Food Network's Sweet Genius airs at 10 tonight. Master pastry chef and host Ron Ben-Israel puts four competing pastry chefs through their paces in three rounds of challenges before crowning the genius in question and doling out the $10,000 cash prize.
Tampa pastry chef Alon Gontowski isn't allowed to say much more than that. We know that his gig as a contestant on the show's second season included ingredients like vermicelli noodles and spicy tamarind candy; pomelos and honeycombs, and coquito nuts and watermelon. Oh, and a cotton candy machine. He let slip that this was his favorite "toy" on the set, one he wouldn't mind having in his role as pastry chef at the Seminole Hard Rock Tampa.
Gontowski says five years at the Hard Rock prepared him for the challenge.
"Being in the casino 24/7, things happen: You can run out of something and then have a VIP coming in unexpectedly. It's about how to use your resources and react accordingly," he explains. "And there's a higher risk with pastry than with regular cooking. You can correct as you go with cooking — pastry is a lot of chemistry and you have to have a greater number of things committed to memory."
No written recipes, no lucky whisk from home. Just equal parts sugar and adrenaline, blended expertly to annihilate the competition.
"There was a wide variety of talent in my fellow competitors. There was a very technical person and a couple of the other contestants were more like cake decorators," explains Gontowski. "We all got along, but demeanors change as the pressure mounts. People get their game face on."
Gontowski is known for retooling a Home Depot spray painter to paint confections with a mixture of chocolate and cocoa butter. Was this a technique that took him to sweet victory?
He demurs, saying enigmatically, "The bigger risk you're willing to take, the harder you can fall."
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293.