When I heard that local “food artist” Kim Simons and her Bah Hum Bakers cake-decorating team had won the top prize in the Food Network’s “Holiday Wars” competition a few …
When I heard that local “food artist” Kim Simons and her Bah Hum Bakers cake-decorating team had won the top prize in the Food Network’s “Holiday Wars” competition a few weeks ago, I was impressed. Although Simons and I had never officially met, I have seen her incredibly creative cakes at various celebrations throughout the region for years. I was eager to ask her about her adventure in Los Angeles, her team winning the competition and how it all began. I sat down with Simons to ask a few questions at Hector’s Inn. It’s where she hosts “paint and sip” evenings with proprietor Bonnie Lagoda, who commissioned her to design and paint the very first Sullivan Catskills Peace Dove. It’s situated outside, beckoning visitors to hang at the “Original Woodstock Watering Hole.”
TRR: Is it true that you were born and raised in Sullivan County? Is that where you were trained?
Simons: Yes, I grew up in Liberty, NY and knew nothing about cake. The only formal training I had was with my fantastic art teachers in high school. I did go to SUNY Sullivan for a year but quit college because I was very shy and did not like speaking in public. I’ve been an artist my entire life, but only began working with food about 10 years ago, and I’m pretty much self-taught. I was watching a cake-decorating competition on TV and said “I can do that.” I started freeze-framing the shows, figured out what they were using and listened. I spent about six months experimenting and then entered my first competition at the New York Cake Show.
TRR: How did that work out?
Simons: I entered in the beginner’s category, but the judges bumped me up to professionals, and I took first place. It was pretty exciting. That got me started and I entered more and more competitions, often winning best-in-show. I think I added a level of art that the judges weren’t seeing before, and I was new to the scene.
TRR: Do you think that’s what made you stand out from the rest of the pack?
Simons: Definitely. There are some amazing food artists out there, but I was green and didn’t follow the rules. I don’t like bows and flowers, I do detail sculpting, and I like to think outside of the box.
TRR: How did you come to the attention of the Food Network?
Simons: Oh, they’re out there scouting for people. Someone at the network visited my website and reached out. They asked me to submit a homemade audition tape, so I went outside during the winter and told them that my favorite artist is Mother Nature. I think that got their attention, and I competed on seven other Food Network shows before this.
TRR: What, you’ve been on television seven times? Did you win anything before Holiday Wars?
Simons: Fortunately I have. I’ve appeared on “Duff till Dawn with the Ace of Cakes,” “Sugar Dome,” “Outrageous Wedding Cakes 2” and [the] Star Wars [episode of Cake Wars] which I won. The network and everyone involved, including the show’s producer, are fantastic. I’ve come out of my shell at this point and can’t stop talking when we’re on camera. I love it.
TRR: It seems like there are a lot of baking and cake-decorating shows out there. How stiff is the competition?
Simons: It’s unbelievable. When the Food Network asked me to participate in Holiday Wars, I was told they were inviting the top cake artists from around the world, and that I was considered one of them. I didn’t know any of my teammates before we began filming, and now we’re best friends.
TRR: How does that work? Did you each have areas of specialty?
Simons: Naturally, we each have strengths, but my teammates are so amazingly talented that they inspired me to do my best sculpting, which is really my area of expertise. Our team, Bah Hum Bakers, included the incredibly talented cake artists Jason Hisley and Bethany Davis, and our sugar artist, Robert Nieto, is a genius. We each took the lead at different points, and Robert did all of the tasting elements on the side, which can make or break a competition, as one team gets eliminated at the end of each episode.
TRR: That must have been stressful…
Simons: Oh, it’s crazy. Each episode of Holiday Wars consists of two challenges: one is 45 minutes long and the other is five hours. My favorites were the honey badger, designed to meet the challenge of keeping kids away from snooping through the gifts before Christmas, and “Santa’s Day Off” in which we had Santa doing yoga. We won both of those, which put us near the top, even though we had not scored as well to begin with, which was terrifying.
TRR: What, then, do you think put you and the Bah Hum Bakers in the winner’s circle? Did your family and friends know about it before the show came on?
Simons: Oh, no! We shot the show in August and we couldn’t tell anyone anything before the network announced Holiday Wars after Halloween. Even then, we’re not allowed to disclose anything whatsoever. Nobody knew the real reason I was away last summer. I told everyone, including my family, that I was teaching cake-decorating classes out of town. We’re sworn to secrecy. What made us stand out? I think it was a mixture of our team thinking outside of the box, a sense of whimsy with a comical twist and fate putting all four of us together in the same place, at the same time.
TRR: What’s next for Kim Simons? Got another TV show in the works?
Simons: Well, if I did, I wouldn’t tell you anyhow, would I? I guess you’ll just have to stay tuned.