Christina O’Donoghue, culinary graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Austin, has succeeded in taking on the pastry and cupcake world. At 21, she has become the youngest competitor on Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. (The episode airs Sunday at 7 p.m. CST). O’Donoghue, a server at Whiskey Cake Bar & Kitchen and pastry chef at Velvet Bake Shop, started experimenting with cupcakes in her kitchen at home and when the word got out, the demand for her cupcakes skyrocketed.
Marley Dablo: What was it like being on the show?
Christina O’Donoghue: It was crazy. I guess I didn’t go in very mentally prepared, I was like ‘Oh, Cupcake Wars, [it’s] going to be fun taking my 4’10’’ little firecracker momma. I thought it was going to be a fun thing for us to do, which it was, but it was really stressful. We slept maybe three hours a night while we were there. We were constantly working. I was stressed out. I didn’t think it was going to be hard but when I got on set, I was like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t remember anything, I don’t know what to do.”
But once it starts going, you kind of get in your zone and I put my game face on. The experience was awesome, but I was definitely tired, grumpy, and hungry after. I wanted to throw cupcakes at people because I was so tired of cupcakes.
Dablo: You said you brought your mom?
O’Donoghue: I did. I brought my mom. She is actually a pastry chef at the Gaylord Texan. We have been baking with each other since I was a little girl, so I was fully confident that she would be able to handle the heat. She’s more intense than I am and I figure I had a better chance of getting on the show if I had a super cute mom to accompany me. I guess it worked out!
Dablo: What would you prefer: Sprinkles or Funfetti cupcakes?
O’Donoghue: Funfetti? The Pillsbury Brand? I’m not going to lie, that has been a brand near and dear to my heart since I was young and those little, bright colored confettis just get the blood going, so I guess I’m just gonna have to go with the funfetti. And to be honest with you, I’ve never tried a Sprinkles cupcake so I wouldn’t be a good judge of that. Go Pillsbury, you keep doing your thing!
Dablo: Never? That’s interesting.
O’Donoghue: I actually don’t like sweets. [Laughs] I don’t like candy, cupcakes, or cookies, which is good because if I did I would probably weigh about 700 lbs.
Dablo: That’s funny. What’s the grossest cupcake you’ve had?
O’Donoghue: I’ve been experimenting with some savory cupcakes and you know, that’s a lot of trial and error. I tried to make a buffalo chicken cupcake and that was an epic failure. I saw something on Pinterest and I tried to do my own thing with it and it was horrible, like throw-up-in-my-mouth bad.
Dablo: What kinds do you like to make? What is your favorite flavor, or what do people ask you for the most?
O’Donoghue: I try to do things that aren’t like a typical cupcake so I don’t even bother with vanilla or strawberry. I like a lot of tropical flavors I like to experience with guava and passion fruit and coconut. I like cupcakes that aren’t super sweet so I’ll try to incorporate balsamic vinegar or black pepper into a sweet cupcake to add a more complex element to it. That’s what I really enjoy doing.
Dablo: I know in preparation for the show on Sunday, you’ll be serving up different cupcakes at Whiskey Cake.
O’Donoghue: Yes, we’re doing a daily dessert as a cupcake.
Dablo: Do you know which ones you have planned out for the week?
O’Donoghue: The past two days I did a spiked coconut and lime cake that had some rum in it and some lime curd. That one was really popular actually. We sold more cupcakes than the Whiskey Cake so I was like ‘booyah.’ I think today I’m going to go in and make chocolate, peanut butter, banana and bacon cupcakes. I’m going to do the cupcake, serve a spoonful of peanut butter pastry cream, and then a piece of fried chocolate-dipped bacon.
Marley Dablo is the culinary intern at D Magazine. She will be an online journalism senior at the University of Oklahoma this coming fall. She plans to attend culinary school upon graduation in hopes of combining her writing and kitchen skills to ultimately have her own cooking show one day.
[Update 6/13/13 – The Food Network won’t be showing this episode of Cupcake Wars on June 16. It will be aired in the fall. Date still unknown.]