The little Gold Rush town of Murphys is seeing a big jump in visitors as people drop by to sample treats made by a Sacramento native who won Food Network's "Cupcake Wars" last Sunday.
Karen Henderson brought home the prize of $10,000 and now is adjusting her baking schedules to handle the surge in traffic.
"Ever since Sunday, it's just been unbelievable," said Henderson, the owner of Lila and Sage, 219 Main St., in Murphys. (Online, it's www.lilaandsage.com.)
The competitive Henderson, who played volleyball for McClatchy High School and subsequently became an All-American at Sacramento State, said her daughter Madeline suggested she try out.
"I was like, 'I don't know if I could go on national TV,' " she said. "But then I thought, 'Hey, I'm 42. I've been baking a long time. My cupcakes are great. Let's do it. Let's go for this.' "
She wowed judges with, among other things, a fragrant lavender-honey cupcake, topped with a tangerine mascarpone, and an almond cupcake with a salted rose buttercream icing, accented by a marzipan flower.
Greta's magical milieu
"Cupcake Wars" winner Karen Henderson didn't go to culinary school. Her training ground was Greta's Cafe, the midpriced eatery founded by Greta Garverick in 1990.
Located at 19th and Capitol, the Sacramento restaurant served what former Bee dining critic Mike Dunne described as "vibrant salads, house-baked breads and pastries, and luncheon dishes such as ratatouille, lasagna and quiche."
Greta's closed in 2000, a couple of years after Garverick sold it. Henderson and others say Garverick encouraged creativity, allowed "street puppies" to take the lead and sought to make everything from scratch.
The executive chef at Ella Dining Room & Bar, Michael Thiemann, said he didn't realize until he had left that he'd gained the foundation for running a restaurant and for cooking.
"I went from dishwasher to prep cook to making the muffins to baking breads to working the grill to being a leader in the deli," Thiemann said. "I even waited tables for a long time I did a little bit of everything there over five years."
David Feldman, the former chef at 58 Degrees and Holding and Piatti, now teaches culinary class to "street puppies" at a Job Corps program in Vermont. Upon hearing Garverick lament more than once that her soups weren't homemade, Feldman volunteered to make them.
"I was cooking vegetarian soups from scratch and making veggie stock and working out of a book, and then I started to make up my own, and I rediscovered that I could cook," he said. "I taught myself how to blend flavors."
Where's Garverick today? The 50-year-old is rearing two daughters but does catering and event planning for a closed list of clients.
The war's still on
"Cupcake Wars" continues, and the region will see how Gold River contestant Rob Porter handled the challenge on Aug. 5.
Porter, the owner of Drizzle Cupcakes, got his start last summer by making cupcakes for a relative's baby shower. When attendees started making orders on the spot, he realized he might be able to sell enough cupcakes to pay for culinary school.
He made enough to do that and more. Porter graduated from the Institute of Technology in March, and he's now featured in school advertising.
He's throwing a catered viewing party at Rancho Cordova City Hall, 2729 Prospect Park Drive, benefiting Rancho Cordova Rotary. (Learn more at drizzlecupcakes-zvents. eventbrite.com.)
Drizzle Cupcakes doesn't have a storefront, but the 43-year-old Porter has his eye on a midtown space.
"I've been doing it a while and I have a following, and now all the phone calls I get are, 'When is your store opening?' "