Collingswood baker back on TV with a 'Wizard of Oz' challenge
Scuba Santa and his underwater elves take a dive at the Adventure Aquarium in Camden on Friday. Cherry Hill Courier-Post
Last year, cake master Al DiBartolo and two partners crafted an 8-foot, edible Santa, peering over his wire-framed glasses at his naughty & nice list in a San Diego hotel lobby, armed with 200 pounds of fondant and working up to 10 hours a day.
The cake expert also came out a winner when his team Frost Sleighers bested the competition in “Holiday Wars,’’ stepping in to rescue Santa after his elves called out sick on the Food Network competition.
DiBartolo, whose family owns DiBartolo’s Bakery on Haddon Avenue in Collingswood, is a veteran of food TV shows, having competed on TLC’s “Next Great Baker’’ with fellow employee Manny Agigian in 2014. The bakery also was featured on The Food Network’s “Save My Bakery.’’
DiBartolo's Sugar Psychos team also won 2016’s “Halloween Wars’’ on the Food Network with a cake depicting a bloody wedding scene.
He has a jollier challenge this holiday season – and it just might involve a wicked witch, a cyclone and a little dog, too.
The Food Network has rebooted “Food Network Challenge,’’ with a new season that kicked off Dec. 23. An early hit for the network, the show launched as a series in 2007 and aired its last episode in 2011.
On the third 2019 episode, scheduled to premiere on Monday, Jan. 6 at 10 p.m., DiBartolo and partner James Hall, fellow member of the Sugar Psychos on “Halloween Wars,'' are back together to take on all comers.
“I had the opportunity to pick my partner this time,’’ DiBartolo says. “James Hall was the pumpkin carver from ‘Halloween Wars,’ and he was so excited that I called. … We worked together again and it was like we never missed a beat. The things we do are big, and require construction.’’
Host Ian Ziering (“90210’’) will welcome four cake bakers to reconstruct a scene from “The Wizard of Oz,’’ in honor of the classic film’s 80th anniversary in a chance to win $10,000.
For DiBartolo, this challenge is particularly meaningful, but not so much because of Dorothy and Toto.
“ ‘The Food Network Challenge is the original cake show on the Food Network. It is the show that launched everyone from Buddy Valastro (“The Cake Boss’’) to the Ace of Cakes guy (Duff Goldman). It’s a huge one.
“I used to watch that show religiously, all the people I used to follow were on there.’’
Other episodes in the “Food Network Challenge’’ offer competitions inspired by “A Christmas Story,'' winter sports, Monopoly, Pokemon and “Back the Future.’’
Serving as judges on the show are original show host Keegan Gerhard, Matt Adlard (“The Topless Baker’’) and Claudia Sandoval (winner of Season 6 of “Master Chef’’ on FOX).
“(Adlard) stole my idea,’’ DiBartolo joked. “I used to say aprons-only for my Ladies Only nights. But the big judge for me to meet was Keegan Gerhard. For all the years of watching the show, I didn’t think we’d ever cross paths. It was pretty awesome to have him look at my work.’’
Unlike many Gen-X kids, DiBartolo did not grow up watching “The Wizard of Oz.’’
“It was different then,’’ he says of his childhood. “It was only on TV once a year, and I was really into G.I. Joe and the Rambo movies, so it wasn’t really my bag. But I did develop a big appreciation for the movie as a dad because my daughter was fascinated by it. And to see it with adult eyes, to appreciate the story itself if you look past the campiness of it, it’s actually genius. I can see why it lasted so long. I watched it tons of times as a parent, so I knew it good enough.’’
In the first challenge, teams had to create confections depicting what Dorothy’s ruby slippers would look like in modern times. A subsequent challenge involves recreating an entire scene from the film that incorporates those "slippers.''
“We were able to put our little spin on it too, which is what I liked.’’
DiBartolo can’t let on how he and Hall fared on the show, of course.
But whether he won or not, it’s not the last fans will see of him on the Food Network. In the same time frame that he taped “Food Network Challenge,’’ DiBartolo filmed yet another network food show.
He can’t talk about it yet except to say, “This one was in Denver. I’d never been to Denver. It was a very intense week.’’
Tammy Paolino covers restaurants, breweries, food trucks and arts events for the USA TODAY New Jersey Network. She’s an award-winning reporter and editor who has covered the Garden State for more than 30 years. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 856-486-2477 or on Twitter @CP_TammyPaolino. Help support local journalism with a Courier-Post subscription.
For more information
DiBartolo Bakery: 667 Haddon Ave., Collingswood. Call (856) 869-3565 or visit dibartolobakery.com/
Al DiBartolo's episode of "Food Network Challenge'' debuts at 10 p.m. Monday on the ood Network. Visit https://www.foodnetwork.com/shows/food-network-challenge/episodes/the-wizard-of-oz-cakes