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St. Louisan competes on 'Spring Baking Championship'

St. Louisan competes on 'Spring Baking Championship'


Step into Simone Faure’s La Patisserie Chouquette on Tower Grove Avenue, and you might think you’re in a little bake shop in Paris, with a kaleidoscope of colorful French macarons arrayed center stage and humbler pastries like chocolate croissants in a series of glass cases.

But it’s the purses and shoes that hint at how well Faure might have done on Food Network’s “Spring Baking Championship,” beginning Sunday. Handbag and high-heel cakes, fanciful but uncannily accurate and completely edible, have been Faure’s trademark since she was pastry chef at the Ritz-Carlton in Clayton, and she’ll keep making them, she says, “as long as I can’t afford the real ones.”

For two weeks in March, Faure (pronounced “four”) left Chouquette behind and said goodbye to husband Damien Faure (grill chef at the Ritz-Carlton in Clayton) and son Maxime, almost 4, to compete on “Spring Baking Championship,” Food Network’s follow-up to the holiday edition that aired before Christmas.

{p style=”text-align: center;”}La Patisserie Chouquette on Ian Froeb’s STL 100

Faure had watched and enjoyed the holiday show, she said one recent morning at her bakery, wearing her orange “Spring Baking” apron.

“I came in late, but I was hooked immediately,” she said. “It felt fresh to me — a new idea. Because not all the bakers are professionals, I loved the idea that it would inspire people at home to bake, to give it a try no matter what their skill level. But I also liked the way it showed that holidays are all about family.”

When a friend sent her a casting notice, saying producers were in St. Louis to find bakers for a new show, she didn’t hesitate, and producers didn’t either, casting her as one of eight competitors and whisking her off to Los Angeles just weeks later.

“It was wild,” Faure said. “I’d never been to Los Angeles, and I was excited to see celebrities. I didn’t really see any, unless that was Hercules — you know, Kevin Sorbo — at the airport. I was so busy texting people and asking if they thought that was him, I didn’t have time to be nervous.”

She went in, she said, “with no expectations. I didn’t know anyone who’d ever been on a show like this. But the initial car ride to the studio with the other bakers put my mind at ease.”

That was the start of a bonding experience that made the whole process really special, she said.

“I knew it was going to be fun, but I didn’t know I would meet the most awesome people, and I did. It was like going to pastry sleep-away camp.”

Bobby Deen returns as host for this second “Baking” edition, with judges Duff Goldman (“Ace of Cakes,” “Duff Till Dawn”), Nancy Fuller (“Farmhouse Rules”) and Lorraine Pascale (“Fast, Fresh and Easy”).

“I knew who Duff was, because he’s a cake person and I’m a cake person,” Faure said. “The other judges I only knew from the show. Nancy seemed very warm. Lorraine was very European. My husband is French, so I get that.”

Faure wasn’t much worried about what the competition would throw at her. Born and raised in New Orleans, she tried a lot of careers, including education and nursing, before coming to the culinary world.

“Then I started out in kosher cooking,” she said. “Then baking, and French baking last. So I have quite a range of experience.”

Still, there were challenges, including navigating an unfamiliar kitchen and managing her time.

“I was skeptical going in,” she said. “I thought, sure, they say I have 45 minutes. But really, if they say you have 30 minutes, you have 30 minutes. You look up and think, there’s no way that time has passed, but it has. And there’s absolutely no room for fudging.”

Like other reality-competition shows, “Spring Baking Championship” features “confessional” segments in which contestants talk privately to cameras. “I’m not really concerned about how I look in the confessionals,” Faure said. “I’m not a mean person, but you never know how what you say will be presented, or how something offhand might offend someone. But it’s done and you can’t get hung up on it.”

The prize is $50,000, and, of course, Faure can’t say whether she won. But she “would do it again in a minute,” she said. “I’d love to go on a Halloween edition. I’d love to make organs.”

What “Spring Baking Championship” • When 8 p.m. Sunday • Where Food Network • More info

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Gail Pennington is the television critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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