Pittsburgh pastry chefs to showcase skills on Food Network gingerbread competition show | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh pastry chefs to showcase skills on Food Network gingerbread competition show

click to enlarge Holiday Baking Championship: Gingerbread Showdown contestants Marla Mae Harvey (left) and Daniel Wilson (right) - PHOTO: PORTRAITS BY PEYTON SUZANNE
Photo: Portraits by Peyton Suzanne
Holiday Baking Championship: Gingerbread Showdown contestants Marla Mae Harvey (left) and Daniel Wilson (right)
Few pursuits in the baking world are as intimidating as the construction of a gingerbread house. At least, this is how Pittsburgh pastry chef and cakemaker Marla Mae Harvey feels.

Even so, when her friend and fellow pastry chef Daniel Wilson asked her to appear on the Food Network show Holiday Baking Championship: Gingerbread Showdown, she could not resist.

“I was so scared,” says Harvey, who runs her own baking business called Made By Marla Mae. “I’ve never done anything like this. I’ve never built a gingerbread house in my life.”


In June, the two traveled to Knoxville, Tenn., where the Food Network studios are located, and filmed the episode, which is set to air on Mon., Nov. 29. The show is described on the channel’s website as challenging “teams of gingerbreaders and baking assistants “ to take on “all-encompassing gingerbread builds based on a theme.” The contestants also face “baking twists that can make or break their creations.” Judges then decide which team wins $10,000 worth of prizes.

Harvey and Wilson say they have been friends since they met while working at the Downtown restaurant Butcher and the Rye in 2015. The two say they approached the Gingerbread Showdown by using their respective talents.

“So I was kind of more overseeing the house construction and design and she was more about the flavor elements and what our baked item would be,” says Wilson.
click to enlarge Holiday Baking Championship: Gingerbread Showdown contestants Daniel Wilson (left) and Marla Mae Harvey (right) - PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE FOOD NETWORK
Photo: Courtesy of the Food Network
Holiday Baking Championship: Gingerbread Showdown contestants Daniel Wilson (left) and Marla Mae Harvey (right)
Wilson also had the advantage of baking on TV before, as a contestant for the Food Network’s Christmas Cookie Challenge in 2020.

“[Food Network] actually reached out to me this time around via my Instagram to see if I’d be interested because they knew I kind of specialized in gingerbread stuff,” says Wilson. “And I did not win last time, so I was up for my redemption, second time around kind of thing.”


However, unlike Christmas Cookie Challenge, Wilson had to have a partner, which is why he recruited Harvey for the task.

He and Harvey went into Gingerbread Showdown as prepared as possible, while still expecting some surprises.

“I tried to have in my mental Rolodex shapes, designs, and architecture that I knew if we were given a specific task or a theme, I could come and go with that, and do it on the fly,” says Wilson.

They say they were given 10 hours to build the structure, as well as parameters of how big and edible it needed to be. There was also a baking challenge that required them to incorporate a baked good, dessert, or pastry that would go with the theme in terms of taste and design.

The two are planning to watch the episode with their loved ones when it airs, with Wilson having some of his family join him over Zoom, and Harvey celebrating at the Friendship-based bar St. Clair Social.


Harvey says they were happy to be able to represent the city where they live and work, as well as the local culinary community.

“We both lived in Pittsburgh for so long, and I don't really know a lot of other people from Pittsburgh who have been on a lot of cooking shows,” says Harvey. “We competed against people from other areas of the country as well. So I think we kind of feel like we represented Pittsburgh in that way.”

Holiday Baking Championship: Gingerbread Showdown airs on Mon., Nov. 29 at 8 p.m. on the Food Network. It will also be available to view on the discovery+ streaming app.

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