McALLEN — Sabrina Rodriguez-Louck had to do some serious arm-twisting to get her sister Erica Rodriguez to agree to bake cupcakes on national television.
“I didn’t nominate myself. My sister nominated me to go with her,” Erica, 32, said. “It’s been her dream since, I don’t know. She loves the show.”
The bakers who opened up RGV Cupcake Factory only a year ago in McAllen will get to watch themselves compete in The Food Network’s popular reality competition show Cupcake Wars at 7 p.m. (CST) today on Time Warner Cable Channel 73.
At first, it was just an idea, something the women would dream about.
“I’m such an avid watcher,” Sabrina said. “We’ve said it before, like, ‘Wouldn’t it be so fun? I mean, what are the odds of us actually getting on the show?’”
So Sabrina finally stopped dreaming and convinced Erica to try it.
Once the cupcake bakers found the application online, quickly filled it out and then submitted it, they received an email back thanking them for their submission, but also informing them that casting for the next season was closed.
The sisters were a little bummed.
“Of course,” Sabrina said. “They have, like, hundreds of applicants. And I told (Erica), ‘They’re probably closed until, like, season-freakin’-10, dude.’”
They were ready to put Cupcake Wars out of their minds.
The very next day, Erica got a call from a Food Network employee requesting that the women make a quick video.
“He said, ‘We need it in 24 hours,’” Sabrina said.
Suddenly, their pipe dream became closer to reality, but it still seemed like a long shot to Erica.
“I think Sabrina, in her heart of hearts, thought that we are going to get chosen,” she said.
During a lunch break from their jobs as speech therapists, Erica and Sabrina drove to the shop to shoot the film using a camera phone. They didn’t even change out of their scrubs.
Two takes had to be enough because they had to get back to work.
They submitted the video and waited for a response.
Erica received the call the following day — the producers loved their video.
Several phone conversations and emails later, and Erica and Sabrina had flights booked to Los Angeles.
After the bakers signed on the dotted line, they had to get organized, practice and take time off to participate in the show.
“I work a little bit faster, and I’m just on-the-go and (Sabrina) is more, like, attention-to-detail,” Erica said.
So the plan was set: Erica would be head baker and Sabrina would act as her assistant, taking orders and tying up loose ends, although not everything in reality TV goes according to plan.
“We have busy lives,” Erica said. “We do have five jobs. So to take off, like, a week from my five jobs was, like, practically impossible.”
In addition to their full-time jobs and the cupcake shop, the two entrepreneurs were also working on opening their own speech therapy business, contract home health work and supervising others doing contract work.
The sisters ignored the oncoming stress and practiced day and night.
First they wanted to make sure they could get cupcakes done in 45 minutes — and make it entertaining.
“We were doing the timing, so we were talking, making cupcakes and trying to move faster,” Sabrina said.
Each round in Cupcake Wars has different requirements. The first round challenges bakers to create three different cupcakes with theme-based ingredients with 45 minutes on the clock. The cupcakes are judged on flavor.
If they make it through to the second round, the contestants are expected to bake three cupcakes of their choice, but with taste and presentation being judged — and they still need to keep the theme in mind. They get 75 minutes to finish.
Finally, in the third round, the two remaining teams go head-to-head in a frantic battle to bake 1,000 cupcakes in only two hours. They also need to design a cupcake stand to hold all that cake. They do get the help of a carpenter and four baking assistants.
Once Erica and Sabrina were confident they’d be fierce competitors, the date to fly west was almost upon them.
“I had a breakdown before going to Cupcake Wars,” Erica said. “I threw a piece of cupcake at Sab and said, ‘I’m not going.’”
Less than 24 hours before the flight, Johanna Saenz, the Rodriguez sisters’ cool-headed friend and bakery business partner, had to help calm Erica down and repack the suitcases.
“I just felt all the pressure on me, I really did,” Erica said.
With the crisis averted, Erica and Sabrina flew to Los Angeles for the next leg of their journey.
Standing on the Cupcake Wars set, Erica and Sabrina sized up their competition.
Each team was intimidating in some way: One had a giant, organized toolbox with a variety of cupcake tools; another team was a couple of very confident cheerleaders, Erica said.
Their egos deflated slightly.
“And then Sabrina literally turns to me and says, ‘Oh, Erica, at least your earrings are cute,’” Erica said.
There was no turning back now, though. Cameras were set to roll and began capturing the RGV Cupcake Factory bakers’ every move, mistake and moment of panic.
At one point, Erica accidentally sets a grease fire.
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” she said. “I don’t really cook a whole lot — that’s Sabrina’s deal. … I remember putting the dish in the sink and just turning on the water, not thinking. I mean, the level of stress is just — I can’t even describe it.”
Whether the fire is disastrous or only a small obstacle is only known by the Rodriguez sisters — at least, until tonight’s episode airs.
If the girls take home the title of Cupcake Wars champion, they will receive a check for $10,000 and the prestige of being the only Texan winners, Erica said.
Regardless of how well they did or didn’t do on the show, both Sabrina and Erica have come out of the challenging experience with even more confidence.