Food Network Show Deals Sweet Success to Pastry Chef Danks

Feb 26, 2013

The world of food television has thrived in the last few years thanks to millions of viewers and program suppliers like Food Network. Shows like Cupcake Wars, Iron Chef and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives have followed a reliable formula of tasty treats and sometimes salty hosts or commentators.

Sugar Dome, which airs Saturday nights on Food Network, differs slightly because it is one of those rare shows dedicated to just one ingredient. But, oh, what a delicious one!

In Sugar Dome, three teams, each comprised of three chefs, race against the clock to create the best sugar creation in a particular theme. Pastry chef Jared Danks recently appeared on the show and described the experience as "out of this world."

That may be because the theme of the show was "Alien Invasion."

Chef Danks was selected because of his experience as a pastry chef, his training in France, Austria and Italy, and his position as Program Director for the Culinary Arts and Pastry Arts programs at Culinard, the Culinary Institute at Virginia College in Birmingham, Ala.

He also made a Food Network appearance in 2012 on another show about sweet treats, Sugar Inventions.

The Sugar Dome producers like to throw a wild card into the familiar TV formula, so one teammate on each team is chosen from a non-culinary field. Sugar artist Danks and his cake artist cohort were teamed up with a Hollywood make-up artist.

That show business experience would come in handy as the trio created an edible art display worthy of a sci-fi thriller.

The production day was long. The cast and crew started work at 5:00 a.m. and each team was assigned a pair of assistants. Chef Danks said three main elements had to be part of the display:  something that glowed in the dark, something that hovered, and something representing a laser beam.

Once all the preparation was done, the filmed competition lasted for six grueling hours. The result?

"Instead of a typical 'Martians invade earth' thing, we decided to turn it around to 'humans invading an alien world,'" said Chef Danks. "The setting was on the surface of Mars. Cake and Rice Krispies treats served as the Martian landscape, covered with fondant. An astronaut was being attacked by aliens, so the make-up artist helped with his wounds. Since the quinine in tonic water glows under a black light, we used that in combination with some marshmallows and orange gelatin. It was an eerie effect."

The shooting day ended around 10 p.m. and the next day, the film crew shot interview footage with the participants. Then Chef Danks returned to Birmingham and his Culinard students, who undertake an intensive, 36-week culinary arts or pastry arts program.

With two major TV shows under his belt, what did Chef Danks think of the experience?

"It's a lot of fun, but there's not much glamor. Definitely a lot of hard work."

Read more about Food Network's program, Sugar Dome.

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