How to become a TV show judge


Florian Bellanger Candace Nelson and Justin Willman on Food Networks Cupcake Wars

Interview with Florian Bellanger, star on the American Food Network channel…


Many of us have surely seen him on TV, others have read our interview with him on issue 225. Born a Frenchman but American for decades, Florian Bellanger nowadays is a star on the Food Network channel after nine seasons and over 100 episodes of Cupcake Wars under his belt


How were you enrolled in being a TV judge?
I got contacted by a TV production company called “Super Delicious” they had this project rolling all ready (Cupcake Wars) and they were looking for a Pastry Expert able to go into details about products, taste, texture and finish.


Why did you accept?
I thought it was an interesting challenge, Cupcakes are one of the most “easy” cakes to make and I wanted to be part of this competition show based on pushing the envelope of this American (cake) Icon. Cupcakes are very popular in US, it started long ago as a “Housewife” delicacy made at home and got some revival few years ago, Bakers looked at it in a different way, improved recipes and made it more fun! Cupcake retail stores are opening all over the country, it is a National Phenomenom!


How was your first experience?
It was my first time to be part of a “TV team” in a way, I did some TV in the past but always invited as a “guest chef” only , Cupcake Wars was a different experience for me, being part of a team is a real job, as a Permanent Judge I had to free myself (not easy with busy schedule) to be able to shoot many episodes in a raw, shooting is done in Los Angeles so each every 3 or 4 months I am going there for 3 weeks to 1 month for shooting 13 to 15 episodes back to back. Viewers think it is fun to eat cupcakes all day ? , well when you eat and describe/judge 15 cupcakes a day for 3 weeks — it is not so much fun anymore, it is becoming a real job! Since the show started, I consumed over 1300 cupcakes !! , good thing that I have a natural sweet tooth.


What is real and what is fake during those programs?
It is a Real time baking competition show; nothing is fake about it… Bakers walk on set at 6 am and start baking, competition is based on 3 challenges, and each challenge 1 team is eliminated.
It is a pretty rough day for those teams, they have to work against the clock (we never stop the clock- some bakers don’t finish on time and get eliminated because of that sometimes) – it takes between 12 and 14 hours to shoot 1 episode of 45 minutes. (1 hour including TV commercials)


Challenge 1: is the “Inspiration Table”/ Taste challenge, bakers have to bake 1 cupcake with ingredients of the day (linked with the Theme of the Day) – Cupcakes are judged based on TASTE only. (Taste, texture, choice of ingredient etc…)
We had some crazy ingredients like Hot dog, Beef Jerky, Calamari, Seaweeds, Even “Fried Crickets” – all this makes this challenge very interesting for my judging, I have been amazingly surprised by some creations,  some other are sometimes barely edible.


Challenge 2: “Taste and presentation”, Bakers have to make 3 cupcakes this time, they can bring their best recipe or best seller, cupcakes have to be decorated as well, decorations linked to the theme of the day


Challenge 3 : 2 team of Bakers remaining for this challenge, we provide to them 1 carpenter each as well as 4 helper , they have to come up with a display design (built by their carpenter) and bake 1000 cupcakes to fill up their display, this time judging is based on presentation of the entire masterpiece.


How to be honest and professional during the judging’s, and respect the TV needs?
When I signed up for this show, my goal was to be an honest judge and never lie to bakers (in good and bad ways) – I am a bit of “tough judge” on the show, I speak my mind and my heart and I am always honest criticizing their food – I can be harsh too but never to them personally I always stick to the food. I have received a lot of critics from viewers at the beginning for being so honest but I never changed my way of judging, after doing 9 seasons and over 100 episodes now it is the opposite, viewers write to me saying that they appreciate my Honesty. As baker views, when you enter a baking competition, you have to be prepared to be judged, if you cannot take it …then, don’t compete.


What do you think about all of these TV pastry and food shows?
I think some are great, some are a bit too much… the Food oriented TV shows have really evolved over the years, they came out of the traditional kitchen in a way, now food shows are more entertaining than ever, there are 2 main streams, either a mix of Food and traveling or Competition.
These formulas have contributed to access to a large audience, at the end of the day, all this is positive.


Is it worth for your own business? Is it a good marketing tool?
It helps for sure, it is difficult to quantify how much, but when a show is successful and you are part of it, it cannot hurt. The most important for me was to keep my integrity and not “sell out” my personality; first of all, I am a pastry chef who happens to be lucky enough to be on TV, not the other way around.


Does the American pastry market feel the crisis as in Italy?
I don’t think the Pastry Market has been hurt as much as the Restaurant Market here in US, The Bakery and Pastry Market is actually growing, we see brand new player entering the market, especially Pastry Chef opening their own business.
Bakery and Pastry market remain quite virgin here, there is a lot of room for growth, the quality is improving over the years and customer are more demanding of good quality products, I think we (Pastry Chefs) have some great years ahead of us.


What are your future professional plans?
Opening Retail locations, we at Mad Mac are specialized in Manufacturing French Macarons, we supply Food service distributors and retailers, and we make around 3 Millions Macarons per year. We are manufacturing also some other pastry products under private label , like Madeleines, Lava cakes, Chocolate truffles and more, we are ready to do the jump and go retail under our own Brand now.


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