Food Network Backlot: Love in a Time of Fondant

by Tabitha Blankenbiller

My Dearest Cecilia,

I wish that words were infallible enough to encompass the joy that your face brought me at the train station on our day of departure. This is my first night without you—the proverbial calm before the storm. I am enjoying every last luxurious moment at this Residence Inn in Culver City. I savor the simple pleasures of a business class lodge in the same way I hold that last image my eyes captured of your face at the station. Tonight I have luxuriated in the downy plush of a clean towel against my skin, a wifi password freely given. This is what we fight for, Cecilia. This is the world our children deserve, where comfort is affordable and details are not overlooked. I am confident that, if I were to require a bit of ketchup for my In-N-Out supper or an extra pillow to alleviate my snoring, the front desk would not begrudge me these. This may sound foolish and sentimental, so forgive me my love, but I have a foreboding that runs all the way to my marrow. I know a tempest awaits me tomorrow.

I’m trying to envision the face of my enemy. I’ve heard murmurs that they flew in from Minneapolis. Isn’t it typical, the corn-fed salt of the Bible belt pitched against the scum skimmed off the Atlantic City boardwalk? I fear that we may lose the public’s favor, Cecilia. The propaganda is relentless, and the Final Cut Pro skills are strong. But what control do I have of a legacy? What IS a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.

My apologies, my dear. I passed the time outside of Chicago listening to the Hamilton soundtrack four times in a row. I identify with our ten dollar founding father on a level I would have thought impossible mere weeks ago, before I was called into this fight. His relentless drive, his bottomless need for satisfaction. Is this shared madness was drives me into the fire, away from the arms of my beloved?

When I think of this battle, this war that has called me away from our warm home, I do not contemplate strategy. I do not fear the Judgment. These are but physical states that one must endure on the path to victory. This victory is for you, Cecilia. I know how difficult it was for you to ask your father for that angel investment I needed to open The Rolling Scones. I want him to be proud of us. I want you to be proud of me. This is for you, my love, my muse, my soul. I only hope that tomorrow doesn’t cast you as my nurse. My widow. I do not wish to become Your Shame.

Again I must beg your forgiveness. The eve and this binge of Master of None finds me unbearably melancholy. I bid you the best of nights. Best of wives, best of women.

—Greg

***

Cecilia, Mi Amour,

I’m here at Culvergate Studios on the first morning of our offensive. As I’m writing you now from an active war zone, I expect that you may not receive all of this message. I hope the spirit of my message—that I’m thinking of you and miss you terribly—clearly makes its way to your heart.

At last, our mission has been revealed. It is our duty to provide 1,000 cupcakes for Ciara’s 25th birthday party. She’s on The Kardashians, you know. Not AS a Kardashian, but she’s pretty good friends with the one who posed in a wheelchair, so I think there’s a pretty good chance that our work will make its way into next season’s tracking shots. It’s these small, brilliant shards of hope that I collect and reflect back in my mind. Hope, Cecilia. Hope that we’re going to win. Hope that The Rolling Scones is going places.

Aside from that quick note, much remains a mystery for the morning’s filming. Our team was assigned an intern with a Chevy Volt, which was a big deal, apparently. They had a camera crew filming the Volt logo while we loaded the trunk with our Fry’s groceries. Their bulk section was out of powdered sugar! I thought a man would be on your doorstep with a telegram right then and there, a failure who didn’t even make it onto the field. I did see the enemies from across the store, who were spending an inordinate amount of time in the Meat department. What’s a baking team doing slumming it with the butchers? Are they up to something? Is there going to be some kind of Protein Challenge they’ve been tipped off on? Alas, my paranoia runs amok. All’s fair in this war. At least, that’s what the contract release form promised.

I’m in the green room, but we’re just getting the call to set up our stations. More news as soon as I can manage it. Sweet rewards await the steadfast! I believe that now. I hope you do as well.

—Greg

***

Cecilia,

I’ve asked for your love, your patience, your trust. I am an undeserving glutton for your esteem. I regret that I must ask for one addition, and that is your strictest confidence. I’m smuggling this letter out from the front lines, away from studio scrutiny. You do understand that this violates all of the NDA oaths I made when I took up this fight.

What I fear, more than disqualification and scorn in the eyes of the great Sprinkles Cupcake General Candace Nelson (RISE UP!), is this idea that our squadron is suffering under a fool’s guidance. Our secret weapon was supposed to be glow-in-the-dark icing for Ciara’s Rave Into the 90’s themed birthday party, but did anyone bring fluorescent quinine for lacing the piping bags? Our captain, Sarah Sommers from Torte Reform in Maryland, swears that she had it in her carry-on and placed it in the team pantry during setup, and that a producer must have smuggled it out to incite us into a mutiny. There’s nothing that teaser clip reels love more than mutiny footage. In this I find myself in agreement with her; we both saw what happened on UnReal when those Bachelor contestants needed some frothing up.

I’m trying to remain calm under this mounting pressure. Reports from other battalions hint at a situation just as dire as ours, if not more so. Word through camp is that the bumbling fools from The Crepe Escape decided to make a buttercream with Tang powder. Cecilia, can you fathom the tooth enamel kryptonite that they’re whipping up on THAT station!?

Oh god, oh god, what is that? Shards and shrapnel are flying all over the table…screams of agony…Lord it can’t be…not the sugar glow sticks—[illegible]

***

Cecilia, I’m smuggling word out once more. We made it through to the other side of the war. The final battle looms. I was right about that Tang disaster, though we hardly slipped through unscathed on the merits of our mettle. We were attacked for our weak sugar showing. And not only did our icing not have the tiniest glimmer of glow, and Sarah “forgot” to chill the piping bags, and by that time we had to frost all the first battle samples without an errant second to spare. I’m starting to think that the producers are playing with my mind, planting an enemy in my ranks.

There it is again, this creeping foreboding, the fear that stifles my heart around each corner. Yes, I am a weak man. My mind and my heart are too set on bringing this win home for you, my darling. It’s all I can speak of. When I’m cornered into that little confessional booth, do I talk of personal glory or advancement or heroics? No. It’s nothing but my wife, how much she believed in me, how I can’t leave Culver City without a win to make her proud. Losing is not an option. I can’t walk out of here without my ten thousand dollars. I realize that others may have felt this way before me, but I can’t imagine they mean it as sincerely as I do.

Although I readily admit to my inadequacies, the atmosphere in this war is a level of malice I’ve yet to encounter in my life. The passive aggression from the judge’s table waterboards the soul. They ask these tiny baiting questions: “did you try the cupcake before you served it to us?” “What made you decide to use almond paste?” “What am I tasting in here? Can you go over your ingredients with me again?” And as you’re sweating and swearing and crying your face off to get those perfect representations of your culinary point of view onto the plate, that leering, grinning farce of a human being whose only job is to menacingly watch the clock and announce which of us has fallen. Most of the time we don’t even see him—he’s hiding in his trailer with his Xbox and makeup artist, away from the carnage and cannons. Did you know that he started out as a kid magician? He called himself Justin Kredible. With a K. Like those goddamn Kardashians. He has no business lording over the trenches. He knows nothing of fear. Loss. Fondant.

Again we’re called away. We must meet with the resident carpenters to design our cupcake pyre to offer up to Ciara’s representatives. The design and its incorporation of “special effects” will weigh heavily on the judge’s final decision. Sarah thinks we should create a gigantic spinning pacifier that flashes lights in sync with Madonna’s “Ray of Light” while cupcakes hang on ropes like party beads from all sides. Please, Cecilia. Light a candle and pray.

—Gary

***

My love, my light… LED lights malfunctioning… a tangle of cupcake ropes snap and fall at my bloodied feet. That French pastry chef is looking at us like we’re clubbing baby seals. The ganache is separating. Runny, soupy ganache.

I catch a glimpse of the other side.

***

we regret to inform you that your husband gary mcguinness has lost in the final battle of cupcake wars STOP

he fought with bravery and ingenuity for ciara’s raver birthday party STOP

he will be returned to you via amtrak arriving in a fortnight STOP

please accept our condolences and these commemorative food network aprons as tokens of our appreciation for his service STOP

may it be forever known that the man was non STOP

 


Tabitha Blankenbiller is a graduate of the Pacific University MFA program currently living in Portland, Oregon. Her work has been featured in a number of journals including Barrelhouse, Hobart, Passages North and Brevity. She is also a noted hoarder of condiments and accomplished pint glass thief. For food porn and cat pics, follow her @tabithablanken.

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