Catherine Ruehle's artisan wedding cake skills may come from her degree in Art History or years of modeling in high school, but the quality taste comes from the organic ingredients. The three together landed her a spot on the Food Network Challenge.
For her latest challenge Ruehle appeared on the Food Network Cake Challenge, constructing a cake that towered over her past pastries, literally.
"It had to be six feet tall," she said. "So I decided to go for 7 foot 3 inches, because that's just who I am."
Ruehle has gone to Denver, Colo., twice in the last six months to compete for a $10,000 prize on the Food Network Challenge. She and other contestants have eight hours to construct a cake with different requirement each episode. The episodes will premier in October and November.
Ruehle said she’s dreamed of appearing on the show since she started making cakes and may even pursue her own baking show one day, but without all the drama.
"As a cake person, I can look at it and see what's not real," she said.
Ruehle said she got along with the other contestants, throwing ingredients at each other during the first contest. But in her second appearance the producers started building a rivalry between her and another local pastry chef, Bronwen Weber.
"They were building this story line of Catherine's coming to bring Bronwen down," she said. "They have to build a story, and they have to have some drama."
Ruehle said the cameras can be terrifying, but her experience as a model in high school, and press coverage when her bakery first opened prepared her for the show. But Ruehle had no idea her unique background would be so ideal for the television cake business. In fact, she says cakes found her.
"I got away from the food world when my son was born, and then when he was five his soccer team needed a cake," she said. "My typical Type A personality kicked in and I thought, 'Maybe I'll do something I've never done before.'"
She said the soccer moms were shocked when she brought a cake with a blue white-chocolate ribbon, 3-D roses and a 3-D soccer ball on top of a field surrounded by sugar pendents with each players name. She booked her first four cakes at the party.
Ruehle said that as she made made preparations to open the bakery, the other moms kept commenting that their children with celiac wouldn't be able to go.
"I was thinking, 'These kids can't have cakes,'" she said. "'They can't have cup cakes! How can that be? How are these kids going to survive!?'"
It's hard enough to be a kid and different, much less to miss out on a birthday cake or cupcake day at school, Ruehle said. But, as the bakery grew it wasn't just kids, but brides demanding gluten-free baked goods.
"They think they can't have their own wedding cake on their wedding day," she said. "Then they hear about us and they're just besides themselves."
Jenelle Hampton, a 37-year-old behavior analyst, said she must have thanked Ruehle 15 times in 15 minutes after meeting her, and -- more importantly -- trying the cake.
Hampton said she tried several other places before finding the Sublime Bakery. She used words like "cardboard" and "tree bark" to describe the gluten-free cakes that, "even frosting couldn't save."
But it was Ruehle's belief that everyone deserves cake that really struck a chord with Hampton.
"It really touched me that Catherine understands the emotional connection we have to food in our celebrations," she said. "As someone with dietary restrictions, you can feel very left out of the celebration when you can't partake in the same foods as the rest of the party."
Hampton said her cake options were limitless when she came to Ruehle's bakery.
"She offers a ton of options for all kinds of dietary restriction and asked me a lot of questions about the design of cake that I wanted," she said. "She was really sweet about understanding cross contamination's, very understanding, very nice and very knowledgeable."
It's that personal touch that keeps Ruehle's costumers happy. For example as soon as her bakery opened guests were asking for sugar-free products. Ruehle knew she had to find a way.
After some research Ruehle came across organic blue agave nectar, a sugar-free alternative to artificial sweeteners. She said it tasted so good they started using it in almost everything, including all of the caramel they make.
The customers with dietary restrictions are very loyal, Ruehle said.
"I guess we're just really special to them because you want to splurge and you want to have a treat, but you don't want to feel sick," she said. "Then to know it's also all natural – it's as good as it can be for something that's a splurge as far as calories go."