Polar Express

Dana Herbert and his celebrity baker buddies channel their inner bears for a great cause.

Recap: Polar Bear Plunge Cake-Off

A chilly reception from the Atlantic Ocean awaited thousands of people in Rehoboth Beach on Sunday, but on Saturday, a huge, exuberant crowd packed into the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center to spread a little warmth and raise some money for Special Olympics Delaware.

The Polar Bear Plunge, a Delaware beach tradition, was celebrating its 20th anniversary, and frosty-footed organizers rang it in with style. 

Hometown hero Dana “Sugar Daddy” Herbert, the winner of TLC’s reality contest “Cake Boss: Next Great Baker” joined four of his former competitors in a polar-bear themed cake contest. For more than six hours Saturday, the chefs poured heart, soul and pastillage into two absolutely breathtaking cake creations, all to raise money for a great cause. 

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The Dining Insider was on the scene as a guest judge. Here’s what went down:

Two teams, two cakes. Team 1 consisted of Herbert, Corina Elgart (who finished third on “Next Great Baker,”) and Kendra Jordan. Team 2 was made up of the hilarious, scene-stealing Jay Qualls and Johanna Lyons. A third teammate, Brian Stevens, missed the trip because of the flu. The teams had six hours to turn cake, rice cereal, gum paste, fondant, and lots of sugar into cake creations that would capture the spirit and tradition of the Polar Bear Plunge. Above, the bakers posed with emcee (and blogger extraordinaire) Buddy West.

The famous bust of chef Herbert was in the building (though some may have mistaken it for Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin). The cake sculpture was Herbert’s “trophy” of sorts for winning “The Next Great Baker.” The Valastro family presented Herbert with it at the conclusion of the season finale, and much like the Stanley Cup, it travels with Herbert for the year. I guess.

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Qualls and Team 2 worked tirelessly on a gravity-defying topsy-turvy cake. All of the chefs wore wireless microphones throughout the day, but nobody worked the crowd quite like Jay. With a dash of dry wit he sassed the competition, quipped with audience members and discussed ginger brandy with anyone who would listen.

Jay and Johanna’s cake made use of blue piping gel, delicate fondant snowflakes and edible screen prints of 10-, 15- and 20-year participants (or “bears”) of the plunge.

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…and the whole thing was topped by an innertube-riding bear, sculpted from white chocolate. Wow. Jay mentioned at one point that under normal circumstances, a custom cake of this magnitude would take about three days to complete and net him at least $1,000 in commission. I believe it. In six short hours, the cake came to life in amazing detail. And all without a third teammate.

But, ultimately, the day belonged to the man they call Sugar Daddy. Team Herbert had an undeniable home field advantage, and its finished product, which included edible sand, textured buildings and eye-popping sugar art, took home the victory.

The judging panel (which also included the Cape Gazette’s Denise Clemons, WMDT’s “Good Morning Delmarva” anchor Innae Park, and Special Olympics Delaware athlete Caitlin Coughlan) gave the win to Dana, Corina and Kendra. But of course, this day was not about winning or losing, but raising money for a very worthy organization.

As a microphone made its way though the crowd, many in the audience wondered aloud: Would the chefs stick around to make the plunge? Qualls, ever the pitchman, said that if the audience could wrangle together $500, he’d strip to his knickers and hit the water. A collection basket quickly made its way around the room and eclipsed $500 within minutes.

At the end of the day, the cake-off generated more than $3,000. Polar Bear plungers, who took their dip the next morning, raised a record $550,000.

And even though they had already done their part, had just worked incredibly hard for hours on end, and had return flights to catch in the a.m., Jay, Johanna, Corina and the Sugar Daddy himself hit the ocean water that night under a dusky Rehoboth sky.

Huge marks and very special thanks to the chefs, to organizers Jon Buzby, Scott Green, Carrie Staker-Jones (and there are a lot more who helped out), and to all the athletes and bears who made the weekend memorable.

And even if you missed out this year, you can still donate to Special Olympics Delaware. Click here to find out more.

Tuesday, February 8: Chef Giuseppe Furio will be joined by legendary local vocalist Andrea Arena Tuesday night for another installment of his popular Opera Night dinner. Arena, a union-affiliated mezzo-soprano (thanks, Internet!) will sing her way through five courses with wine pairings all for the low-low price of $60 per person.

Call Pomodoro at 574-9800 to reserve a spot.

Friday, February 11: Three ingredients for a magical pre-Valentine’s Day weekend: wine, sake and beer. Truly, the forces behind Utage understand what the season is all about. Sushi master Chihiro Oka and family will present a Japanese-themed wine tasting dinner this Friday at the Hockessin Athletic Club beginning at 7 p.m.

In addition to great drink options, chef Oka will prepare Utage sushi rolls, teriyaki-glazed spare ribs, yakitori, and harumaki spring rolls, and much more.

Last fall, Oka accepted a position at Hockessin’s new pan-Asian spot, Padi, but a rough opening winter forced the restaurant to cut ties with the sushi chef. He and legendary father Yuichiro are now free to concentrate on their private dinners and catering business at HAC.

Check out www.oka-restaurant.com, or dial 235-5530 for more details. 

New digs: As reported in the latest Delaware Today dining guide, the farm-friendly folks at Salt Air have some big things poppin’. Namely, this: Salt Air Farm & Table, their new, multi-use land in Lewes that includes acres for farming and breeding livestock, cooking classes, retail space and, coming very soon, nightly farm-to-table dinners. The latest communication from Salt Air management says dinners could start as soon as mid-month. Stay tuned here for the latest.

Our Best of Delaware Elimination Ballot is open through February 22!

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