SPOILER ALERT - If you haven’t finished the full series of the show Crazy Delicious, you might want to hang on tight a little longer to avoid any spoilers (below).
Was it really crazy?
Yes it was! Crazy Delicious represents one of the craziest adventures I’ve ever been on. The show is a psychedelic fusion of Willy Wonka and Alice in Wonderland, sprinkled with a little Tim Burton flair. The aim of the show is to win the coveted Golden Apple!
Set in an enchanted garden, the show challenges contestants to create amazing creations for the three celebrated judges – Heston Blumenthal, Niklas Ekstedt and Carla Hall. The show aired in the UK in February 2020 and is not available on Netflix Worldwide (except the UK, where you can still watch it on All 4 here). In addition to all the wonderful fairytale-like setting, the show also has time constraints that made me wake up panicking in the middle of the night for 2 months after it finished.
Whenever I used to watch cooking competitions, I’d always admire contestants for having the courage to rise to the challenge and I’d also swear they must be a bit crazy to actually do it! Well… little did I know a year ago that I’d become one of those people. Now that the show has finished, it feels a bit surreal and sometimes I have to double-check that it actually happened.
How I made it onto the show is probably the most unexpected part of the story. Around 6 months after starting my Instagram page SugarYums, I was contacted by a producer asking if I’d be interested in competing in a new and innovative show. I initially brushed it off as being spam, as it never even crossed my mind that this could be real. After all, I had only started baking more seriously for a few months, so who would be interested in a complete novice?! Upon researching the production company and realising that they are legitimate, I got back in touch with them and decided to give it a go. I had a quick phone call with them, where they told me a bit about the show, then we had a Skype interview. Two minutes after our video call, I was officially invited to the face to face audition, where I had to bring in a dish that represents my cooking style and prepare a quick brunch dish in 15 minutes.
The dish I brought in for the audition is my Harry Potter pie, which features a boozy blueberry and elderflower gin filling. The crust is all homemade and very element is fully edible. The dish I prepared in the 15 minutes is crostini with balsamic glazed blueberries and whipped goats’ cheese. After the audition, a few weeks passed without hearing anything back, so naturally I assumed that I didn’t make the cut. Although I was a bit saddened by it, I was proud of myself for giving it a shot anyway. Another week later… I got the call. I had made the show.
Prepare for craziness
In the build-up to the show, I started pushing myself as much as I could, trying to make it work around my extremely busy work schedule. Every day after work I would research, sketch, plan, experiment with flavours and intricate techniques. This intense period can be credited as a formative time in my culinary ‘career’ where I started to develop my own cooking style. I realised how important telling a story is to me and how I wanted to offer experiences that stimulate all senses, not just the taste buds.
My annual holiday had been booked in advance way before I even knew when the filming will take place, and it happened that I returned home only 4 days before shooting was scheduled to start. I was announced that Heston Blumenthal will be part of the judges as I was boarding the plane with my partner, so – naturally, I started freaking out. It took my partner around 20 minutes to convince me not to make a run for it via the emergency exit of the plane. Over my holiday, although I was trying to reassure myself that everything will go smoothly with the show, I frantically planned and researched my recipes, hoping that I get it right.
When I returned home, I had only a few days to plan everything, from testing out flavour combinations, to making my handmade tree prop for the Afternoon tea and the rock stand for the Chicken Pie challenge.
The tree prop was made from garden wire covered in aluminium foil, then coated in air-dry clay. A lot of glue and bronze spray held everything together and made it look magical. The rocks from my Genie Pie Pops challenge were made from polystyrene cut out in the shape of a mountain, painted with concrete imitation spray and model-making dried moss glued to it.
A unique experience
It was fascinating being at the BBC Elstree Studios in London, as I had never been on a large set before. The weirdest moment was when I realised everyone on set knew my name, but I didn’t know theirs, as we’d never been introduced. I must’ve apologised 10 times each time this happened.
We were constantly surrounded by a small army of people and 20 different cameras following us around at all times. Filming was extremely intense and exhausting, as I typically woke up at 5am to do my hair and make-up, quick breakfast at 6:30am and head to the studios to start filming at 7am. Then we’d film until around 10pm, with a short half an hour break for lunch. Although the set was absolutely gorgeous and it felt like the Garden of Eden, being inside a studio with no windows, no phones or watches meant that I’d feel quite disoriented towards the end of the day, losing all concept of time and space. On top of this add the stress and anxiety of not knowing if you will even finish your dish in time or if it will taste anything like what you had intended. It was really challenging, but I loved every moment of it. Everyone on set was extremely helpful and lovely, and they were happy to give me a hug when I’d break down into a pile of tears after most challenges had finished.
My saving grace throughout filming were definitely Chris (from Don't Go Bacon my Heart) and Lynn (aka The Little Food Fairy), with whom I immediately clicked and got along with. Although we had only just met, I knew we were all rooting for each other. It never actually felt like a competition against other people, more like with competing with ourselves, in the company of two good friends. We are still very close and speak weekly to catch up on whatever is new and visit each other every few months or so. Throughout all this, they have been my rock and support system and I am so thankful to have them both in my life. After Crazy Delicious aired in the UK on Channel 4, we organised a meet-up for most of the contestants on the show. We constantly keep in touch and we are planning a new reunion soon!
My Crazy Delicious Dishes
The competition was a massive catalyst in pushing my limits and encouraging me to think outside the box, whilst doing what I love best - being creative.
Cooking started as a very personal journey for me, so I wanted my Crazy Delicious adventure to be reflective of who I am as a person and baker. All my dishes have been carefully considered and planned to be a celebration of different cultures and cuisines. Each element of the dish tells my love story with my partner, telling a fairytale on a plate.
My creative process in designing these dishes has typically followed the pattern: picture it in my head, sketch it on paper, research methods and techniques, experiment with flavours and bring it all together.
The Fairy Tomato Cake
The first challenge was to create a dish inspired by an everyday item - the humble tomato. I knew I wanted to not only make something new and imaginative, but build it around a narrative.
This first course sets the tone of my story, introducing me as a Romanian. The cake symbolises a group of Romanian folklore fairies “sanziene” dancing around a bonfire. Tomato is heavily used in Romanian cuisine, and my nana makes an amazing tomato juice that we commonly drink as a sweet treat. This inspired me to make a sweet tomato cake, whilst reclaiming the tomato’s status as a fruit.
In terms of flavours, the cake features a sweet sponge cake made with freeze dried tomato powder, along with a sweet cherry tomato and strawberry jam and a tomato ermine buttercream. The mirror glaze on top is white chocolate with tomato flavour. The ‘bonfire’ is made from Italian meringue and flambeed with strong Romanian alcohol called “pălincă”. The edible butterfly decorations are the colours of the Romanian flag.
The second course challenged us to reinvent the beloved chicken (pot) pie. Pies are one of the first dishes I’ve ever experimented with, so I was thrilled to take this on as a challenge.
This dish represents the second chapter of the fairytale and it’s inspired by my partner’s Moroccan heritage. I’m a big lover of mythology and folklore, so my pie pops symbolise mythological evil spirits called “Aicha Kandicha” that dwell by the river in North Morocco. The genies also represent all the adversity we have faced as a couple and how much we have had to fight for our relationship.
The pastry of the pie pops is modified cardamom milk shortcrust, to allow for a slightly stronger crust (so they can stand up). The filling is inspired for the traditional Moroccan chicken tajine, so it features chicken thighs cooked in an aromatic blend of turmeric, ginger, garlic, cinnamon and cardamom milk, along with pickled lemons and soft dried apricots topped with sliced almonds. The ‘river’ of the dish was red with and date gravy infused with cherry vinegar. The dish came with a side of orange blossom-infused dry ice, for the added theatrics and an inviting Moroccan aroma.
I have to say I was quite surprised by how well the pie pops turned out and how much the judges loved them. The dish has become a staple in our house now!
The Enchanted Afternoon Tea
The final challenge of the competition was to create a feast worthy of Gods – the elevated afternoon tea. I have been a fan of high teas ever since moving to the UK almost a decade ago. I love the small finger sandwiches, the delicate pastries and sweet treats that leave you yearning for more.
For this last challenge, I knew I had to do something truly special. The course was really important to get right - as it would determine the winner of the show, but also it would tell the “happily ever after” ending to my very personal fairytale.
My partner and I fell in love in Paris (true story), where we also lived together for a few months. I have always admired not only the French cuisine, but also the French lifestyle and language. As we now live in the UK together, I wanted to combine the best of both worlds in my afternoon tea: French and British cuisines. All the treats I put in from the judges are dishes we both love and enjoy, that also celebrate the two cultures that have brought us – and kept us, together.
The elements I created for the afternoon tea are: the fairy house meringue tart, the tree fairy religieuse (choux puffs), the firefly mango scones, the toadstool sandwich and the magical flower cookies.
The Fairy House Meringue Tarts
These little tarts were, by far the judge's favourites. I honestly almost cried when Heston told me these are some of the best tarts he has ever had.
The tarts are made to look like little fairy houses, with small cute chocolate decorations and edible flowers. The shell of the tart is pate sucree, the filling is lime curd at the bottom, blueberry infused with elderflower gin in the middle and topped with Italian meringue.
See the full recipe here: Fairy House Tarts
The Firefly Scones
You would not believe your eyes if 10 million fireflies... lit up the set as you cook away! Okay, maybe lyric writing is not my forte, but coming up with cute dishes is!
The fireflies are traditional British scones (or biscuits in the USA) with a twist. The flavours are quite unlikely, and yet they go so well together. Introducing: mango and basil! The scones have soft-dried mango, fresh mango and fresh basil. The filling is traditional clotted cream with a mango, lime and basil jam. Since the show I have made these countless times, and they always disappear so quickly - just like fireflies!
See the full recipe here: Mango Scones with Homemade Mango Jam
The Tree Fairy Choux Puffs
Choux puffs are probably my favourite dessert ever. I love the crunchy exterior coupled with the smoothest, most fragrant interior ever. The choux I created for the judges are a true fusion of French and English cuisines by brining in French techniques and British aromas.
The little choux puff religieuse features a silky smooth Earl Grey filling on the lower tier and a subtle lavender cream on the top. The fairy wings are made from white chocolate.
The Toadstool Finger Sandwiches
Sandwiches are essential for any high tea feast. I have always been a big fan of smoked salmon and avocado, and my partner loves cream cheese, so I just had to combine the two.
The toadstool sandwiches are made from layers of whole wheat rye bread, smoked salmon, cream cheese with lemon and dill and avocado paste with wild garlic. The 'hat' of the toadstool is made from a savoury tuile biscuit shaped to resemble a mushroom. The sandwiches are served with a side of beetroot foam.
The Magical Flower Cookies
A quintessentially British afternoon tea can never be complete without biscuits (or cookies) to dunk in the lovely fragrant tea. Although I didn't have time to finish the cookies on the show, they're some of my favourite, so I wanted to share the with you all.
The cookie is made with pink peppercorn and nutmeg, whilst the icing is made with grapefruit and decorated to look like a flower.
The Golden Apple
After the final round, the afternoon tea, I was absolutely exhausted - both physically and emotionally. We had been cooking for hours under extreme stress, whilst trying to do the best we can. When the time came to announce the winner, I genuinely believed I wasn’t going to win. As the judges started descending down the stairs surrounded by dramatic roaring thunders and flashing lightning, I literally thought my heart would jump out of my chest.
Heston Blumenthal, a man I so greatly admire as a culinary genius, took the Golden Apple from the tree and…. Handed it to me. I had won. Me. I was so absolutely stunned at his announcement, that for a few seconds I just froze. Editing on the show was super clever, missing out my utter shock and confusion. As I went in for a hug from the grand culinary master himself, he then whispered in my ear “Well done!” as my cheeks turned bright red with emotion.
A journey that started out as a form of self-therapy through baking has now turned into something tangible and very real. The Golden Apple sits proudly in my living room, displayed on the tree I made for the afternoon tea and acting as a constant reminder that life is an unexpected adventure. By putting in my heart and soul into my baking hobby, I ended up cooking for celebrated chefs and winning the Golden Apple in Crazy Delicious. Going from my day job in architecture into culinary adventures has been completely out of my comfort zone, but I’m happy I took this leap of faith.
This has been one exciting adventure, that I am so proud to be able to share with you all. Winning the Golden Apple has given me a lot more confidence in my skills and creativity, and I know that this is only the beginning. Life, as always is completely unexpected, but I am now so excited to see where it takes me.
With a little bit of courage and determination anything is possible. All you have to do is trust that life will find exciting and unexpected ways to surprise you!
Lastly, I am so overwhelmed by the incredible support and wonderful messages I have received from you all. Thank you for coming with me on this journey and I can't wait to share future stories with all of you!
All my love,