Ready, Set, Bake; Polar Bear Plunge will include a Cake-Off

by Michael Short on February 24, 2011

By Michael Short

Sunday’s Polar Bear Plunge in Rehoboth Beach will attract thousands of people splashing into the chilly Atlantic.

It”s the 20th anniversary of the spectacular event and this year’s competition will include something new. There will be a cake-off on Saturday, Feb. 5 featuring some of the nation’s best young rising chefs, including Dana Herbert of Bear.

Herbert is fresh off his win on TLC’s Next Great Baker competition, a competition that turned him into a reality television star.

The cake-off is part of a whole weekend of activities to benefit Special Olympics Delaware. The plunge, which takes place  Sunday, Feb. 6, raised more than $500,000 for Special Olympics Delaware last year. As many as 2,900 people have taken the plunge.

They do so despite weather conditions that can be brutal. The plunge has been postponed until March twice, including last year. But in 1995, the plunge went off despite a zero degree reading on the thermometer which meant the wind chill was minus 20 degrees.

Governor Jack Markell will be taking the plunge for the third straight year and will be joined by more than 2,000 people. It’s the major fundraiser for Special Olympics Delaware and it’s become a February tradition.

It’s also become something of a happening. The very first jump attracted 78 plungers, but now it’s become an entire weekend with a chili cookoff, a race along the Boardwalk, ice carving and kids games.

This is the first year for the cake-off. Several chefs, including Herbert, will compete at the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. There’s no admission charge and you can even cast a vote for the best polar bear cake.

The cakes will be displayed from 10 a.m. until noon on Sunday before the plunge. For a donation of $1, you can taste a slice. The money goes directly to Special Olympics Delaware.

These aren’t your grandmom’s cake bakers. Cakes that light up, move or weigh hundreds of pounds are likely to be on the menu. They may be more likely to resemble art than pastry.

Herbert said there aren’t any rules for the competition except that the cakes are in honor of the 20th anniversary of the Polar Bear Plunge. That means the bakers are likely to go big.

“If I know the other team, they are going to go vertical,” he said.

Herbert is the owner of Desserts by Dana, his Bear, Delaware business. Now, after eight weeks with Buddy Valastro, whose family owns Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, Herbert has become a minor celebrity by being named the winner of the Next Great Baker competition.

Valastro put the chefs through their paces, sometimes working all night, to hone their baking and business skills. It’s an intense pressure cooker of competition presided over by Valastro.

Herbert became known for his calm demeanor amid the chaos, prompting one writer to call him a “zen” baker. “I try to stay calm. It takes too much energy to get mad or upset.”

When little things go wrong, he said he tries “to suck it up and move on.”

It wasn’t long before he began to be recognized. Soon after the show started, he had to get used to hearing “Hey, you’re that cake guy,” he said.

Herbert, nicknamed Sugar Daddy, baked a cake for last year’s Polar Bear Plunge, so he’s familiar with the event and the many people it helps. “It’s definitely a good cause. It’s local. Twenty years is definitely a milestone,” he said.

Long before the Next Great Baker came about, he told Special Olympics that he was interested in helping out again. “I said ‘let me help you guys. Maybe we can have a cake competition.”

“It should be a lot of fun,” Herbert said. “There should be a lot of families and kids there.”

He won $50,000 and a new car as the winner of the Next Great Baker competition. Most of it will be set aside to pay for college for his first child, due to be born in two weeks. “By the time she is 18, I can’t imagine what the cost of an education will be.”

He will be joined by several of his fellow bakers for Saturday’s showdown at the bake ovens. Also competing will be bakers: Corina Elgart, Jay Qualls, Brian Stevens, Johanna Lyons and Kendra Jordan.

Pastry wasn’t always in his blood. He wanted to own his own restaurant, but found himself  looking at  the pastry students at work. “That looks really cool,” he thought. “I was hooked. I guess you could say it was the art. You are always doing something a little different.”

He has a message for all his fans who cheered him on during the Next Great Baker competition. “Thank you for your support . . . I’m glad I could make Delaware proud.”

For more information on Desserts by Dana, go to http://dessertsbydana.com. For more information on the Lewes Polar Bear plunge for Special Olympics, go to www.plungede.org.

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