Austin chocolatier sweetens up Food Network holiday competition
With the holiday upon us, what a better way to get festive than to sink our teeth into a new food competition show? Famous baker Duff Goldman — the former star of Ace of Cakes, who is now a culinary celebrity — is very busy this holiday season hosting multiple themed baking competitions with some Austin-area competitors.
This time, Austin-based chocolatier Cinthya Romriell is adding a bit of Texas heat to one of those ventures: Food Network’s latest holiday series, Elf on the Shelf: Sweet Showdown. The pastry chef and owner of chocolate shop Cinful Sweets has joined the national competition for the chance to win a very sweet treat in the form of $25,000, along with the coveted title of Ambassador of Confectionery Concoctions.
The show premiered on Sunday, November 19, with the first of six episodes. Called "Season's Meetings," this challenge had six teams "adopt" elves, and create a personalized edible shelves for them. It is in the name. Then the bottom two teams face off in making snow globe showpieces.
For the uninitiated, Elf on the Shelf is a Christmas tradition (and a registered trademark) inspired by a 2005 book by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell, which told a story of elves gathering intel around the world to bring back to Santa about how naughty or nice each child is. Now families "help" the elves get creative about sitting in a new location — spoiler: it's not always a shelf — when kids aren't looking.
"Wow, what a crazy challenge! I had to create two confessions in 3 hours," Romriell wrote in to CultureMap about the first episode. "My confessions takes 3 days to create!"
Romriell teamed up with Maurice "Blāque" Shelton of Black Rose Pastries and Steel City Bakery in Gary, Indiana. The duo shared some ideas about the joy of the holiday season, which they used to create a spiced bonbon.
"I created an Earl Grey and Chai Tea Milk Chocolate bonbon," writes Romriell. "Between the steps, I also had to help construct our shelf for our elf to sit in. I’m making edible Christmas trees and bonbons and fillings for them. It’s also a new kitchen so I have no idea where things are and the cameras are following you which I’m not used to."
Bonbons are the specialty at Cinful Sweets on Burnet Road: These shiny little domes are the best of both worlds for many lovers of sweets, since they can be both very rich and elegantly decorated. Because the surface area is so small, these treats often appear very serious in a way many decorated cookies, for instance, do not. But there are ways to bring the holiday cheer, nonetheless. She already gets requests every year to make snowball-like bonbons that can be left around the house to be discovered.
This isn't Romriell's first time competing on Food Network. In 2020, she participated in the Candy Land show hosted by Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth. In that team challenge, she loved the bright colors and the quality of ingredients. By now, she's been on a personal tour of eight years to learn from the best chocolatiers around the world, in preparation for another national competition like these.
It wasn't all Christmas miracles for the Elf on the Shelf team's debut (and that's all we'll give for spoilers), but they kept a good attitude.
"I love what I do, and that makes me brave and courageous," writes Romriell. "So, despite the challenges I faced, I kept a positive attitude that I wasn’t going to give up, and I was going to work hard and do my very best — which is what I did!"
Romriell also praised her co-creator: "He is amazingly talented and creative and It was an honor to work with him. He works hard to provide a beautiful life for his son, which I admire him a lot for."
If Chef Blāque and Romriell win, she plans to use her share of the prize on growing Cinful Sweets to accommodate more chocolate sculpting. It's an art she loves, but there is not exactly a bustling market for chocolate sculptures. A cash infusion may make pursuing that goal a little less risky.
The Elf on the Shelf airs every Sunday on the Food Network at 7 pm. More information about the challenges and more is available at foodnetwork.com.