Denton’s Konopelski wins showdown
DENTON — When Chef Steve Konopelski’s name was announced as the winner of Food Network’s Haunted Gingerbread Showdown, the crowd of some 50 friends and fans erupted in cheers and applause at the 404 Taphouse Bar and Grill here.
The award-winning pastry chef then pulled up his left sleeve and flexed his biceps to reveal a new tattoo: a smiling, mischievous gingerbread man.
And, like gingerbread man, Konopelski couldn’t be caught.
While he knew the results of the 4-episode competition, Konopelski said it was “a little weird to know the outcome, but I’m seeing the show for the first time. It’s fun to see others’ reactions.”
The co-owner of Turnbridge Point Bed and Breakfast in Denton invited friends and the public to watch the 10 p.m. finale of the series at the local restaurant where they watched the first episode on Oct. 7.
Co-owners Konopelski and spouse Rob Griffith greeted guests who came to watch the viewing party and order some of Konopelski’s desserts that are now featured on the 404 Taphouse menu.
As they watched “The Ultimate Haunted House” on the restaurant’s dozen big-screen TVs, the crowd laughed at Konopelski’s on-screen quips and applauded as each segment segued to commercials.
He seemed relaxed, even jovial throughout most of the finale for which he had a week to create his ultimate gingerbread creation from scratch. He faced off against the winners of the second and third rounds.
Konopelski’s second and final creation was a haunted lighthouse with meticulously crafted, macabre details that impressed the judges. He called it “Call of the Haunted Shore.”
The reason he chose to create a lighthouse? “I live on the Eastern Shore of Mar yland,” Konopelski told judges Jason Smith and Jamika Pessoa. Each of the three ultimate haunted house were judged on their exterior workmanship as well as interior rooms.
For the surprise “tasty treat” challenge, he created a haunted boat named “Choptank” that carried “drunken sailors” made of stout cake truffles wrapped in chocolate shell and coated with gingerbread crumbs. The local crowd cheered his homage to the Choptank River, which his bakery overlooks.
Once again, his competitor’s truffle won over the judges, earning her 30 minutes of extra time.
The tasty treat wasn’t the only curveball thrown at the bakers in the final round.
The second unexpected complication required the bakers to create a “devilish domino” element. Konopelski’s falling tombstones launched a gingerbread “boat” that actually floated in a tiny pond lined by candy body parts.
The third “trick” involved the judges. A group of 40 children and their parents surveyed the three haunted tableaux.
Still Konopelski was ner vous when he saw the children enter the room. His competitor’s creation was whimsical and “super cute.” However, the pint-sized judge’s collective opinion was not the only factor in the final decision.
As Pessoa examined his lighthouse more closely, she said, “Steve, this is even more impressive up close. What you’ve done with this piece is phenomenal.”
As host Sandra Lee announced Konopelski’s the winner, he and his assistants looked shocked, then delighted.
The 404 Taphouse crowd’s cheering drowned out his final words. “It does not feel anything like what it felt like in my imagination,” Konopelski said on camera. “It feels 1,000 times better. I am the first Haunted Gingerbread Showdown champion,” he said, grinning broadly.
Besides bragging rights, Konopelski won $25,000, and will be featured in an future edition of Food Network magazine.
He plans to use some of the prize money to create an upscale office space overlooking the Choptank River for Griffith.
After the judges named him the winner, Konopelski’s friends congratulated him, posed for photos and chatted with him in an informal Q & A session.
Before the finale, Sheryal Matthews, co-owner of 404 Taphouse, had predicted his victory.
Judi White of Federalsburg, left, poses for a photo with Chef Steve Konopelski as he shows off his new gingerbread man tattoo to celebrate winning the Food Network’s “Haunted Gingerbread Showdown” on Sunday, Oct. 28.
Chef Steve Konopelski’s haunted gingerbread lighthouse won the top prize in the Food Network’s Haunted Gingerbread Showdown on Sunday, Oct. 28.