn.

The rules stated that the piece be either five feet tall or five feet wide and that all surfaces must be covered with food products. With two weeks to go Kevin came to Flint and meet up with Doug and I at Mott Community College and we built the base out of polystyrene sculpting the contours of it with a hot knife. It was five foot wide and five foot deep and had a six inch rise from back to front. This would help us create depth. We then practiced many of the elements of the piece.

Kevin used hot dogs to create the rise of the furrows for the crops and covered them with ground coffee then plugging a sprig of micro lavender in every inch to represent the crops. I took burdock root and used it as a tree trunk and pinned sprigs of rosemary into it to create pine trees to line the piece and keep the eye of the viewer moving from front to back of the landscape. Doug practiced building some of the structures to be placed in the back ground gluing them together with melted sugar. The barn was built from cracker bread and covered with roasted red pepper leather to give it a nice red color. Although we never found the time to complete the entire landscape we felt confident that we would be able handle the competition and win over the judges, who ever they may be.

Two days before the competition we arrive in Denver. With thanks to the people from High Noon and their booking agents the three of us arrive at the same time and headed out to pick up a couple of vehicles to get around in and collect our supplies. We stayed at the Lowes Hotel Denver with all of the other contestants from the various competitions being filmed that week. This group included mostly pastry chefs from Sponge Bob cakes, Sex in the City cakes, Rock and Roll cakes challenges and of course our competition the Brown team captained by Stevie Famulari and the Black team captained by James Parker.

One day before the competition we report to the set. We get to get a look at the new Food Network set and kitchens as we were some of the first chefs to use them. We were also able to move any food product we had into their coolers. After the tour we formally met the other competitors and were provided lunch while each team member went through makeup and a pre-competition interview. They asked questions about what we think of the competition and what we have done in the past along with what we felt would be the outcome of the competition. We also learned that day that Carl Warner, Kerry Vincent and Keegan Gerhard would be our judges. Kerry is known to be the most critical judge on Challenge and Keegan is the former Host and owner of D-Bar pastry shop and restaurant in Denver.

On competition day we were allowed to setup our stations one hour prior to our 9am start time. Everything seem to be well organized and ready until Doug discovered that he had forgotten to pack a cutter that he had planed to use to cut the cracker bread and such for the structures. With twenty minutes to go and against the wishes of the producers he rushed out to Home Depot and was able to get the cutter that he needed with five minutes to spare.

Go time… Or not? Well it is television. When they film the show the teams actually do three false starts and the fourth is the real start this was just the beginning of the T.V. learning curve for me. Then you participate in a show like this there are unseen obstacles that you learn about as you go. First you are wired with a microphone at all times so you must be careful what you say or the producer may smell a problem and as soon as they do expect a camera on you. Second beware of cords, lights and cameras. You will trip on and bang into them as soon you get in a rush. And last but not least the judges will come and talk to you and ask questions at the most inopportune moments. You have to be able to take all of this in stride or you may not get finished in time or worse start to melt down and look unprofessional.

Fortunately we handled the eight hour competition quite well everything was going as planned until approximately six and a half hours into it. This is when Chef Doug was removing some boiling sugar that he was using as an adhesive to glue the house together from the microwave oven and spilled some of it on his hand. His first reaction was to wipe it off with his other hand. That in turn caused him to burn the other hand leaving him one hand severely burnt and the skin removed from the topside of three of his fingers and the palm of the other hand also burnt. This also prompted the High Noon people to call Emergency Medical Services. After the E.M.S. crew examined him they recommended that Doug go the hospital for further treatment. At this time in the competition Doug refused to go and decided to continue and bear the pain rather than leave the team.

We pushed through the final hour and finished the piece completing all of our plans along with all of the optional add-ons that the team had discussed. In the final moments we had only to lightly spray the crops to keep them looking fresh under the hot set lights so that they would show well for the judges. When the competition clock ran out the contestants received a fifteen minute cleanup period and a chance to look at the work of the other teams before we were whisked away to the break area. It was at this time that we started to feel that we had a solid chance to win the $10,000 prize.

Each team was then reviewed separately by the judges ours being called last. This wait was the most nerve racking period of the day for me. You just keep thinking about what you could have done different and asking yourself “Did I give the judges what they wanted to see”? The other teams told us they thought we would come in first, but I had heard that before in Ice Sculpting competitions and knew that you never know until the final announcement has been made. Finally we are on the stand. I decided that I would keep a smile no matter the outcome. Karl Warner was the first judge we faced and he was very complementary of our work. He even stated that he was going to steel a trick or two from us. The Kerry Vincent was next. She is a judge that many fear I am sure from just from watching her on the show, but there seemed to be another Kerry she was also very kind in her assessment of our work. Last was Keegan and he too did not find much to criticize. Wow the smile I decided to display was getting pretty easy to keep.

After our review the other two teams were called out and the judges announced that the Black Team was third place. Then the excitement really started to grow. Who would it be the Brown Team with James, Doug’s former rival from fruit and vegetable Challenge Competitions in which they had gone one and one or the Blue Team with Kevin, James’s former partner and Matt a first time Challenge contestant and Doug the three time veteran?

The Blue Team Wins!!!

After a short celebration we sent our burnt teammate and Captain Doug to the hospital to get his burns tended to and Kevin and I finished gathering our things. Doug would later join us with his hands in bandages at the hotel for a celebratory dinner. We reminisced about the day and the competition in general and talked about how long we would have to keep our secret until the show aired. Very few could know the outcome of the competition as we were under contract to keep it to ourselves. We would not be given an air date for weeks and would not want to run the risk of not be invited back to compete in the future. Since the show has aired we have enjoyed our fifteen minutes of fame and look forward to doing it again. James has already been knocking on our door for a rematch and we were glad to let him know that we could always use another $10,000.


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