Chocolate is anything but creepy. Except when Food Network teamed up with Hersheypark to host “Creepy-Crawly Carnival,” the first of four episodes in “Chocolate Meltdown: Hershey’s After Dark.” Three cake artists spent a night at Hersheypark in Pennsylvania, racing against the clock and each other to make over-the-top chocolate and candy creations reflecting the theme.
The winner was Teaneck’s Melissa Alt, founder of Caking Art and Melissa Alt Cakes. In addition to acclaim and validation for her work, Alt won $10,000, a year’s supply of Hershey’s candies and a Hershey’s park vacation for four. The episode was first shown September 27 on the Food Network Channel and is available for streaming on the Food Network app.
Alt was contacted by a casting agency and invited to apply. “It felt right,” she said, “I knew they wanted real art and that’s what I like to do.” Alt said she went in with no expectations and tried not to put too much pressure on herself. Her previous work as a culinary producer for television prepared her for the demands of the show. “Although it was my first time being on screen, I knew what was expected,” she said. “You want to be lively and know how to manage time. It’s a challenge because I get focused on my work and want to stay in the zone but you have to be entertaining.”
She also had a good assistant. One of the requirements was to bring an assistant to handle tasks and emergencies, allowing the contestant to focus on creating. Alt brought Inae, with whom she worked on the Roku show “Eye Candy,” in which contestants have to guess if a cake is real or not.
The all-nighter event began with a hunt in the park for clues to candy that had to be used in the competitors’ creations, and a get-in-the mood ride—not as scary as Alt had feared. Then it was time to work.
Alt prepared by imagining a story to help her create the form: Once upon a time, there was a little girl who lived in a carnival owned by her father. She grows up feeling lonely and makes friends with the performers and animals. As she gets older, she realizes a carnival is not a happy place for the workers or animals, and her heart is broken. She puts a spell on the carnival so it is suspended in time. Everyone gets to live happily ever after by not performing anymore, and the animals are protected by friendly bugs. She named the piece Dancing Kitty, in honor of Catherine “Kitty” Hershey, the wife of founder Milton Hershey, whom she learned about at the park.
Alt created Dancing Kitty by mixing chocolate with corn syrup so it could be sculpted like clay. She made a distorted human form with arms that looked like carnival rides. The centerpiece was a heart created from strips of Twizzlers and shattered red candy, complete with a ventricle system. She also used Twizzlers to make wigs for her clowns. Sculpting cake animals is Alt’s specialty, and she used that skill to make an elephant’s head to represent all the animals in the carnival, with melted Jolly Rancher candy for its ears. Since the piece was for show and not eating, she didn’t have to be concerned if one or two of the candies she used were not kosher.
Alt went into the competition using everything she learned in her career as a cake artist. She came out of it with expanded ideas for other materials to use in her culinary art besides cake. “Now I love working with chocolate,” she said.
Alt makes custom sculpted special occasion cakes, largely for birthdays. Recent cake creations include a gorilla, a client’s dog and a transformer. Her most requested flavors are funfetti and Oreo, while her personal favorites are mocha and pistachio. Alt also creates and sells Caking Art kits with patterns, instructions and basic supplies for beginning through advanced bakers. She is thinking about starting a YouTube channel in which she can showcase her culinary art. “I love experimenting,” she said.
View Alt and her competitors in action at https://watch.foodnetwork.com/tv-shows/chocolate-meltdown-hersheys-after-dark/full-episodes/creepy-crawly-carnival. To see more of her custom creations, follow Melissa on Instagram @melissaaltcakes.
By Bracha Schwartz