By ANDREA LANNOM ∙ email@example.com
MARTINSBURG — Steven Weiss may not have a sweet tooth, but he does have an eye for tasty pastries and decadent sugar art.
Weiss serves as Blue Ridge Community and Technical College's hospitality and culinary arts program coordinator and has worked at the college for four years.
Originally from Newburgh, N.Y., Weiss grew up around the restaurant industry, but at first, he had no desire to work around food.
Little did he know his career would take him everywhere from high profile resorts in Atlantic City to competing against other chefs in Food Network challenges.
Weiss toyed with a number of career ideas. First, Weiss fell in love with the DeLorean sports car and wanted to be an automotive designer. He later decided against it, though.
After receiving his graphic arts degree and spending time freelancing, Weiss decided he wanted to get more active, which served as a catalyst to attend culinary school.
"I weighed 300 pounds and I lost weight quickly — 150 pounds within months," he said. "I didn't want to be the typical fat chef that went to culinary school."
So from graphic artist to sugar artist, Weiss decided to attend culinary school at Baltimore College. There, he found another love — creating sculptures out of sugar.
"I sat down in a room and the teacher showed me a video from the culinary Olympics. I saw a chef making sugar roses and it blew my mind. I said I have to learn how to do that. I said this is what I have to do," he said.
He got his degree in baking and pastry and started working in hotels and restaurants. From the Trump Taj Mahal to Boyd Gaming in Louisiana, Weiss finally ended up working at a bakery in Martinsburg.
Two years later, a position with Blue Ridge Community and Technical College opened, but the job was completely different than Weiss' other jobs.
Not only did he have to talk for three and a half hours in class, but he also was thrown into grant writing and creating syllabi and course curricula.
Plus, he had much more time on his hands.
"Going from professional work to education was a huge transition," he said. "I went from a 60-to-70-hour workweek to a 40 normal hour workweek. Your family life increases. I got to meet my kids again and wife again. I get to go on vacations again."
With more time to be creative, Weiss also received an opportunity to compete in Food Network challenges. So far, he has competed six times.
After competing in the national pastry team championship, he gravitated toward Pastry Daredevils, his first official challenge. In this challenge, Weiss was tasked with building a 5-foot-high centerpiece and then had to carry it through an obstacle course.
Out of five competitors, Weiss was one of the two who got through the course without having anything break.
Next, Weiss competed in Sugar Impossible, where once again he had to build a 5-foot high sugar piece. This time, however, he had to incorporate movement in the piece.
Although he shipped an order for the ingredient pallet, the ingredients showed up halfway through filming.
"My assistant and I had to rent a car to go around Denver to beg, borrow and steal quick-man ingredients to put up a piece for judging. We did well for not having anything, but the big dramatic thing happens when the host says the pallet showed up in the middle of taping."
His most recent show was Sugar Inventions, where he had eight hours to create a Rube Goldberg device from sugar. Not all the elements had to be edible, but most of the movable pieces were fashioned solely from sugar products, Weiss said.
Weiss said the experience was more comedic than anything.
"(My assistant) was trying to set the sugar dominoes up and literally 10 times, he would set it up and as soon as he set it all up, he would knock it over," Weiss said. "It was really comical. We never worked with dominoes so we never knew to put a segment break in between so if a couple broke only the upright segment and not the whole thing would go down together. But we got our act together with 10 seconds on the clock and got them all to stand up."
In addition to Food Network challenges, Weiss has competed in several other national competitions. Weiss says he never practices beforehand and always does his work for the first time in the competition.
That's why he "throws things in and makes sugar happen."
"I like doing things for the first time. Every major competition, world championship, Food Network championship, every piece I've done, I've done it for the first time on camera. I've never practiced. It's always at that moment," he said. "It always comes back to bite me. I do things for the first time because I want the excitement to be fresh. I understand practice, but I get bored with things really quickly."
Although he works around pastries and sweets most of the time, Weiss says he doesn't have a sweet tooth.
"It's kind of weird being on a health kick and the big thing is everything in moderation. I know if you do something for a long period of time you get desensitized to it," he said.
In fact, one of his passions is encouraging proper eating.
Weiss said he helps educate students at a young age to build nutritional meals by incorporating vegetables and fruits in a more palatable way. He said he's also helping high school cafeteria employees work through guidelines and think of new flavors to add to food to make it taste better.