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Cake News

Local bakers team up for Food Network competition

Above, from left, Marybeth Kurtz, owner of Midtown Bakery, and Joe Heck, the Cake Guy at Huron Mountain Bakery, pose with a Captain Underpants cake they made as part of the interview process to get accepted as participants of the Food Network’s new show “Winner Cake All.” The cake was then donated to the Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum. At top is a Harry Potter-themed cake made by Heck, and at left is a babyback rib-themed cake, also made by Heck. (Photos courtesy of Joe Heck)

MARQUETTE — Two established bakers from different Upper Peninsula businesses recently teamed up for a new Food Network series called “Winner Cake All.”

Premiering Monday at 10 p.m., “Winner Cake All” is a 13-episode series where four teams made up of two bakers demonstrate their skills as they compete for a $10,000 grand prize each episode.

Joe Heck, “the Cake Guy” at Huron Mountain Bakery, and Marybeth Kurtz, owner of Negaunee’s Midtown Bakery, partnered for an episode which premiers at 10 p.m. Jan. 21.

Popular Food Network host Giada De Laurentiis will oversee the competitions in which the contestants must create intricate themed cake toppers and a massive themed cake display, according to Food Network’s website. A rotating panel of judges will determine which teams advance to the next round, then chose a winning team.

“Every episode is its own competition,” Heck said. “There’s four teams and each episode has an elimination round, then the remaining three teams go on to the final round. One team is chosen as the winner by the end of the competition.”

After Huron Mountain Bakery ranked in the top five bakeries of Michigan in a February MLive poll, a follow-up article about Heck, titled “This man’s tattoos make him the most dedicated baker in Michigan,” caught the attention of a production company.

Heck received a phone call asking if he would be interested in being on a Food Network show. Heck, who’s been in the baking business for over a decade, said he happily agreed and reached out to Kurtz to see if she’d want to partner up for the competition.

“I think Food Network was very worried about two competing bakeries working as a team because they assumed theres’s going to be head-butting and that somebody’s going to want to be in charge,” Heck said. “I think the coolest thing is that we showed that you don’t have to be cut-throat competitors. You can be people doing the same thing in different places and still get along and be friends.”

Kurtz, who’s owned Midtown Bakery for around 23 years, echoed similar thoughts.

“One of our goals was to show that even though people think of us as competitors because we’re in the same business, we’re really not,” she said. “Everybody’s got to work together in a small town.”

“Winner Cakes All” was filmed in the Los Angeles area in October. Prior to filming, Heck and Kurtz were interviewed by the network’s production company and producers via Skype. In one of the interviews, they had to bake, decorate and present a themed cake.

They had five hours to complete the product, under the guidelines that the theme be based on a superhero who wears a cape.

“We made a Captain Underpants cake and ended up donating it to the children’s museum afterwards,” Heck said. “So, the museum had a Captain Underpants party.”

During the competition, teams also had five hours to prepare a cake if they advanced after the first round.

“The first round is the topper round,” Heck said. “You get a 10-inch decorated cake and you’re given a theme and you have one hour to design and create a sculpted topper for a cake that fits the theme, and get it done and present it. After that is when you meet the first two Food Network judges, and then one team gets eliminated right off the bat.

“The next round is where you meet your clients (who are celebrities). The clients’ tell you what they want — the flavors they want and any other special stuff. You’ve got five hours to design, create and bake a minimum three-foot-tall sculpted cake to fit into what your clients want.”

Kurtz said one difficult aspect was not being in her own kitchen.

“I think the hardest part, the most challenging, was not being in your own kitchen and knowing where things were,” she said. “Luckily, all the teams got along, so we’d yell over to someone things like: ‘Who has the purple food coloring?’

“It was a lot of fun, we would kind of poke at each other sometimes too,” she said. “‘My cake’s in the oven already, how about yours?’ No one was used to working together all the time, so it was unique and it made the playing field more fair for everybody.”

Out of the four teams, Heck, Kurtz and one other contestant were the only participants to be associated with a storefront.

“There were people who have been baking out of their homes, or had a facility but not necessarily a place where they waited on customers and that sort of thing, so that was a different twist,” Kurtz said. “We said right from the very beginning that it was going to be an adventure. It was something we got to do that most people never have that opportunity, and I’m just very grateful that Joe asked me to do this. I found out that I can do things I didn’t think I could.”

Heck said the people who know him and Kurtz can expect that they’ll be their “regular, goofy, fun selves” on the show.

“That was our goal, was to make good TV and have a good time and I think we did that in spades,” he said. “We just wanted to go and have a good time and represent the U.P. really well and let people know things like this can happen in the little U.P. as well.”

Jaymie Depew can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is jdepew@miningjournal.net.