Local TV chef takes his cheesecake to a national audience

“I got my face right next to the cheesecake and talked to it,” says Chef Bruce Brown, owner of Bruce’s Fabulous Foods in Marion. Brown is referring to his audition video for Spike TV’s first-ever food-related series, Frankenfood. “We threw it together haphazardly,” Brown says. “My friend came over and filmed it on his iPhone.”

But Brown has plenty of experience when it comes to cooking for television. He is the resident chef on WLOS Channel 13, cooking live for viewers every Sunday morning at 6:30 a.m. He has also participated on Carolina Kitchen for 11 years; every week he does a three-minute segment on the noon news.

According to Spike TV’s website, Frankenfood is seeking “revolutionary creations that mix outrageous and unexpected ingredients in delicious and unique flavors.” Superstar chef Josh Capon judges contestants along with cheesesteak impresario Tony Luke, Jr., and a rotating panel of culinary experts. Contestants compete for a $10,000 prize, hoping to get their dish on the menu of a popular New York restaurant and possibly launch the next big food craze.

Brown already knows the dish he will prepare: Halloween Hangover cheesecake. Made with 20 different candy bars chopped into a vanilla malt cheesecake batter with a chocolate cookie crust, it’s a customer favorite among the 130 variations of cheesecake Brown’s Fabulous Foods is noted for.

Brown’s friend, Brooklyn Bagwell, casting director for another reality show in New York, tried the cheesecake on a visit home in November 2013 and was so impressed by it she forwarded his name to the producers of Frankenfood who then requested a video audition. But Brown heard nothing for over two months. “We were busy during Christmas so I didn’t have time to dwell on it,” Brown says, but he admits he was disappointed not to be selected for the show. Then in mid-January 2014 he got the call: Halloween Hangover cheesecake was in!

The genesis of this unique culinary creation was necessity. “For seven years we gave out candy bars at the restaurant on Halloween, but we always bought too many.” One post-Halloween Brown was left with a bus tub full of candy bars that he didn’t want to eat himself. He added in a bunch of candy corn and began experimenting. He found that some candies and candy bars didn’t work, but through trial and error came up with 20 that did. He made 10 cakes, each cut into 16 pieces, and they were gone in one shift.

“Every bite of Halloween Hangover cheesecake is different,” Brown explains, “because you always get a different combination of candy bars. People love it.”

Brown and his wife, Barbara, will fly to New York City for the taping in front of a live studio audience on Monday, Feb. 3, and Tuesday, Feb. 4. If Brown wins his segments, he may also film on Wednesday, Feb. 5.

Coincidentally, Bagwell, the friend that got him the producer’s attention, also got herself some notice; she was subsequently hired on at Frankenfood as a field producer. Brown is happy he will know someone behind the scenes, but says this probably won’t give him any edge in the competition.

To prepare for the taping, Brown says he has to slow down and concentrate. “I come from Cleveland, Ohio where people talk very fast. So I have to slow it down and not be so manic and hyper,” he says. He says his wife will be a helpful reminder. “I’ll steal a glance at her and if she’s got that big-eyed look, I know to slow it down,” Brown says. “I can read it in her eyes.”

Bruce’s Fabulous Foods is at 63 S. Main St., Marion, NC. The restaurant serves lunch every weekday 11 a.m.-3 p.m., does catering and can mail cheesecakes all over the country. 828-659-8023

About Gina Smith
Gina Smith is the Mountain Xpress Food section editor and writer. She can be reached at gsmith@mountainx.com.

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