Food Network fans know Justin Willman as the Alton Brown or Ted Allen of the Sunday night hit "Cupcake Wars," which launched myriad other homages to the little cakes with the great big trend factor. He doesn't taste the wares or choose the winners, but Willman keeps the mood whipped-frosting fun and breaks bad news to losers as sweetly as he can.
Still, if he had his druthers, he might just make 'em disappear.
"I've been doing magic since I was 12 and touring since I was in college," he says. "For the past eight years I've been on the road doing 200-plus shows a year. It's really my passion and what I love."
So how did the former Campus Activities Magazine Entertainer of the Year become Food's king of the cupcake competition? Credit friend and former employer Rachael Ray, who brought Willman aboard her eponymous, food-centric daily show as a comic sidekick. "When the cupcake show came around, I auditioned as host, but if you're going to be on the Food Network, you have to have some sort of food credibility," he says. "Thank God for Rachael Ray! She was my in."
His sense of humor now serves Willman well on "Wars," where the contestants and co-stars frequently tickle his -- and the audience's -- funny bone. "It's no fun watching a baker who's just quiet and doing their thing," he says. "You want someone who's talking trash and being vocal. That's what makes good television." As does famed pastry chef Florian Bellanger, the series judge whose French accent is as thick as butter cream.
"He has such a sense of humor about it," Willman says. "He'll use what we call 'Florianisms' and you'll be like, 'What the heck?!' It's so funny watching the competitors concentrating so hard and not being able to tell whether he is complimenting them or not. Finally he'll just say, 'I like it.' And you see the relief."
Willman has no plans to make himself disappear from the network family when the cupcake craze dies down; he'll just learn a new trick. "I keep hearing that pies are going to be the next big thing," he says, laughing, "so I need to be on the front lines of 'Pie Wars'? Any lovely, cute food can be turned into war, and it works!"
What are you reading now?
"I just started the new Steve Jobs biography."
What did you have for dinner last night?
"I baked my own pizza! I went to Trader Joe's and they sell this wheat dough, where you can just buy the dough. I made my own little pizza, and it was delicious."
What is your next project?
"I have a couple of magic TV series hopefully coming up soon. So people will finally get to know me on television as a magician first and not just a host."
When was the last vacation you took -- where and why?
"In September, I went to (the art event) Burning Man. It plucks you out of everything you're comfortable with and lets you redefine yourself in this new place. Profound."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times