Melissa Murphy, owner of Sweet Melissa, a Seventh Avenue pastry and luncheon venue, might indeed be sweet — but judging from her recent adventure on the “Food Network Challenge: Edible Ornaments” competition, she’s more like Tough Melissa.
Sure, Murphy (pictured) is young, attractive and savvy with energy to spare and far-reaching plans (damn her!).
But she is also a renowned chef and is on the advisory board of the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan, where she herself went to school. This year, the Zagat Marketplace gave her stores the award for “Best Tarts and Pies” in New York.
For those reasons, she was invited to take part in the Food Network competition that aired on Sunday. The challenge: to decorate a Christmas tree with only edible ornaments and beat three other high shooters in the food-as-art world.
Murphy traveled to Ashland, North Carolina, and settled into a local inn along with her mother, her boyfriend, and several other family members to shoot the show.
It started easily enough: First, she met her competition. Then, there was another gathering to meet the judges. But in between the two meetings, Murphy doubled over in agony — and her nausea convinced her that she had come down with (irony of ironies!) food poisoning.
Eventually, though, Tough Melissa made it to the meeting room to meet the judges. “All of a sudden, I knew I was in trouble,” said Murphy. “I grabbed a nearby CVS bag, dumped the toiletries out onto the table and…” Well, you can figure out the rest.
Too bad that the bag, and its contents, were the property of one of the judges.
Murphy’s family decided to take her to the local hospital, still assuming she was the victim of somebody’s bad cooking. The doctors, however, thought she was passing a kidney stone. It was around this time that the Food Network’s cameras invaded the emergency room, attempting to turn Murphy’s medical foray into reality TV.
Then the X-rays came back and the doctors found a large mass in her abdomen. Murphy spent the night at the hospital, roaming the halls with her IV stand, trying to convince the doctors that they should let her leave at 6 am for the show’s all-day taping session. But without knowing what the mass was, the doctors were not initially inclined to give permission.
“Finally, they said I could go, since the studio was only 10 minutes away from the hospital,” Murphy said. Her mother and her boyfriend raced her to the studio. She was dressed in her mother’s old sweatpants and had nothing on her feet. “My shoes had disappeared,” she said.
It was all smooth icing from there.
“I felt really relaxed,” Murphy said. “I guess it was all those painkillers.”
Shoeless, floating on a drug-induced cloud yet completely focused, Murphy made her way through the three rounds of competition: the garland, the ornaments (all hand-crafted by her) and the tree-topper. She was in the lead. Close to the end, there was a rough moment when some of the judges seemed to think her tree-topper, an edible, but perhaps too-cute, raccoon didn’t live up to the rest of the work.
Then the emcee took an informal poll of the audience to see which of the artists they favored. Murphy won, hands down — and this was even before they knew the details of what had happened to her.
Back in Brooklyn, Murphy is feeling great — she doesn’t want to reveal the true nature of the medical problem that sent her reeling, except to say that it turned out to be a minor issue. She is back to planning for the future: a cookbook, podcasts and a possible television show are all in the works.
Go into one of her two pastry shops and you won’t see a sign of the fighting, relentless Brooklyn powerhouse who won the Food Network’s challenge. Thank goodness the famous almond croissants aren’t tough as their creator.
Wendy Ponte is a writer who lives in Park Slope.
We tend to get sad when we see dogs tied up to a lamppost while their owners are shopping. But what’s even worse is the guy who leaves his dog tied up on Seventh Avenue with its own personal boom box blaring. Hey, pal: The noise annoys us — and quite possibly the dog, too. …
Our pals at New York Methodist Hospital sure know their audience. The state recognized the medical center, in the middle of Brooklyn’s crunchiest neighborhood, for installing two “chillers” that reduce energy use by $234,000 a year. Congrats!