Kevin Dillmon's a fan of Food Network's baking shows, and every season that he has watched with his family, they've pushed him to audition.
Monday night, a new season of "Spring Baking Championship" begins - and Dillmon is one of the 10 bakers who will vie for bragging rights and a $25,000 prize.
“Spring Baking Championship” season premiere is Monday, March 18, at 9 p.m. on Food Network.
Dillmon, 44, a Rome, Georgia, resident, is owner of Honeymoon Bakery. While he modestly downplays himself as a "self-taught, small-town baker," he is actually quite accomplished.
From the ages of 18 to 21, he did an apprenticeship in Italy. When he returned to the United States, he worked for a North Carolina catering company, then worked as a corporate pastry chef for a group of restaurants.
Next, he was a pastry chef at the Birmingham (Alabama) Country Club and worked for a food-service company. When his wife took a job in Rome, that brought the family to North Georgia, where he has operated Honeymoon Bakery for 12 years.
Dillmon says he received an email last August from "Spring Baking Championship" encouraging him to audition - and, to this day, still doesn't know how the production company got his name or email.
"I blew it off," he says of the invitation, "but my co-workers and kids encouraged me to go for it. So I did."
Fans of "Spring Baking Championship" know its contestants must have a wide knowledge of baking skills, a memory bank full of recipes, knowledge of flavor profiles, skills in working with chocolate, sugar and cake decoration.
"I am very comfortable with pate a choux (a light pastry dough), cakes, cookies and things we make daily at the bakery," says Dillmon. "But we don't do a lot of sugar work and sculpting. That was something I would be nervous about if that was thrown at me."
Over eight, one-hour, Monday night episodes, host Clinton Kelly and returning judges Nancy Fuller, Duff Goldman and Lorraine Pascale will test the contestants with spring-themed challenges that push their baking skills and time management to the limit.
"There is never enough time!" Dillmon laughs. "In what we do on a daily basis, you can take your time, stop, start, put something in the refrigerator if it needs to cool quickly. But 30 minutes, an hour, even an hour and a half goes by really fast when you are trying to do your best in a limited time."
Then add to the stress that even though contestants have their own work spaces, they share ovens.
Dillmon went in thinking people might underestimate him because he was a small-town baker, but once on-set, he found the playing field was pretty level.
"We all had different talents, so I didn't feel that way after I got on the show. I think the competition leveled out because our exposures were so different.
"Everyone had different strengths," he says. "There were some people there who had never made doughnuts before."
Which should make Monday night's episode interesting because the first preheat challenge given the bakers is making animal-themed doughnuts. The episode's main heat will test the bakers' inner artist as they make a watercolor cake featuring iconic spring fruits and vegetables.
Other challenges in this season, according to a Food Network news release, will include baking blue-ribbon-worthy rhubarb pies, crafting an "ooey-gooey" marshmallow dessert in honor of Easter and the first "Spring Baking Championship Spelling Bee," in which bakers must make colorful cream tart words that evoke all things spring.
"Viewers love the seasonal baking competitions, and 'Spring Baking Championship' saw series-high ratings last year," says Courtney White, president of Food Network.
"With challenges drawing on spring themes and celebrations, the artistry and craftsmanship of the competitors never fails to wow audiences year after year with their incredible takes on the thematic challenges, and this season will not disappoint. Add to that, Clinton Kelly's charismatic personality and lifestyle expertise, and it is the perfect combination to showcase the bakers amazing and decadent seasonal delights," she says.
"The experience of being on the show is something I'll remember, and I'll keep in touch with the bakers I worked with and became friends with on the show," Dillmon says, adding one colleague visited him this month.
"There is an incredible amount of talent out there. It was fun to work with all of them," says Dillmon.
So will Dillmon's cakes rise to the top? Tune in Monday night to see how the North Georgian fares.
Contact Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.