Appearing on 'Holiday Wars' was Julie McAllister’s first time participating in a competition show | Courtesy Food Network

When you first see a cake from local baker Julie McAllister, you might not know it’s edible. She has made her incredibly realistic illusion cakes for the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Garden & Gun and for a Christmas in Charleston feature for Entertain & Celebrate

Her baking prowess led McAllister to this year’s season of Holiday Wars, a Food Network baking competition where teams of bakers and cake artists compete for a cash prize and recognition. 

“‘Cake artist’ is a term that’s starting to get more legs than it previously had,” she said. “A cake artist is someone that is sculpting those baked cakes into this really extravagant presentation. They’re really like a sculptor. But their mediums just happen to be cakes.”

McAllister said she applied for competition shows in the past, but never heard back. 

“The fact that [Holiday Wars is] on Food Network, I thought there’s no way I’m the same caliber as these people and the whole process happened very quickly,” she said. “When I got the official phone call I could not believe it. I was just jumping up and down and then ran to tell my husband.”

Holiday Wars, like many Food Network competition shows, casts veteran cake and sugar artists, some who have appeared on 10 shows. 

“I was fully in the rookie camp, just stars in my eyes,” McAllister said. “I had no idea what to expect, but it was incredible. I loved it. I learned so much. I had the opportunity to teach people things and I learned things from people. It was such an incredible experience.” 

The show is just the next step in Julie McAllister Cakes becoming a full-time job, she said. She currently works part-time in marketing in addition to sculpting cakes.

“My goal is to have the cake business be full time,” she said. “So hopefully this kind of puts me on the path towards that.”

McAllister, a lifelong hobby baker, started baking illusion cakes while in graduate school at the University of Tennessee in 2007 after seeing a photo of a Christmas tree cake in a magazine. 

“I saw the photo and I was like, ‘Oh, I bet that’s so easy to make,’ having absolutely no skill whatsoever to do anything like that and it was the epitome of one of those ‘cake fails,’” McAllister said. “I still have the photo because it makes me laugh so hard when I look at it, but even though it was a complete disaster, I had so much fun doing it.” 

McAllister has come a long way from the Christmas tree cake experience. Her attention to detail sets her cakes apart, so contending with time constraints on Holiday Wars brought a new challenge to her baking. 

“Being put in the situation where you only have seven hours to create something is so hard to do. In the real world, I could spend seven hours on one sugar flower getting the details just right.” 

Viewers of shows like Holiday Wars only see part of the time and effort that goes into making the fantastical cake creations, she said.

McAllister and her team “Best in Snow” were sent home in the episode 6 quarter final “Time Travelin’ Santa,” and while winning would have been an achievement, she said appearing on Food Network itself was a dream come true. “I always had dreams of appearing on the Food Network,” McAllister said. “I still can’t believe it’s actually a reality. It almost takes my breath away when I turn the TV on and I see my face there.”

The loss didn’t knock her spirits, either. 

“Everyone that’s on the show is a master of their craft whether they are the baker, the cake artist or the sugar artist. If the cakes don’t always pan out, it doesn’t mean that they’re not absolutely fantastic at what they do in the real world,” she said. “Above all, it’s just fun and I hope the viewers find it as fun and entertaining as we did.”

Michael Pham contributed to this story.

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