No one messes with my cupcakes.

I’d like to acknowledge that when I originally posted this entry I titled it something quite offensive. I decided to leave the original title in the URL instead of changing it because I want to own up to it. I was ignorant, and I apologize. I am very fortunate that a Bake and Destroy reader took the time to contact me and explain why my original title was offensive. It was not her buden to explain this to me, I should have spent my own time researching the topic. But she did, and I am grateful for the opportunity to correct myself and do better. 

Let’s begin at the beginning. A while ago, maybe two months, I got a phone call from someone at Super Delicious about a new show for Food Network called Cupcake Wars. What started as a concept for a docu-series about cupcake bakeries and their turf battles had transformed into a challenge, pitting baker against baker in extraordinary circumstances… well, you’ve seen Food Network before.

They weren’t entirely sure what they wanted from me yet, other than just to let me know they like my blog, they like my videos and they thought I’d be fun on the show in some capacity. As filming grew closer and more details came to light we kept in touch from time to time but soon enough, the show fell into the back of my mind.

On Monday night I had Teno in the bath tub, I was in my pajamas and I had my clothes laid out for work on Tuesday morning. My phone rang at about 7:30 – a weird number, I almost didn’t answer. I did, for whatever reason, and it was Ren from Super Delicious. Would I be able to fly to LA the next day to shoot the pilot? For the first time in my life I made a rash decision. I didn’t even ask Tony. I just said yes, hung up the phone, and got sick to my stomach.

I needed stuff. Ren told me to bring a sweater and a few long-sleeve options “in case” Food Network was overwhelmed by my tattoos. Comfortable shoes, a nice dress for the event the contest was centered around… I owned none of these things. Tony and I ran like hell to Target and I spent $350 in about 40 minutes. This did not help my stomach.

We went home, I packed, called my boss, Tweeted the whole thing and went to bed where I slept for maybe 15 minutes. I woke up, threw on the same damn green and black buffalo check dress I always wear and off I went. Half a day later I was in LA, getting into a P.A.’s car, and unpacking my stuff at Hilgard House – just off UCLA campus. Luckily, an old school friend happens to be a beautiful, famous actress living in LA so on my very first night in a brand-new city I had Thai food with Janina Gavankar.

The dress you will not see on Food Network.

Back at the hotel I threw everything I’d packed all over my bed to be reviewed by Sasha, one of the ten thousand people with walkie talkies I encountered over the next few days. I think out of all of them, Sasha was my favorite. She knew everything. And if she didn’t know, she would find out in like, 5 seconds. We picked the only two long-sleeved things I brought – a really lovely blue Anna Sui (cough..for Target) dress and a cheap back t-shirt and the same damn green and black buffalo check dress I always wear. My newly-purchased 1950’s house dress, the other lovely Anna Sui (cough…for Target) dress and all of my Johnny Cupcakes, Cupcake Berlin and Model Citizen shirts laid there, rejected.

The next morning another P.A. took me to the set where the (literally) 2″ of tattooed wrist that poked out of my beautiful blue dress sleeves were immediately spotted and frowned upon. I was sent to wardrobe to change out of my lovely blue dress and into my cheap black t-shirt and the same damn green-and-black buffalo check dress I always wear.

I have to admit, my feelings were hurt. Why was I there if my body was too ugly to be on TV? Is there not currently a feature in Food Network magazine about their stars’ foodie tattoos? Do all of the contestants on Top Chef not have neck tattoos? I was told – by many – that FN tends to be conservative, so I sat there, sweating my tits off in the hot LA sun, wearing a buffalo check burka and feeling kind of shitty about myself.

Then I saw one of the contestants – Dave from Whodidily Cupcakes – covered in tattoos. What the what? I mentioned it and was told that judges had to appear a certain way. Then they taped my shirt to my chest so the tattoo on my collar bone didn’t show. I tried not to cry.

Things looked up when I met my co-judges – Candace, founder of Sprinkles Cupcakes, and Jane of Sweet Lady Jane. Holy hell- these two are baking goddesses! I was in heaven. Not only was I, for whatever screwy reason, chosen to sit alongside these two heroes of mine on this show, but they were both really, really sweet and funny. We giggled through the awkward process of getting microphones snaked up our shirts, fawned over Candace’s beautiful shoes, traded pictures of each other’s children and yes, filmed a TV show. Candace reminded me of someone I went to school with – warm and funny and totally down to Earth. And Jane, with her glamorous wardrobe and stunning, soulful eyes, told some of the most entertaining stories I’ve ever heard in my life.

Candace, me, Jane & Justin

I have to say, everyone was awesome. The hair and make up team, wardrobe, all the people holding things that I didn’t know what they were, the director(s), producers… it was really fun. But something was off, and I think that will come through when/if the show airs. Not to keep harping on the tattoo thing, but it really messed me up. Maybe I’m spoiled because I work in a field where people don’t think twice about tattoos and stuff like that – obviously not TV – but I was feeling very ugly and rejected in my buffalo check dress. My tattoos don’t make me who I am, but they are a part of who I am. Just like Candace would have felt weird wearing a wig of long, straight hair or Jane would have felt insulted to be put in a mask for two days – I didn’t feel like myself. And in turn, I don’t think I was able to be the sassy, bossy Natalie they thought they’d get. Actually, I know I wasn’t, because one of the contestants – a blog reader – told me I didn’t seem like myself. I feel like that was a big mistake on their part. But we’ll see. A lot of people told me I should “walk off set” or boycott. Ok yeah, I’ll try that NEXT time I have a chance to be on the Food Network. I think this time I’ll do what they say and see what happens, thanks.

So I can’t really give you details on what the show is about, and I certainly can’t (and won’t!) tell you who won but I can tell you that the contestants were Whodidily Cupcakes, Sweet E’s, Hotcakes Bakes and Two Parts Sugar. I got to share a judging table with some really amazing people (besides Candace and Jane, even!) and I got to eat, oh… 20 or so really unique cupcakes. My favorite part was the crew, by far. Just joking around with the judges and high-fiving with the other Bears fans (we’re a dying breed) in LA, totally unexpectedly in the middle of the week, was awesome.

Oh! And Justin Kredible is the host! I have now officially watched all of this YouTube clips so I’m going to buy his DVD and dazzle Tony with my magic. At lunch on the last day of filming Justin blew all of our minds with crazy card tricks and he somehow hid my iPhone inside a balloon right in front of me. It was cooler than it sounds.

Peanut butter banana donut from Stans Donuts - eaten while crying

Peanut butter banana donut from Stan’s Donuts – eaten while crying

We wrapped on Thursday afternoon and I explored my ‘hood a little bit. Now, if you’ve ever been to Chicago you know how easy it is to get around here. Buses, trains, cabs – we’ll get you where you want to go. LA is the opposite of this. You will drive or be driven or you will see nothing. So I didn’t see a lot, to be honest, except for Stan’s Donuts and Diddy Riese (a cookie shop highly recommended by Candace. “It’s just a cookie and ice cream, but some kind of magic happens when you put them together.”) I was cripplingly lonely and I had way too much time on my hands to think about how crappy it was that I spent my whole time in LA in a buffalo check dress.

I went back to my room, watched the end of some Angelina Jolie movie and went to bed.

In the morning I hurried off to LAX. Dang, cabs in LA cost twice as much as they do in Chicago. I had the option of choosing a flight that would get me home 2 hours earlier than the one I had booked, so I paid the $50 and switched. Then, Jesus took a crap on my head by not making the machine spit the correct boarding pass out and allowing me to wait 1/2 hour in the long ass security line before finding out.

I ran back to the kiosk where I didn’t get the right pass, cut in line and asked the guy to help. The girl I cut in front of started yelling at me. Under normal circumstances I woud have yelled back a lot more, but my plane was leaving in about 20 minutes so I just yelled things I don’t remember, grabbed my pass, ran back through security where I probably pissed other people off and made it to the gate just in time to grab a coffee and get on board. I was settling into my new book about the Black Dahlia murder when who sits next to me but the girl who was yelling at me!

She said something about it being karma and immediately apologized. I apologized too, seeing as I’m the one who cut her in line at the airport. We ended up talking about cupcakes the entire way to Vegas. She was awesome, it made the flight go by so fast. The trip from Vegas to Chicago was less fast, but my book made it barable and soon enough I was back in sweet home Chicago. Just to give you an idea of the depth of my homesickness on Thursday night, I sat in my room watching YouTube videos of Weiners Circle, Latin Kings and the Bears’ fight song and cried.

I missed these dudes.

Tony, Teno and I headed to Cozy, my favorite Thai joint and I slept in my own bed, happy as could be. Today, to solidify my return to my favorite place in the world, I had a deep dish spinach from Lou Malnati’s and a Bavarian Napoleon from Ferrara. I had an awesome, once-in-a-lifetime experience filming a show for my favorite channel, but I’m kissing the ground in Chicago. Oh, and Sprinkles is opening a Chicago spot in just a few months, so I’ll see Candace again really soon!

Thanks for all the well wishes while I was gone. I don’t think the magnitude of how weird this week was has sunk in yet. I’ll keep you posted on the show as I details find their way to me!

Afterword: Hey again! I just wanted to comment that despite feeling uncomfortable and weird (partly because I wore the same dress three days in a row and partly because I didn’t understand why Dave’s tattoos were OK and mine weren’t) I had a ton of fun. I don’t want anyone to get the idea that anyone on set was at fault – or Food Network for that matter. I think it was preventative measures. Anyway, I’m uber thankful for the opportunity in the first place and I can’t even explain what an exciting week it was for me. Lots of people have commented that they’re sorry I didn’t enjoy myself – I totally enjoyed myself! Just in a sweaty dress and missing my beloved Lou Malnati’s deep dish. And I can’t believe I didn’t blog the fact that I was the only vegetarian on set! The girl from Chicago is the only veggie on an LA set? What the what?