Den­ton’s Konopel­ski wins show­down

Times-Record - - FRONT PAGE - By CON­NIE CON­NOLLY cconnolly@ches­pub.com

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.

PHOTO BY CON­NIE CON­NOLLY

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.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

Chef Steve Konopel­ski’s haunted ginger­bread light­house won the top prize in the Food Net­work’s Haunted Ginger­bread Show­down on Sun­day, Oct. 28.

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