El Paso baker, Naomi Gil, did not believe it at first when the Food Network invited her to be on one of their seasonal shows.
“They reached out on my business profile, and they even went to my personal profile,” Gil said. “I don’t know how they found me.”
Gil, 27, is the owner of Azúcar Morena Bakery in El Paso, a dessert catering service with a following on Instagram.
Gil did not respond at first to messages inviting her to try out for the Food Network’s, Halloween Cookie Challenge. She throught it might be a hoax. However, the program persisted. They found her personal account by searching through various hashtags on Instagram and TikTok.
Once she realized it was true, Gil was still reluctant to try out because she never wanted to be on television. But her boyfriend talked her into giving it a chance, and Gil responded after nearly a week.
Getting on the show required a series of different interviews over the phone and through Skype. Gil was flown to Los Angeles in the spring to film the episode, which aired September 25, 2023.
The first category in Food Network’s, Halloween Cookie Challenge, was to make two different cookie designs that portrayed what monsters do the day after Halloween. The judging of the Halloween Cookie Challenge is based on attention to decoration, as well as presentation.
Gil’s two designs, which were inspired by her family, included Frankenstein having a spa day and a young Dracula going swimming.
“So for the baby Dracula, the one that’s going swimming, it reminded me of my little brother. I kind of pulled inspiration from him because.. So his name is Lestat. Lestat is actually the name of a famous vampire in a few vampire movies,” Gil said. “So I just thought, well what does he like to do? He likes to swim.”
Gil said her aunt is the owner of a spa in east El Paso, inspiring the second cookie design.
On the show, Gil made all four cookies apple pie flavored with apple flavored icing.
As a strategy to not freak herself out, she took her time, nearly forgetting that it was a timed competition.
“It took me an hour for my cookies to come out of the oven, while everyone else took thirty minutes for their cookies to come out of the oven,” Gil said. “So everyone had an hour of decorating, and I only had thirty minutes.”
That led to Gil being the first baker to be eliminated from the competition, or “leave the laboratory,” as they say on the show. The judges felt that her icing looking rushed, and her cookies were under baked.
“I remember when I went in to film, I was like so confident that I was gonna pass the first round,” Gil said. “And I was like okay like ‘the second round, I need to worry about the second round because the first round’s gonna be a piece of cake.”
Gil shared that her first time on television was a “crazy experience,” and one of the scariest things she had ever done in her life.
She hosted a watch party at her home the Friday before the episode aired, inviting only her family and some friends, She said the invites were last minute because she did not want anyone to know that she was the first one to go home.
“I was bummed out for months after I went to film,” Gil said.
Gil eventually posted to her bakery’s Instagram account about her appearance on the show, something the contestants were not allowed to do until two weeks prior to it airing.
After posting, Gil received “hundreds and hundreds,” of messages of support. She also noticed a spike in the number of followers on her social media accounts.
“I had like 2,000 followers in like a week,” she said.
Gil is following in her parents’ footsteps, as both of her parents were restaurant owners, and now she’s starting her own bakery. She signed a lease in August that’s good for the next three years. The building is older and requires a lot of modifications before she’ll be ready to open. She is hoping that will be by early 2024.
“Sometimes we have money, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we can hire this person to come do the plumbing or whatever. And sometimes we can’t,” Gil said. “We’ve even gone like two or three months without working on it. And I’m still paying rent.”
Gil chose Azúcar Morena for her bakery business name after sending numerous names to her family’s group chat for their opinions.
“Morena in Spanish can also translate to like brunette or like tan girl,” Gil said. “I sent it to my parents and all of them said ‘oh my God, that’s an awesome name,’ and so I ended up going with Azúcar Morena.”
Meanwhile, while working on getting her bakery location up and running, Gil continues to take orders through her website.