It was only a phone call, but it was the best birthday present Alison Riede had ever received.
“It was all kind of a pipe dream. I would imagine what I would do if I ever got on there,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘Well, that will never happen.’”
But on Aug. 22 it did. She got a call back from the Food Network.
“I just wanted to let you know that you are on Cupcake Wars,” the person on the other end of the line told Riede.
“You don’t understand. It’s my birthday. This is the best birthday present I ever received,” she replied. “It was unreal.”
Whether it was a friend’s party or the weekly meeting of her high school’s Natural Art Honors Society Club, Riede has always found a reason to bake cupcakes.
“I would always find an excuse to find a new recipe. I liked being creative in terms of frosting color and decoration,” Riede told Noozhawk at Oreana Winery, where she makes wine and cupcake pairings on weekends. “I treat every cupcake like it is an art form.”
Riede, 29, studied design at Syracuse University and worked in Manhattan designing paper and fabric after graduating. She later attended UCSB for a teaching degree and about two years ago started Sugar Cat Studio, an online custom cupcake catering company based in Santa Barbara. She produces about 300 cupcakes per week.
But in terms of the Cupcake Wars, Riede said it was a perfect combination of cupcakes and competition.
“You can be competitive with cupcakes? I’m in, I’m hooked,” she said.
Four teams of two competed in three rounds before the judges announced the winner of the $10,000 prize on the episode that aired Sunday.
“There’s no way to prepare for being on national TV,” Riede said. “I was just going to be myself and see how it goes.”
In the first, 40-minute round, the teams were tasked with creating a cupcake from an outdated holiday dish. Riede chose the cheese log.
It was a cheddar cupcake topped with a honey blue cheese frosting. She sweetened the dessert with honey and candied pecan garnish.
“Alison, this is what Cupcake Wars is all about,” said Florian Bellanger, Cupcake Wars judge and MadMac co-owner.
Riede was floored. At that point the competition was hers for the taking.
“I set a standard for myself,” she said. “I hoped they didn’t think it was a fluke.”
The next 75-minute competition involved creating three cupcakes themed around a popular Christmas movie.
The first was from White Christmas. She created a coconut cupcake topped with white chocolate lime butter cream frosting and garnished with a sugar cookie shaped like a snowflake. The sugar cookie was her great-grandmother’s recipe she knew by heart.
The next was based off It’s a Wonderful Life, a mulled wine cupcake based on Clarence’s favorite drink with orange curd filling. A chocolate holly leaf, holly berries and a curled candied orange peel topped the cinnamon brandy cream cheese frosting.
During the final found, Riede re-created all four cupcakes and turned them into a 1,000-cupcake display in two hours. A carpenter constructed a 7-foot-tall display, consisting of an old-fashioned toy train on top of the Hollywood sign, a Santa and reindeer silhouette, and chase lights on the bottom of the train.
“I was standing there with my heart racing,” Riede said. “When they announced my name it was unreal.”
Out of the three Santa Barbara residents who previously participated on the show, Riede was the first winner.
She said it’s all about attention to detail, even down to the wrapper where Riede’s background in surface pattern design comes in handy.
“I kinda feel unstoppable,” Riede said. “If I can get on Cupcake Wars and win, I can do anything.”
The Santa Barbara resident hopes to expand her business and open her own storefront. She also wants to write a cookbook, host cupcake-decorating parties and start a successful blog.
But that will only be the beginning.
“I’m not done with the Food Network,” Riede said. “I will be back.”