By Ross Marrinson
First it was boxer Jeff Fraza, who competed on NBC's "The Contender" in 2005. Then, it was Channing Cooke, who showed off her dance moves on Fox TV's "So You Think You Can Dance" in 2009.
Now two members of the staff of a Haverhill bakery are in the national TV spotlight.
As reality shows grow in popularity, Haverhill people are landing spots on those programs. The latest are Erin Erler and Candice Cote from the bakery Cakes By Erin, which specializes in custom cake design.
Owned by Erler and her sister and brother-in-law Kelly and Tim Mackin, the bakery and its staff will be featured on season eight of the "Food Network Challenge,'' a cooking series in which four teams compete in a timed competition to create their speciality.
Erler said one of her goals in the series, filmed in late March, was to give viewers a glimpse into her bakery and bring some visibility to Haverhill.
"My main goal was to get out there what we do, who we are," Erler said. "I want to bring big things to Haverhill. I live in Haverhill. My kids go to school in Haverhill."
Fraza got chicken pox while he was on "The Contender'' boxing realiy show in the summer of 2005 and had to bow out. But after the show he was chosen through a vote of viewers to be brought back to fight. He won the match, landing him national fame.
Cooke landed a spot on "So You Think You Can Dance" and competed successfully for several episodes in late 2009 before being voted off the show.
The process of Cakes by Erin going on the "Food Network Challenge'' began in October, when Kelly Mackin called the Food Network to see if Cakes By Erin could be cast in the show. Four months later, the call came, and Mackin took to the bakery's Facebook page to announce the news, instead of delivering it directly to the bakery staff.
"Instead of telling us, she decided to be sneaky," said Cote, who works at the bakery and was Erler's teammate on the show. "And then screaming ensued."
After checking the bakery's Facebook page and finding out her store had been cast in the show, Erler admitted she didn't know if she had what it would take to compete.
"I still questioned myself. Am I good enough to do this?" she said about her initial thoughts about finding she would be going to Denver. "Then, anxiety set in."
Each eight-hour, timed competition is condensed into the one-hour show format. Each of the teams, at two people per team, aimed to build a 3-foot-tall cake, full of designs, drawings and other sculptures related to the episode's theme. This episode's theme was "Star Wars."
"I was excited about the theme, definitely," Erler said. "I grew up with it. It was the epic movie of our age. My geek radar went off."
Before flying to Denver, where the show is filmed, Erler and Cote compiled a 450-pound pallet to ship to the Food Network studio. It included various cakes, equipment, colorings, tools, rollers and blades.
"It's sculpting," Erler said of the process and competition. "It's edible art."
Erler said she is a big fan of "Ace of Cakes," a similar reality show that had aired on the Food Network and "Cake Boss," which airs on the TLC channel.
"You just learn by watching these master artists, and we try, we hope to be as good as them," she said.
Located at 58 Kenoza Ave., Cakes By Erin opened in November with two full-time and two part-time employees. The store has expanded to four full-timers, three part-timers and three interns.
Erler has been baking cakes for almost 12 years, and she has provided baked goods for late-night show host Conan O'Brien, car sales mogul Ernie Boch Jr., the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the cast of "Jesus Christ Superstar.''
She said even though she'd watched "Food Network Challenge'' many times before, actually being on it was an entirely different experience.
"You think you know by watching the show, but you have no idea," she said.
The episode featuring Cakes By Erin will be aired Sunday, July 3, at 8 p.m. The winning team received $10,000. The cakes by Erin staff have been sworn to secrecy about the outcome — but not about their excitement.
"We learned a ton about ourselves, from the other contestants," Cote said. "It was a blast."
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