Only the most daydreamy of kids could imagine that they’d one day traverse through Lollipop Woods, climb Chocolate Mountain, and brave the Peppermint Forest on a race to King Kandy’s Castle — in real life. But that’s exactly what Goleta-based pastry chef Jordan Pilarski is doing as part of Candy Land, a new Food Network television show that premieres on November 15. Based directly on the board game that was first created in 1949, the six-episode program is hosted by actress Kristin Chenoweth, whose sugary personality and nymph-like presence seems well suited for the task. The format teams bakers with sugar artists to create some of these life-sized lands as judges Nacho Aguirre and Aarti Sequeira decide their fates.
Candy Land is certainly not where Pilarski assumed he would wind up as an East Coast child, when he dreamed of being an architect. “My grandfather was a self-made architect in Buffalo, New York,” said Pilarski, today a pastry chef at the Ritz-Carlton Bacara, not far from his Goleta home. “I was always in his basement, sketching with him, drawing blueprints, and building model airplanes, really just using my hands. That’s what I wanted to do.”
But by the time Pliarski was in high school, architecture was becoming a computer-based trade. In the meantime, he fell in love with cooking by watching the Food Network, amazed by what chefs could do with food, especially those lavish and large desserts. So he applied to study pastry at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, graduating in 2016 and immediately starting at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island in Florida.
“I’m still an architect, just in a different medium,” said Pliarski, who started at the Bacara in spring 2019. “I get to work with my hands.”
Soon after he started at Amelia Island, Pliarski was contacted completely out of the blue via Facebook by a Food Network recruiter. “I never applied,” said Pilarski, but he did endure the interview process and flew to Los Angeles to tape season three of the Spring Baking Championship.
He won, and that “steamrolled” into a couple of other opportunities, including being a guest judge on season two of the Christmas Cookie Challenge and a contestant in the Holiday Baking Championships: The Homecoming Special on Christmas Eve of 2018. “It was just a one-episode special with a bunch of other champions,” said Pilarski. “I ended up winning that one as well.”
The TV appearances stopped for a bit until this opportunity arose, with filming happening over the summer. “It took longer than my past experiences, for good reason,” said Pilarksi of the pandemic production process. “I didn’t feel unsafe at all at any point. They took the right steps to do what they needed to do to create this amazing show.”
On Candy Land, Pilarski gets to flex his sugar artist skills, adding intricate designs to the “big cake builds” that each land requires. He recalls playing the game as a kid, especially Gumdrop Mountains and Licorice Lagoon. “It’s not a land you want to be in,” he said of the latter. “But I love black licorice, and I remember that black spot on the game board. It was the focal point.”
The competition combines aspects from both the original and updated versions of Candy Land. “There are new lands that maybe some people don’t know about,” he said. “But the show just meshes everything together, and creates a Candy Land not only for the older generation but for new generations as well.”
Pilarski couldn’t divulge any outcomes prior to the premiere, but he did confirm my suspicions about Chenoweth. “She’s like the greatest human being I’ve ever met,” he said. “She’s perfect for this show. She is so bubbly, and, you’ll see, she fits in Candy Land. That’s her place.”
I asked whether he’d take anything back to his work from the show, but Pilarski said it was more the other way around. “Working in the hotel industry gets me ready for being on these types of shows, for thinking on your feet, for being uncomfortable while doing things you have never done before, and then persevering through it,” said Pilarski, who also credits his years playing baseball and ice hockey as an advantage. “I’ve been in competition my whole life.”
Pilarski believes those early TV appearances did further his career and hopes this show will, as well. “I can only think this next show is going to give me more opportunities,” he explained. “Candy Land is the perfect show for Food Network. It’s a land full of candy. It’s amazing what the concept is, and I think it turned out really, really well.”
Candy Land premieres on the Food Network on November 15 and runs for six episodes.
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