By MATT CRANE
Celebrity chef and Food Network Star finalist Linkie Marais is launching her bright future in the very place her career started.
Marais will begin her first set of in-depth cake decorating classes Aug. 18-19 at the Hilton Garden Inn Bancorp South Conference Center in Tupelo.
Marais, who immigrated with her family from South Africa to Tupelo at the age of 16, began decorating cakes while in high school and continued honing her skills throughout college and her professional career, eventually making her way to the small screen on the eighth season of the popular show, “The Next Food Network Star.”
Marais said the impetus behind auditioning for the program came from a longtime desire to have her own cake decorating show.
“I’ve always wanted to be on the Food Network,” Marais said. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Marais said the experience allowed her the opportunity to learn more about herself in just a few months time than she has in the past 10 years.
“Getting to work with mentors like Giada (De Laurentiis), Bobby (Flay) and Alton (Brown) was just so wonderful,” she said. “It’s the hardest thing I have ever done, but it was the best experience.”
Although she was eliminated from the series, judges and mentors praised her abilities in the kitchen and the chef’s inner beauty and warmth.
“She has come a long way in a short amount of time and I’m very proud of her,” De Laurentiis said on Marais’ last episode. “She’s doing something that took me several years to master.”
Marais said she comes from a long line of artists and is a painter herself.
“I love to paint. I have that drive to get a creative fix, and I love food too,” she said. “If you marry the two, cake decorating is what you end up with.”
Billie Robison, Marais’ mentor in high school and college, said Marais’ abilities were obvious very early on in their working relationship.
“With everything she did you could tell she had a natural talent,” Robison said. “She’s just one of the most talented young ladies I’ve ever met.”
Robison said Marais would sit and watch her during preparations for the weddings they catered.
“She picked everything up instantly, and wasn’t long until I could hand her a picture of a cake and say, ‘Do this,’ and she would,” she said. “She’s just very sweet, and down to earth, genuine person.”
The workshops scheduled for the weekend will feature two classes: An introductory class called “Cake Decorating—The Basics” focusing on working with buttercream frosting to create one of a kind cakes; on Sunday, Aug. 19, Marais will wrap up the workshops with her advanced class for students wanting to work in-depth with fondant, colors, gum paste and multi-tiered cakes.
Marais said the goal for these workshops is for participants to learn and be entertained.
“I hope they will leave there knowing about new cake decoration techniques,” she said. “I hope they leave confident in their new abilities, but above everything, I want them to have fun.”
While traveling across the east coast for her upcoming workshops, Marais said she is also working on a new cookbook.
“It’s going good, but it’s a slow process because so many recipes are in my head,” she said. “It’s a process, but it’s very fulfilling.”
In the end, Marais said she is hopeful to once again return to the small screen to educate and entertain the masses.
“I think my end goal is still to have my own show,” she said. “I am ready to dive into all kinds of new opportunities to reach that.”
The workshops last from 9 a.m.- 5p.m. each day and cost $175 per person, including all supplies. Students enrolling in both classes will pay $285 and space is limited. For more information on Marais and how to register, visit http://www.linkiecakes.com .
Ricotta Cannoli Cheescake
(Recipe courtesy of The Food Network website and chef Linkie Marais)
1 stick unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing
4 cups crushed cannoli shells
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Two 8-ounce packages cream cheese
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 cups ricotta
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 vanilla bean, scraped
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips, chopped
3 1/2 tablespoons orange zest
1 cup granulated sugar
Juice of 3 oranges
- For serving:
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup mascarpone
1 cup ricotta
4 tablespoons orange zest
For the crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and line a baking sheet with parchment.
Place the cannoli shells in a blender or food processor and pulse until crumbly. In a bowl, mix the melted butter and granulated sugar with the crumbs and press in the bottom of the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Let cool.
For the filling: Combine the cream cheese and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together. Then add the ricotta and mix until well incorporated. Add the flour and vanilla seeds and mix. Add the eggs, one at a time, until incorporated. Add the chocolate pieces and zest and mix until just combined. Pour the batter over the baked crust and bake for 30 minutes.
For the glaze: Combine the granulated sugar and orange juice in a saucepan and simmer over medium-low heat until slightly thickened, 10 to 20 minutes.
Whip the heavy cream to soft peaks and whisk in the confectioners’ sugar. Gently fold in the mascarpone and ricotta.
Slice the cheesecake into pieces of desired size. Serve each piece with a drizzle of glaze, a dollop of cream on top and garnish with orange zest.