Sweet and Scary: Leigh Henderson MBA’07

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Leigh Henderson MBA’07 works on a creation during her appearance on Food Network’s Halloween Wars. She and her team competed to build the best edible Halloween display. Photo: Food Network/Scripps.

When it comes to baking cakes, Leigh Henderson MBA’07 is good — scary good.

Whether she’s creating a sugary sculpture for a friend or competing in a Food Network challenge, this PhD student in the UW’s theatre and drama department has turned her love for Halloween into a tasty, unusual pastime.

“It’s a fun hobby because people love cake,” she says. “I started [making cakes] on a whim in 2000, and then a friend bought me a book on cake decorating. It kind of spiraled out of control from there.”

Growing up, Henderson and her sister shared a love for horror movies and, as a token of their admiration for the genre, blogged reviews of the spookiest flicks. Today, horror films often serve as a muse for Henderson’s cakes, while her blog tells tales of her spooky adventures in baking.

That blog is how Food Network found her for the show Halloween Wars, which aired in fall 2012. “I got an email asking [me] to submit an audition tape after seeing my website,” explains Henderson. “It was totally out of the blue and awesome.”

The four-episode series featured five teams of highly skilled cake decorators, sugar artists, and pumpkin carvers competing against each other — and the clock — to create the best edible Halloween display. The team to survive all four episodes was awarded $50,000.

As the cake decorator for team Paranormal, Henderson worked with candy maker Ruby Carlsruh and pumpkin carver Ray Brown. Although they were not crowned the champions of Halloween Wars, the team made it to the penultimate episode before being eliminated, which is certainly nothing to boo at.

“It’s as crazy as it looks,” Henderson says of the show’s chaotic appearance. “It is not exaggerated.”

The hectic nature of a timed cooking competition can be intimidating on its own; throw in cameras and a national audience, and it’s even more stressful. Luckily for Henderson, she adapted quickly. “It’s weird — once you start concentrating on what you’re doing, you can tune out the cameras,” she says. “When you’re doing something you love and know how to do, it’s easy to forget you’re on national television.”

And there is no doubt that Henderson knows what she’s doing. Using everything from mechanical and sculpting kits to paintbrushes, airbrushes, and more, she’s able to build edible masterpieces out of cake, complete with moving parts.

Henderson enjoyed Halloween Wars so much that she agreed to be featured on another Food Network reality show, Sugar Dome, which aired in December 2012. Her team, the Sweet Maniacs, won the episode titled “When Toy Stories Come to Life at Night.”

Since her television debut, Henderson has returned to creating cakes as a hobby, averaging five per year for friends and family. For more photos of her cakes, see www.doitmyself.org.

Published in the Fall 2013 issue

Tags: Alumni, Food

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