A crew of self-taught creatives were forced into a pirate battle with only food as weapons. Well, the battleground was a TV studio, but the battle was real — and a lot of fun.
Dill Barlow, Dee Compean and Maurice Abelman teamed up as the “Food Fighters” to battle it out against two other teams in the new TV series, “Foodtastic,” now streaming on Disney+.
Barlow is a cakemaker from Groves who owns Over the Top Cakes in Houston. He has a following on Instagram for his cake creations and was contacted by a casting agency who wanted to know if he could put a team together and make a food sculpture in a few days. He reached out to Compean and Abelman.
“We actually ended up building this crazy Davy Jones sculpture out of wood and foam and then covering it in different vegetables and fondant,” Barlow said. “We sent that over and they just literally called us the next day and they signed us up.”
At the time, Barlow had no idea who the show was for, but he knew the first person to call.
“I’ve gotten thrown through the wringer a few times for Food Network doing different things, but nothing ever stuck,” he said. “I’m always hitting up Dee every time I’ve got to talk to somebody for a team and she is usually always down.”
Compean had previously worked as a cake artist and now has her own business painting shoes and other items on commission, as well as raising a family. She and Barlow had worked together at a bakery six years ago and have remained friends.
“We’re always bouncing off each other,” Barlow said. “She always knows something that I don’t. It might be vice versa, but she probably already knows it.”
Getting the third team member wasn’t easy. Barlow contacted other bakers he knew but they were either not interested or too busy. He scrolled through the art community pages on Facebook and found Abelman.
“I was like, oh yeah, this guy does these big sculptures, we probably need him for all the fabrication work we got to do underneath,” Barlow said. “So, I hit him up and he was like, ‘I don’t know you. What are you talking about?’ I think he was pretty stunned. Then we got to know each other, and we quickly had to build something. I think we did exceptional at that. And that’s what got us through.”
Abelman, who is program coordinator and graphic design instructor at Lamar State College-Port Arthur, said his main role on the team was support.
“A lot of my input, my knowledge, was more towards the structure, building the structures underneath, making sure everything was like able to support the food that we put on top of it,” he said.
The competition features three teams who must work within a theme. For the Food Fighters’ episode, the theme was “Pirates of the Caribbean.” The two other teams featured members from a luxury hotel with a head chef and a cakemaker and a confectioner and others with lots of competition experience.
Despite the competitive nature of the show, the self-taught artists said meeting the other contestants was the best part of the experience.
“They were really humble,” Compean said. “That’s what I love about some artists. They know where they started or they remember where they started, so they’re really kind to people that are just starting off. They’re good friends now.”
Barlow said the other contestants even went so far as give the Food Fighters pointers.
“They’ve been around the block, they’ve been on other multiple shows, so, we took a lot of notes from them and accepted some of their advice, and just kind of treated them with much respect as they were giving us,” he said. “It was just a really overall great experience just knowing them.”
Having worked together once, Barlow said he is definitely open to finding another project with Abel-man and Compean. Barlow and Abelman are still working together, and Barlow said that while Compean is busy raising her children, she is welcome any time.
“There’s not many shows like this one,” Barlow said. “But there’s other cake shows, pumpkin carving, shows like that, I think we definitely step into some of those boundaries. We’re more than ready to take on the next adventure.”
Having worked on this particular project, Abelman said he is looking forward to learning more about food and how to expand his skill set.
“One of the one of the new things for the show is the sculptures, they didn’t need to be 100% edible, so we were mixing the materials together, materials I’m more familiar with,” he said. “But for future projects, we’ve been kind of thinking about sculpture where it’s 100 percent edible. That takes a lot more knowledge than just visual knowledge that I have. So (I’m) educating myself, getting Dee and Dill’s knowledge on food, and just the whole culinary approach.”
The members of what the show called a “small-town team” unanimously said they learned from the experience, and like true artists, look back on what they could have done differently if they knew what they know now.
“It was a great experience — I wouldn’t trade it,” Abelman said. “We can always look back and say the things that we could have done. But I’m always kind of thinking about new projects and new things. And I feel like I’ve made lifelong friends. You know, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
For three days the small-town team represented Southeast Texas while painting with chocolate, bending bok choy, and battling pirate curses, as well as two other teams of skilled culinary artists. The end result is tasty treat for the viewer.
“Foodtastic” is streaming on Disney+, and the Food Fighters are on episode 10.
Barlow’s creations can be seen at overthetopcakes.com. All three artists can be found on Facebook and Instagram.
This story first ran in the Dec. 24, 2021, Art of Living section of The Beaumont Enterprise.