The third time might be a charm for chef Bob Lombardi.
The Spokane Community College culinary arts instructor won’t reveal just how far he makes it on the fourth season of Food Network’s “Halloween Wars” – only that he’s in the season premiere and it promises to be sweet … and stressful.
“The level of competition is really amazing. Everybody’s really good,” he said. “You have to be at the top of your game and attempt things you’re not really comfortable with. At least, that’s how I compete.”
Lombardi, a sugar artist, worked with pulled, cast, spun and blown sugar on the show. The only hint he’ll give – he’s subject to a strict confidentiality agreement – is this: “Blown sugar was a real highlight of this episode.”
When it airs Sunday night, Lombardi will be watching; he hasn’t yet seen any episodes.
“We get to see it when everybody else does,” he said. “That part is exciting – and really scary because you don’t know what they’re going to pick out to show or how you’re going to be presented.”
Lombardi has been waiting 10 months to see the show, which was filmed last December in Los Angeles.
Five teams of three – a pumpkin carver, cake decorator and sugar artist – compete for a $50,000 prize by combining their culinary talents to create elaborate, large-scale and themed displays on deadline.
One team is eliminated at the end of each hourlong, themed episode. The theme of the premiere is “The Haunted Farm,” which teams have to interpret for their creepy culinary creations. There are other rules, too.
“The showpiece has to include carved pumpkins and vegetables, and sculpted cakes in many mediums, such as buttercream, fondant, chocolate,” said Lombardi, who stretched his skills in the first episode.
“Blown sugar is really technical,” he said. “I get goosebumps thinking about it because it was really challenging. I didn’t play it safe, that’s for sure.”
Sugar is his favorite medium.
“Sugar is so fragile and so unforgiving,” Lombardi said. “But when it’s done it’s so clear and shiny and beautiful. That’s what draws me to sugar artistry. Sugar’s definitely a show-stopper.”
A Food Network veteran, Lombardi was asked – and “very honored” – to participate in “Halloween Wars.” This is his third appearance on one of the network’s culinary competition shows.
Last year on “Halloween Wars,” his team was eliminated in the second of four rounds. In 2012, Lombardi was challenge champion in the first episode of “Sugar Dome.”
In that show, he and two teammates – a cake expert and animatronics professional – took top prize in the “Dragon’s Tail” challenge, winning $15,000, sugar-sculpting molds and 75 pounds of super-refined, professional-grade sugar.
This time, he’s working alongside pumpkin carver Cassie Wollen and cake artist Gonzuela Bastarache. Their team is called Sweet Nightmares.
The judges for this season of “Halloween Wars,” hosted by Justin Willman of “Cupcake Wars,” are expert cake decorator Shinmin Li and Emmy-nominated make-up artist Brian Kinney.
The guest judge for the season premiere is Naomi Grossman, who played Pepper in “American Horror Story: Asylum.”
Other guest judges are: actress Francia Raisa; Lew Temple, who’s best known for his role as Axel on “The Walking Dead”; and Adi Shankar, who produced “Killing Them Softly” and “The Grey.”
Competing on reality TV is stressful, Lombardi said.
“And that’s one of the reasons I like doing it,” he said. “It makes you think out of the box. It makes you think quickly. I like the creativity, too.”
While competing keeps him on his toes, teaching keeps him young at heart.
“I’m so blessed to have this (job),” Lombardi said of his career at SCC, where he’s worked for more than 30 years.
He’s also served as the corporate chef at Black Rock Development since 2000 and is a member of the American Culinary Federation as well as its American Academy of Chefs, the honor society of ACF. He’s an ACF-certified executive chef, pastry chef and culinary educator.
Lombardi said participating in ACF and reality TV culinary competitions helps build credibility with his students. Plus, it gives him an opportunity to keep learning, too.
“You’re so focused. You’re head-down. Then time’s up, hands up. And you walk away from your display, and it just blows you away – the level you’re competing against,” said Lombardi, who’s in the process of developing a progressive, three-class sugar artistry series for SCC’s Inland Northwest Culinary Academy After Dark, or INCA After Dark, for next fall.
Meantime, mum’s the word on how he fares in this season of “Halloween Wars.” But he’s looking forward to watching the show.
“I think the clock went a little faster this year,” he said, “or I got older.”
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