Monday, April 23, 2012

Cleveland Pastry Chef Tackles Food Network's Sweet Genius

Sitting in the green room, waiting to go on camera, Stefanie Paganini grew nervous.

Paganini, from Chardon, was about to compete on the Food Network’s pastry chef show, Sweet Genius. 
“The only time my nerves got to me were right when we were about to film,” Paganini says. “At first, you have so much adrenalin and excitement about just being on the show. Then you realize this is going to be seen by millions of people and you have to keep yourself calm.”

Soon, Paganini was tackling a kitschy candy test, in which she and three other chefs competed to create desserts that included cherries and horseradish root. It was one of three events that tested the chefs’ knowledge and pastry-creating abilities, with renowned pastry chef Ron Ben-Israel judging and awarding a $10,000 cash prize. Paganini’s episode of Sweet Genius airs this Sunday, April 29, at 10 p.m.

Paganini, the daughter of local cooking instructor Loretta Paganini, sent in an application for the show after a friend had mentioned the auditions.

“I wanted to do this just to try, because even if you suck, you still tried it,” Paganini says.

She was chosen to compete on a TV episode after a series of in-depth interviews and grueling portfolio reviews.

Paganini says she feared having to compete against a nightmarish reality-show villain, an Omarosa of the pastry world. Instead, she discovered the other contestants had the same fear.

“Everyone competing were all-around good people,” Paganini says. “We were so glad to compete against each other, and everyone was so talented.”

Filming the show was “exciting and terrifying,” she says.

“Just getting the chance to have Chef Ron take a bite of your food is terrifying,” says Paganini. “He is the pinnacle of pastry chefs.”

Before her culinary career, Paganini worked as an assistant prosecutor for Lake and Geauga counties. She left the law six years ago to pursue her passion for food and join the family business, The Loretta Paganini School of Cooking in Chesterland.

“When I was a prosecutor, the end result of the job was usually sending people to jail or prison,” Paganini said. “But when you’re a pastry chef, you make people cakes and pies and cookies, which is way better.”

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