Asheville baker competes on Food Network “Holiday Baking Championship”4 min read
An Asheville resident is in the ultimate battle of sugar and spice and everything nice.
Gingerbreader Linda Carney will compete on Food Network’s “Holiday Baking Championship: Gingerbread Showdown.” The episode, titled “Best in Show,” will air at 9 p.m. Nov. 15 on Food Network and Discovery+.
Host Jesse Palmer and judges Nacho Aguirre, Kardea Brown and Breegan Jane will witness three teams of gingerbread artists and baking assistants attempt to create an edible masterpiece reflecting the theme of holiday memories. The winning team will win $10,000 worth of festive prizes.
After Food Network invited Carney to compete, she called on her longtime friend and fellow gingerbread artist, Cheryl Filion of Medina, Ohio, to be her baking assistant. The pair traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee, to film the episode earlier this year.
Carney’s no stranger to television or baking competitions. In 2017, she was followed by a film crew for another Food Network special called “Gingerbread Giants.” Yet, competing on “Holiday Baking Championship: Gingerbread Showdown” was a new level of pressure as the team had to create and bake in front of television cameras.
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“Cheryl and I went into it with the idea that we’re going to have fun regardless of what happens, and that’s exactly what we did. We did what we do — we do gingerbread,” Carney said. “Yes, it was a little bit distracting with cameras in your face all the time, especially when things weren’t going so well. And we did have a few moments where we were panicky. But all in all, we had an absolute blast. It was so much fun.”
If she were to win the $10,000 prize, Carney said she would donate a portion to charity, give gifts to family, and maybe take a vacation.
The three “Holiday Baking Championship” teams were tasked with designing and executing a large-scale snow globe full of holiday memories and made of gingerbread and wintery decorations. Judges surprised the teams by upping the ante and requiring them to incorporate shredded coconut to act as snow.
“The whole theme to our piece was to recreate a Christmas memory,” Carney said. “Cheryl and I both grew up in small towns, both grew up admiring gazebos and skating on the local lake across from the school. So, we incorporated a lot of those things into our overall piece.”
An award-winning gingerbread artist, Carney has placed many times in the annual National Gingerbread House Competition, presented by the Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville. Her accolades include third place in 2010, second place in 2012, third in 2016, and several years she’d placed in the top 10 finalists, she said.
For 40 years, she worked in human services, primarily with individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities. But she’d been baking with her family since she was 9 years old. She “fell in love” with the hobby and took on the role of the family baker, starting off making cakes from the box and other sweet treats.
“I taught myself how to do pastries, how to do pies, cookies, cakes and all sorts of stuff. I’ve been a hobby baker until recently,” she said.
In 2020, she retired from the industry and applied for a job at a local grocery store’s bakery where she still works today.
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The National Gingerbread House Competition series is what inspired Carney to pick up the craft for the first time.
“I remember walking through and thinking, “I could do that. I could do that.’ Then, in 2008, under the recommendation of some friends, I decided to enter,” Carney said. “I knew nothing about making gingerbread houses. I had never made one before.”
She researched the artistry online and by watching instructional videos on YouTube. The first piece she made was a Mississippi riverboat based on the riverboat at Disney World, entered in 2008. Her most elaborate pieces have been a giraffe reading books, two 2-feet tall gingerbread people, and a snowman band playing instruments. The pieces may take anywhere from 200-400 hours to complete, she said.
Her design inspirations may come from dreams, things she’s seen in a store, or from a line in a song.
“There’s inspiration everywhere,” she said. “I am one of the few gingerbread artists I know of who do not sketch. … I don’t draw. I think about it. … I can see the piece almost in 3D in my head. I make it come out of my hands and keep trying until it looks like what’s in my head.”
Carney is taking it easy after the Food Network challenge and plans to make a smaller piece “just for fun,” this year’s National Gingerbread House Competition.
Carney offered a few tips for amateur gingerbreaders embarking on the craft this holiday season: research the craft online and watch as many instructional video demonstrations as possible. Join gingerbread design groups on social media platforms. And reconsider using the traditional royal icing.
“Royal icing can be tricky to work with,” Carney said. “It’s all in the consistency. It has to be smooth enough to pipe but thick enough to hold your gingerbread together.”
Insider tip: Many gingerbreaders don’t use royal icing but an edible glue or other substance that works better to bond the gingerbread and lasts longer and doesn’t dry out, she said.
If you watch
What: Holiday Baking Championship: Gingerbread Showdown
Where: Food Network and Discovery+
When: 9 p.m. Nov. 15
Info: For series details, visit foodnetwork.com/shows/holiday-gingerbread-showdown.
Tiana Kennell is the food and dining reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA Today Network. Email her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter/Instagram @PrincessOfPage.