Michael Wolfe M.D., a busy orthopedic surgeon at New York City’s Mt. Sinai Beth Israel Hospital, finds time to apply his meticulous hands-on skills to one of his favorite hobbies, which is baking. One of 10 contestants competing on the 2016 season of the Great American Baking Show, Dr. Wolfe shares interesting behind-the-scenes facts about his journey to becoming a television show contestant and the exciting and exhausting experience of filming the show’s episodes.
Michael Wolfe grew up assisting his mother, who ran a wedding cake business in the small town of St. Mary’s, Ohio. When his mother passed away a few years ago, he got back into baking. As he grieved the loss of his mother, he discovered the Thomas Keller Bouchon Bakery Cookbook, which inspired him when it came to French pastries.
Dr. Wolfe explains that a few years ago, he came across a show called The American Baking Competition, which featured professionals who loved baking and who baked amazing creations. He followed the show and was disappointed to see it cancelled due to low ratings. Dr. Wolfe looked deeper to learn about the show, and found out that it came from an extremely popular British show called The Great British Bake-Off, which is the highest rated show in UK history.
When Dr. Wolfe found out that ABC was reviving the American version as the Great American Baking Show, he started subscribing to a casting agency service online. When The Great American Baking Show was looking for contestants, he got information about how to apply. In February, he applied, providing the required bio and photos of items he had baked. Then ABC called him back to chat, and it turned out that the ‘chat’ was actually an over the phone 30 minute exam on baking. Dr. Wolfe aced the exam and was invited for auditions. ABC held auditions across the country and he went to 2 auditions. Auditions attended by executive producers included tasks such as baking sweet and savory dishes that were often tasted and judged by professional pastry chefs. A screen test and an on camera interview were sent to ABC. For one audition, he was given ingredients for a cake, timed and interviewed on camera. Dr. Wolfe describes the audition process itself as enjoyable, but also grueling when combined with his life as a surgeon back in New York City. He says that he explained his work demands to the shows’ producers and that they were completely understanding and supportive throughout the whole process.
In July, Dr. Wolfe was told that he was selected as a contestant on the show. And, it turns out that the hard work was about to begin. He had 6 weeks to provide the show with a detailed list of requested ingredients and equipment he would need to use at the filming location, which is a tent at England’s famed Pinewood Studio. Filming was scheduled for 2 separate 2-week 4 episode shoots with a 10-day break back in the United States in between. The contestants flew to England for the first 4 episode shoot with days starting at 6am in the morning, just as early as Dr. Wolfe’s usual early morning surgery start times. Dr. Wolfe explains that the first two-week run of filming was fun and stressful at the same time. With hot temperatures outside and even hotter temperatures inside the tent, many carefully constructed cakes started to melt. Baking while being filmed adds to the stress. And since the tent is not a ‘real kitchen,’ he says he didn’t always have all of the cooking tools he was used to, and that sometimes, ‘the surgeon in me came out.’ Nevertheless, he says that the production crew was great throughout all of it, putting everyone at ease.
Unfortunately, he became ill before the filming of the season ended, and was not able to compete in all episodes, leaving the show before the season ended.
When it came to working with the other contestants, Dr. Wolfe truly enjoyed working with the crew and with the other contestants, who he describes as outstanding bakers and great people. He loved baking alongside people who all took baking seriously and took such pride in what they did. The group quickly became friendly with each other and remain in contact. In addition to gaining 9 new friends, Dr. Wolfe feels that being on the show was a wonderful way to honor his late mother, who would have been so proud of him.
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