I sat down with Bobby and Janice as they told me about their exciting experience during the filming of Food Network Challenge: Extreme Pirate Cakes!

Zippy: So tell me what it was like waking up the morning of the cake challenge, knowing what was to come.

Bobby: Dena and I woke up at 5:00. I knocked on Dena’s door to make sure she was up. I got in the shower, got all my stuff ready, and drove to the studio, where they had breakfast for us. I was given my special burnt orange jacket (wonder if they knew I went to The University of Texas), and then we got ready to start the show.

Zippy: What were you thinking about right before the challenge began?

Bobby: I was thinking about everything I had to do, what the steps were, how I was going to do it, how I was going to get everything accomplished. I wanted to make sure I knew where everything was. You see, everyone had their own separate kitchen. Each participant had their own producer, camera man, and they would talk to you and ask you questions while you were doing things. And I must admit, I couldn’t help but wonder how we got there as first timers, surrounded by competitors who had all previously been on the show and other competitions (this was my first, although Dena has done many).

Zippy: Tell us what happened after the “ready… set… GO!”

Bobby: I was running to get my cakes! Off we went. We started building, building, building.  I was building everything on my board, and as I’m looking over, everyone else had their boards done! Then, we started making the cake part.  I don’t really even remember what Dena and I were talking about. It probably was something along the lines of, “where’s your list? Get your list! What’s on your list? Finish that guy– get those cannons done!”

A huge problem we encountered were the mixers. I thought the mixers were going to be 20 quart mixers, and lo and behold I got a SIX quart mixer. SIX! We brought the icing done, but you have to whip the icing. Since the cake was very large, it was a LOT of icing that needed to be whipped. I guess I assumed we’d have 20 quart mixers because that’s the smallest mixer I’m accustomed to at the bakery! Lesson learned about assumptions: when you assume… (I will refrain because this is a family blog).

So, Dena starts making the figures and the little pieces that are going to go on the ship, and the sails, which we have to let dry, which are made out of pastillage and gumpaste so they get really hard. But we brought some pastillage that was bad and that really messed us up. We worked with what we had by hardening some fondant and were able to make the sails. Dena then proceeded to make the flags, cannons, figures, barrels, rats and pirates, to name a few.


And then I started to build the ship, which was HUGE! It was probably 10 sheets of cake! It was just big, so huge! We got it all built, and then I realized that I had forgotten to put the wiring through! I had to remove the layers of cake that I already had (about 20-30 pounds of cake at that point) and had to make Dena stop what she was doing so she could help me.

Zippy: That’s outrageous! So you eventually did get the wiring through, though?

Bobby: I had to run all my electronics up into the ship because we had some real technical stuff. We had some extreme elements – the gaslight (which we had to make), cannons that were going to blow (the cannons I had to wire. I had to run a CAT5 wire up through the base) and then six cannons that needed to be wired through the control. I had to remember where they were so I could punch holes in the fondant in the proper places.  I got that set up but then realized I had the wrong connectors. I just couldn’t find them!

Hull with "mice"

So then we iced the cake and put fondant on everything. after which I started cutting the holes so I could find my wires. We turned the ship and Dena worked on the hull. She put little rats in the hull, which was really cute (the only cute rats you can find are in sugar). We were trying to give a perspective of what it was like to be on a ship… and what kind of things did they have in a ship? They never marked their gold or their treasures. They had all of their barrels in one section, all of their gold and miscellaneous items in very plain Jane boxes, and then they had their cannon balls… and rats were all over the ships. We had to make the wooden bannisters/spindles for the top. The masts actually were really tall, and we had to get the cake over the masts (in between the masts).

Finished Pirate Ship Food Network Challenge Cake

(laughing) MORAL: You know how they emphasize all these “problems” on TV? Multiply that by 100 to get an idea as to how many problems there actually were in real life!! It’s more than what they can actually show in an hour!

Zippy: And all this, while you are on television! Incredible!

Bobby: Part of the challenge IS being on TV itself. You are trying to focus on what you are doing as well as meet the time constraints, but you’ve also got a crew of people filming you and on occasion, you also have people asking you questions. It is tough!

Bobby: Janice wanted to make sure we were drinking water, eating… I would tell Dena, drink some water Dena! It’s time to drink water! We were laughing because it was actually written into our schedules which we prepared.   I got hungry at one point, and we really didn’t have time to go eat. I popped a can of chicken and downed that protein really quickly (have to give Janice credit for this!) in a minute and boom – we were back in action!

Zippy: As I understand it, you specifically were constantly in action.

Bobby: We were running back and forth to the freezer to get more cake the entire time. Every once in a while you’d see me running to the freezer through the camera men and through the electrical lines on the floor.

Janice: He was always running. The first time he did it (he did it so many times), he took off and no one really knew why. And then they understood– the freezer is off-set, and only the participant and their partner are the only ones who can touch the cake. He took off and, as such, the cameramen ran after him. And please remember there were wires everywhere! It was really impressive, actually– while Bobby was running back from  the freezer, the cameraman was  running backwards with his heavy camera in order to capture the shot. And there was another person running behind him trying to make sure he doesn’t fall. NO ONE TRIPS OVER THE WIRES! It was absolutely fascinating. No one tripped all day.

Pirate Ship Cake for Food Network Challenge

Zippy: Tell us about the “surprise.”

Bobby: At this point, the ship is sort of done… but then, they call for us to come to the front. They say they have a surprise. They bring a giant treasure chest and say, here’s the deal. There is a special coin in this treasure chest. The person who finds this coin will be the captain of all the teams. This captain will have one team walk the plank. And by walking the plank, they will be out of their kitchen – banished for 30 minutes from the competition. Well, I’m pretty far back, and I’m going– oh man, if I get banished, I’m done! This girl- Tida- banished Tracie, because she thought Tracie was biggest threat. (laughing) No one thought I was a threat, because all of them thought I wasn’t going to finish.

Janice: There’s always one they think isn’t going to finish, but even I thought they might not finish.

Bobby: After Tracie got banished, we went back to work. We started to put the ship up, which was really heavy. Not only is the cake massive, but it’s got all the “extreme elements” and the wiring that goes along with it.

Janice: He’s standing on top of the table, ready to put the ship up. Then Dena, little 5’2” Dena, has to get on a little stepladder so she can help Bobby lift the ship. And mind you, the ship seemed to weigh about 150-200 pounds – way more than Dena!

Bobby: She was shaking; I didn’t think she could get there! Tracie’s assistant who was next to us said she couldn’t focus on what she was doing because she was watching us!

Janice: But Dena did it!  She got the ship up there with Bobby!  Dena said she was running on adrenaline! Pure adrenaline!

Bobby: At that point we were looking pretty good. I started building the wave, which took me a long time. Dena finished up all the little artifacts and then started working on the “water”, which was all around on the bottom.

Food Network Challenge Cake - the pirate on raft

Janice: It wasn’t actually water, though-

Bobby: It was a mixture of gel solution (that looks like jelly), blue coloring, and electronics that was on top of my base board, which looked like a wheel from a ship with the handles on it. The thing was so heavy that the handles didn’t work and I actually broke one!

Janice: The idea was that you could lift the board using the handles.

Zippy: At this point, time had to be running out, right?

B: Oh yeah! I was about to finish the wave and realized we were almost out of time… and then my airbrush decided to disappear on me. I pulled out an alternate airbrush that uses a CO2 cartridge and sprayed the wave quickly. And then when I thought we were in the clear, Dena goes, “We need to put the sails on.” I jumped up on the table to put on the sails, and as we’re placing them in their proper positions, one of them breaks! We had to stop and try to glue it with chocolate to see if we could make it hold. We finally got it to hold and put it back on there.

Zippy: But it was smooth sailing after that, right?

Bobby: WRONG! We had 30 seconds left on the clock, and then Dena said, “OH NO, WE FORGOT THE FLAGS!”

Pirate Ship Cake on Wave before it Rose up out of Wave

Janice: Pat Croce is the guest judge, and he is really into pirates. (He is actually also a really amazing inspirational speaker, and I’ve had the pleasure of hearing him speak in the past). Anyway, he said something about how every pirate ship has a Jolly Roger, which was fortunate because Dena had made these Jolly Rogers. Dena got distracted and put the Jolly Roger down on the table and kind of forgot about it. Four of us in the audience noticed, and all we could think about was “THE JOLLY ROGER! THE JOLLY ROGER!” And then– with only about ten seconds on the clock– Dena goes, “Oh yeah! The Jolly Roger!” And that was the last thing they put on.

Zippy: And then, they called “TIME!”

Bobby: And we stop.

Bobby: But then comes a huge part of the challenge – moving your cake to the table.

Janice: You can have as many people you want. Just have to tell them ahead of time.

Bobby: They came to me and said, “All right, Bobby. Time to move your piece.” And I had to  have 9 people helping us move this thing. The ship was teeter tottering; it was so top heavy that it was moving (and not in the way it was intended to)! I had my hand on the board and another hand down at the bottom. We finally made it to the table when they said, “Okay, Bobby. Time to do your extreme element.”

Janice: They actually made him practice first.

Bobby: They weren’t so sure about the explosive pyrotechnics. They wanted to make sure no fires started or eyes were lost. I had to test one for them in a back area and show them how it works. After I tested it and got the “all clear,” they had one cameraman near my ship and told him to put his glasses on and get covered up. They only had one camera on the cake.

Janice: So they had a great attention to safety. Safety is a top priority on the set!

Bobby: So they said, “Okay, do your extreme elements.” So I start to do the extreme elements. The ship goes up, goes to the tilting point, tilts forward – and everyone held their breaths. And then it stops and comes back down. And then as it’s coming down– as the water is moving, as the “gas lamp” is lit– I set the pyrotechnics off – BOOM, BOOM BOOM!

Janice: It was pretty impressive!

Bobby: I was so happy – I thought we did great. I was so happy with our performance. We actually had a finished cake! It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. We had to take out a couple of things, but it was my first cake competition ever and we actually finished!!

Bobby Jucker & Dena Bryngelson in front of Food Network Challenge Extreme Pirate Ship Cake

Janice: Keegan, one of the judges, said that Bobby was a working machine and he had never seen anyone like Bobby. The way he ran to the freezer and was going, going, going– Keegan had never seen anyone who worked like he worked. He also said he didn’t think they had had a cake that big on Challenge ever.

Bobby: I’m pretty sure it was about 800 pounds. At least 750. We took 30 sheets of cake and had 10 left (which they donated to a shelter or the hungry). The amount of icing we had- we took at least 8 buckets – so 160 pounds. Took a lot of fondant. Really, we ran out of fondant. Had very little left.

Janice: Plus the board, which was heavy.

Zippy: Tell me about the camaraderie between all of the competitors on Challenge.

Janice: There was a great synergy amongst the group. Everyone rooted for everyone. The competitors were a great bunch of people.

The Competitors - Food Network Challenge Extreme Pirate Cakes

Stephen Maronian (blue)

Tida Pichakron (green)

Tracie Turinese (purple)

Bobby: I really liked them. We had a lot of fun. And you know, it wouldn’t have been the same without Dena. I was really happy to have worked with her on this challenge. She was the perfect partner.

Zippy: Last but not least, would you do it again!

Bobby and Janice: (without a moment’s hesitation) In a heartbeat!