Sunnyside baker wins $10K on ‘Sweet Genius’ show

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Sunnyside resident Angela Cuervo became a baker after watching a cooking show when she was 19. Six years later, she won one.

Cuervo, who works with her parents at Mario’s Restaurant and operates her own cake baking business through the website, became one of the few recipients of the $10,000 grand prize on the Food Network’s “Sweet Genius.”

Each week on the show, four contestants go through three rounds of making different types of desserts. These sweets must be based on whimsical “inspiratio­ns,” like a unicorn or a hot air balloon, and include two mandatory ingredients, which can be common items like Italian maraschino cherries or unconventional items like spinach.

The baker with the worst creation is eliminated after each round and the last baker standing is named a Sweet Genius.

The competition is hosted by Manhattan cake baker Ron Ben-Israel, whose bald head and tendency to announce difficult challenges with a sadistic glee in his thick Israeli accent have earned him comparisons to James Bond villains by journalists and TV critics.

But Cuervo, who met Ben-Israel at a baking event in the city before the competition, said he is not as sinister as he appears.

“He’s a really nice guy” Cuervo said. “He’s a funny guy, but he’s critiquing other people’s work, so you have to be truthful.”

In a first, Cuervo competed against her mother, Lynn Chauca, and a father and son from Oneida, N.Y., for the episode “Relative Genius,” which debuted May 3. Chauca, a Manhattan native who moved to the Sunnyside-Woodside area when she was 16, said she has baked since she was 8 years old, and through self-teaching began doing it professionally after she and her husband, chef Carlos Chauca, opened Mario’s, at 43-04 47th Ave., together 26 years ago.

“We started very young not knowing, but it all worked out,” Lynn Chauca said.

Cuervo began working at Mario’s in her teens, but a cooking show inspired her to become a baker. She was trained at the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan.

Cuervo and Lynn Chauca had thought they would be baking as a team and were shocked to find out when they went in for filming in January that they would have to face each other. Nevertheless, Cuervo got encouragement from her mother to go through with it.

“She kind of talked me through it and said, ‘This is what you do,’” Cuervo said.

Some writers online have criticized Cuervo for the chocolate dessert she made in the first round: a chocolate molten cake made with spinach and cherry sauce with passion fruit, since Lynn Chauca made the cherry sauce. Cuervo said since she added the passion fruit, she made it her own.

“If that was cheating, I would never have done it,” Cuervo said. “I knew the rules.”

Lynn Chauca was eliminated in the second round when her milk chocolate bark with vanilla ice cream and pine nut brittle failed to impress, but Cuervo was named the winner in the third round for her vanilla cake with squash filling topped with root beer buttercream and decorated like a Russian doll.

Cuervo said she gave part of her winnings to her mother and has invested the rest to start saving up for a bakery of her own, which she hopes to open in three to five years.

“She’s very creative, very talented,” Carlos Chauca said about his daughter.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Posted 6:54 pm, May 16, 2012
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