Kitty Vacha didn’t know what she and her head baker were getting into last October when they walked onto the set of the Netflix baking competition series "Sugar Rush" — literally.
“When we applied it was a mystery competition,” the Seward-based baker said. “We went through the (application) process, flew into Burbank (California) and we had no idea what we were walking into.”
What she found was a fast-paced baking competition that called for a full range of confectionery techniques.
"Sugar Rush," which premiered Friday, pits four two-person teams against each other in three high-pressure rounds. After each round, a three-judge panel evaluates the creations and eliminates one team. The winning team earns $10,000.
Vacha did go into the competition battle-tested, however. The baker competed in the Food Network show "Cake Wars" in 2016, where she and an assistant made it to the third and final round before being eliminated.
On "Cake Wars," Vacha said she had useful conversations with the judges about baking in both competitions, like talking with world-class pastry chef Ron Ben-Israel about coconut flavoring.
For her, the appeal of competing was the “whole experience of getting to participate with that caliber of contestants and judges." Her "Cupcake Wars" experience led her to blindly apply for the competition which turned out to be "Sugar Rush."
Since she’d been in a competition before, she was used to wearing a microphone and being followed by cameras, allowing her to have more fun with it while keeping her competitive edge.
Vacha said she has learned new techniques and has discovered different flavor combinations from her time on the "Sugar Rush" set. She competed against teams from across the country and said it was humbling to represent the Midwest.
Her creations were critiqued by judges like Candace Nelson, credited for starting the national cupcake trend with her bakery Sprinkles Cupcakes. Nelson is also a judge on "Sugar Rush."
Vacha’s business, Tasteful Indulgence, is a by-appointment cake and cupcake bakery she opened in 2011 specializing in custom-made artistic cakes. Vacha has lived in Nebraska since 2007 and is a mostly self-taught baker who got interested in cake decorating after taking a few classes.
Tasteful Indulgence has created a variety of themed cakes from airplanes to animals, she said.
“I used to say if it doesn’t defy gravity I’m in, now I say if it does I’ll find a way,” she said. “We like to do the outrageous and unusual.”
This creative and grandiose approach is often used in baking competitions like "Cake Wars" and "Sugar Rush."
"Sugar Rush" differs from other shows by giving contestants money to buy their own ingredients beforehand and allowing extra time from each round to roll over to round three if the contestants make it that far.
“You’re trying to hurry but not hurry too much and you have to survive each round to make it to the next,” Vacha said. “It’s intense.”
The Netflix original series has eight episodes planned in its first season. It is produced by Magical Elves, which also produced "Top Chef" and "Last Comic Standing."