Long Island is fielding two contestants in Food Network’s new dessert competition show, “Sweet Genius,” premiering tomorrow (Thursday) at 10 p.m. Episode 1 features Michael Mignano, owner of Main Street Bakery in Port Washington. Episode 3, which on Sept. 29, features Amos Hayon, pastry chef at Lola in Great Neck.
“Sweet Genius” is modeled on the network’s “Chopped” — four contestants are winnowed down to one through three challenges, each of which features a mystery ingredient. In “Chopped,” the challenges are appetizer, main course and dessert; here it’s frozen, baked and chocolate. But “Sweet Genius” is more than a sweet clone of the successful “Chopped.“ The mystery ingredients are not nearly so wacky, which renders the desserts much more appealing than the usual pork loin-pumpkin-Peppermint Pattie paellas on “Chopped.”
The biggest difference between the two shows is that “Sweet Genius” has no panel of judges. It has only Ron Ben-Israel, a well-known New York wedding cake impresario and pastry instructor. Ben-Israel, shiningly bald and stylishly bespectacled, acts as host, judge and executioner, doling out the challenges and rendering terse, baleful verdicts in his exotic accent. (He was born in Israel.) He’s a curiously sinister presence in a show about cake and ice cream — like a Bond villain in a candy store.
In Episode 1 (which I saw in advance), Mignano is in a whole different zone than the jolly baker demeanor he exhibits at Main Street Bakery: He’s a fierce competitor. When I talked to him about the episode, he told me, “I thrive on the pressure. I’m at my most creative when I’m under pressure.”
Mignano, who worked in restaurants and hotels before opening Main Street in 2008, observed that running a bakery certainly requires creativity. “There’s a creative element in everything I produce, and I am always coming up with new items — my candy bars, for example — but sometimes I miss the high, the rush that comes from someone saying, ‘I need a dessert in 30 minutes.’”
Michael Mignano rises to the challenge on “Sweet Genius.“