Watch out, Anisha! There's a Ron Ben-Israel next to you. (Food Network )
Even though there’s something like 981 cooking competition shows out there (an estimate), we’re still intrigued by Food Network’s "Sweet Genius."
The host/judge, acclaimed chef Ron Ben-Israel, is intriguingly mysterious and off-the-wall : ordering the chefs to cook frozen desserts with hard-boiled eggs? OK, then! Each episode features a new group of four pastry chefs competing for culinary glory ... and $10,000.
Baltimore’s Anisha Jagtap, 26, the pastry chef at Puffs & Pastries and the owner/chef at Baltimore Burger Bar, shows what she’s made of on Thursday’s episode (10 p.m.). The Hampdenite chatted with us via email. And we were impressed.
The “Sweet Genius” promos are pretty awesome. Host Ron Ben-Israel seems a bit eccentric. I mean, one of the challenges seems to be “darkness.” How do you prepare for a show like this?
It always makes me a little anxious cooking for chefs. Ron in particular was intimidating at first, but I love a good challenge, so I knew that whatever I cooked, it was going to be unique, experimental and new given the circumstances.
Did you ever say to yourself, “What the hell is he talking about?”
Ha ha. I think I said to myself, “What the hell is he thinking?!?!”
Have you ever watched one of the food competition shows and thought you should be on it?
Yeah, I frequently say that since I love challenges, and I love to surround myself with people who are really serious about food, not just as a pastime or hobby. Real foodies to me are chefs, not just people who love food and love to try new concoctions.
You studied biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University, but dropped out to pursue culinary arts. Was there just a point in your life when you thought, “You know what? Food’s the way to go.”
Yes, it was when my mentor Ned Atwater really opened my eyes to the art and science of food and how interesting it can be. I always loved to cook and eat, but artistically I could not show that through BME. But I knew I could show it through food, hence I pursued my dream.
How did your family react to changing your career path so drastically?
They were soo angry! My mom mentioned, “What am I supposed to say? My daughter cooks and bakes cakes for a living?” They were very upset I didn’t turn out to be a doctor or an engineer.
On to the food questions! What type of pastry/dessert has run its popularity course and what do you consider underrated?
Cupcakes. I totally dislike cupcakes. And British pastries are sooo underrated.
You’ve said you are able to do well as chef because, to you, food is a science. How so?
I take an analytical approach to food. I take into consideration flavor profiles, acids and bases, and the chemistry of each actual ingredient. The art of food as a science comes through with my menus, plating and presentation.
On a scale from 1-10 just how competitive are the pastry chefs on the show?
I was not impressed by the risks any of the chefs took. They all played it safe except for me on my episode. I would say right around a 7.
Finally, I have my own challenge for you. I’m hosting a birthday party tomorrow and I need something awesome at the last minute. What would you whip up for me?
I would make two things, an Earl Grey teacake with true French pastry creme and fresh strawberries, garnished with dark-chocolate shards and spun sugar. I would then include an Asian pear and chevre pithivier topped with marcona almonds.
Jordan Bartel is assistant editor at band will never be talented enough to be a chef. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter, @jordanbartel.