was buzzing Friday as customers popped in to congratulate chef/owner Michael Mignano on his appearance the night before on the Food Network’s new show "Sweet Genius" and to commiserate about his coming in second place.
“You should have won,” Tom Heinz told him.
“The only reason she won was because she cried,” said Laura Palatella, about the declared champion.
"Sweet Genius" brings together four bakers, in the style of the popular Food Network show, "Chopped," to respond to the orders of Ron Ben-Israel, wedding cake showman.
There are four rounds and in each round Ben-Israel eliminates one baker, until after three rounds there is one champion.
This is not a simple bake-me-the-best-cake-you-can competition. Ben-Israel sets very particular and demanding standards. Round one was the frozen dessert competition. In 40 minutes the contestants had to make a cold dessert utilizing the mandatory ingredient – cinnamon red hots – while interpreting the inspirational theme of “darkness.” Half way through the round, a new mandatory ingredient was introduced: rambutan, a tropical fruit with a bright red spiky coating similar in taste to lichee.
Mignano says that when the light went out in the studio to introduce the theme of darkness, his thoughts went to a trick where you are lured into something and then don’t know where you are. “I don’t look at a thing literally,” he says.
Still, he found the vision to create sour passion fruit ice cream and a drink with blackberry worms and rambutan and made it through that round.
Next came the baked dessert challenge with champagne and frozen waffles as the mandatory ingredients and a Faberge egg as the inspiration. For that Mignano prepared a rosemary financier (a light, moist teacake similar to sponge cake) and a French toast waffle. However, halfway through he realized he had forgotten to add baking soda to the cake, which would make it too heavy, so he whipped up an orange caramel sauce to soak into it. He survived to bake again.
The final round – the 60 minute chocolate round – had marrow bones and roasted coffee beans as the mandatory ingredients. The theme was sand.
“I thought about how fantastic the Coney Island boardwalk is and all the treats there,” says Mignano.
His dessert included little hot dogs made from the marrow, ginger and lime pots, milk chocolate mousse with a dark chocolate wrap, white chocolate coffee and white chocolate coral.
During the judging, Mignano’s competitor cried (what we didn’t see on camera was Ben-Israel coming over to comfort her – the show is 16 hours of taping edited into one hour). Many viewers felt that she won the sympathy vote, and thus the championship.
So, my question to Mignano: why would a very successful chef – the youngest executive chef at The Pierre in New York City, a baker at Bouley Bakery and Balthazar, and whose graham cracker, macadamia, cashew, chocolate ganache, Rice Krispies, dark chocolate, Hawaiian sea salt candy bar was touted by Oprah – put himself through this?
“I’m thinking of the next step,” he says. “I need to get on the Food Network.”