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Utah pastry chefs compete in Netflix sugar art competition

SHARE Utah pastry chefs compete in Netflix sugar art competition

Ashley Jacobsen, left, and Praveen Kumar Dhananjayan, pastry chefs at The Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City, work on a sugar sculpture.

The Grand America Hotel

SALT LAKE CITY — Two pastry chefs from The Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City were contestants on Netflix’s new sugar art competition “Sugar High.”

Praveen Kumar Dhananjayan and Ashley Jacobsen competed in two sugar work challenges on the “Sugar Rush” baking show spinoff special for a chance to win $10,000.

“I’ve been to many competitions before, but this is my first time in a TV show,” Dhananjayan said. “It’s definitely a completely new experience for me, but it gave me a lot of great positive experience.”

Dhananjayan, a pastry chef from southern India who started working at The Grand America Hotel in 2017, said he and Jacobsen were invited to compete on “Sugar High” after Netflix saw Dhananjayan represent the United States in a pastry world championship last year.

“This is the first time I think any network is trying to do something purely about sugar and sugar artistry, so it was definitely yes because sugar has been my passion and to showcase my talent,” Dhananjayan said.

The competition was filmed in early March during the beginning stages of the coronavirus pandemic in Los Angeles, according to Dhananjayan.

“The pandemic was already there during that time, but we didn’t have any difficulties in shooting the show or participating in that,” Dhananjayan said.

The Utah pastry chefs went up against three other teams in the first challenge to create a colorful candy featuring a floral flavor in two hours. Dhananjayan and Jacobsen created a dish featuring candied rose petals, strawberry lychee pate de fruit and a dark chocolate disc beneath a rose-flavored sugar dome.

Judges Jackie Sorkin, Stephane Treand and Rebecca DeAngelis were impressed with the dish’s glass-like sugar dome and rose flavor. The Utah team advanced to the second and final round of the competition with two other teams.

“It was definitely completely a relief because it was so intense and everyone was so great,” Dhananjayan said. “It also gave me a little positive confidence, more confidence to perform, do my second round a little better, for sure.”

The remaining three teams were challenged to create a 3-foot-tall floral arrangement sugar sculpture in three hours. Dhananjayan and Jacobsen had an additional eight minutes and 22 seconds they had saved from the first round, but they had less total time than the other two teams to complete the challenge.

The Utah pastry chefs set out to make a honey and flower sugar sculpture with a triangle base, sugar rings, molded honeycomb, and daisy, water lily and calla lily decorations. But Dhananjayan and Jacobsen were unable to complete their sculpture as planned within the time limit and were eliminated from the competition after their sculpture measured in at about 16 inches below the height requirement.

“Since we didn’t win, it was definitely mixed emotions,” Dhananjayan said. “It gave a lot of thought as well about how we could have done better by avoiding a lot of mistakes we made. At the same time, definitely, it made us feel happy and proud to be part of the show.”

Dhananjayan said competing on “Sugar High” opened his eyes to see more possibilities in the pastry world and inspired him to think about opening his own pastry shop in Salt Lake City someday.

“The experience added more confidence in myself to face any upcoming competitions or challenges in my career,” Dhananjayan said.