When Philadelphia-based pastry chef Neomie Eliezer received an Instagram message last February asking her to participate in Food Network’s “Holiday Baking Championship,” she thought it was a spam message.
Four months later, Eliezer, who lives in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, had another pinch-me moment: After months of back-and-forths with producers, she finally walked on the set of the show in Knoxville, Tennessee, where the series was filmed through July.
And finally, after nearly a year of waiting, Eliezer can share her experience competing as one of 12 bakers from around the country on “Holiday Baking Championship”, which premiered on Nov. 1.
The cooking competition show, hosted by Jesse Palmer and judged by Food Network veterans Nancy Fuller, Duff Goldman and Carla Hall, features two challenges per episode around a particular theme, with the weakest contestant eliminated at the end of the episode.
With two episodes having aired, Eliezer has already received an outpouring of community attention.
“It’s really interesting; it’s surprising,” Eliezer said. “I’m like, maybe this local celebrity, but I’m really not.”
Eliezer, 38, is not only representing the Philadelphia community, but the Jewish one as well.
“Really, that was a stressful part for me because with Chanukah, we’ve got the dreidels and menorah, but that’s it,” she said. “The holiday, Christmas stuff — it doesn’t come easy to me, and I didn’t want to just throw red and green jimmies all over the place, you know?”
Eliezer was born to Turkish parents; her mother’s family relocated to Israel and her father’s to France. Visiting her father’s family every other summer and every winter growing up, Eliezer was steeped in the French culinary world of pastry.
“As soon as we’d land, we’d go get warm croissants and warm baguettes from the bakery and bring them to my grandparents’ house and just stuff our faces,” she said.
Her grandmother was an exceptional cook, according to Eliezer, who loved making sweets, and Eliezer’s experiences with Jewish culture were shaped by her Sephardic heritage and cuisine.
Eliezer’s non-Ashkenazi background made it stressful for her to be the only Jewish person on the show, she said.
Growing up, when she was asked about her Jewish upbringing, she wouldn’t give the same answers as her Ashkenazi peers. Being raised by an Israeli mother, she knew her experience as a Jew in America was different than most others.
“There was pressure because I wasn’t doing the stereotypical Jewish things,” Eliezer said.
But as a pastry chef, being a Sephardic Jew has also created new opportunities for Eliezer to broaden the horizons of those with Ashkenormative, or Ashkenazi-exclusive, thinking about what Judaism is.
“The food side is just so different … it’s just like a whole different palette,” Eliezer said. “In that regard, in that respect, it’s definitely opened people up to different flavors and different things.”
But just as with many reality television shows, impressing the masses isn’t as easy as it seems.
On the first episode, contestants were tasked with making donuts, a task Eliezer was confident in, having made sufganiyot every year for Chanukah.
“I thought I had it in the bag, but it didn’t really turn out as I planned,” Eliezer said, admitting to having trouble initially finding her sea legs.
However, Eliezer saved herself later in the episode, riffing on the French classic of a tarte tatin, topping a sable crust with caramelized apples and a white chocolate and Gouda ganache.
Eliezer had filled her Instagram feed @neobakes with pictures of her confections since beginning her first job as a pastry chef at Rittenhouse Square restaurant Parc in 2013, slowly amassing a local following and handful of clients who she bakes for from her home kitchen.
After working as the bakeware manager at Fante’s Kitchenware Shop and pastry chef at Dulce in Collingswood, New Jersey, she began as pastry chef at Feast Your Eyes Catering in Philadelphia, where she’s worked since 2018.
But after competing in “Holiday Baking Championship,” Eliezer is thinking about making a change.
Participating on the show reinvigorated Eliezer, reawakening her passion for baking that had waned as she focused on getting married and raising her son. Now, she’s thinking about becoming a pastry chef at a hotel or opening up her own storefront.
“I’m not sure what’s next,” Eliezer said. “I definitely want to grow more, and I want more experience in some avenue, but I’m not sure which one yet.”
Episode three of “Holiday Baking Championship” airs on the Food Network at 8 p.m. on Nov. 15 and can be streamed on Discovery+.