If you’ve binged the new eight-episode Netflix competition series “Baking Impossible,” you may have been too tantalized by the elaborate, engineered confections that steal each episode to notice the two local faces on the show.
Sara Schonour, a Roslindale-based lighting designer, and Joanne Chang, the acclaimed chef and co-owner of Flour Bakery + Cafe, have major roles in the show, which premiered Oct. 6.
Schonour serves as the engineer on her “bakineer” team, one of nine pairs of engineers and bakers competing for a $100,000 prize. Chang is one of the three judges — the other two are Andrew Smyth of “The Great British Bake Off” fame and astrophysicist Hakeem Oluseyi. Chang is the baking specialist, Oluseyi is the engineering tsar, and Smyth, who is also an aerospace engineer (and a “Baking Impossible” executive producer) merges the two.
So, what’s the premise of the show? The bakineer teams go head-to-head to create edible concoctions that must survive harrowing trials — in the first episode, for instance, the contestants had to cook up cake boats that could traverse 20 feet of water in 45 seconds.
“There were a lot of things that I had never done before at all,” said Schonour, who has a background in architectural engineering. “Toss in that most of it had to be done with edible things, it was definitely a lot of learning on the fly.”
The spectacles are assessed both as desserts and as inventions, and at the end of each episode, the judges vote a pair off.
“It was amazing to see what people can do in this type of arena,” said Chang. “I’ve never been that type of pastry chef to create something that does something or that needs to withstand a certain challenge, and it was such an eye-opening experience for me to see that type of baking scale.”
Schonour was teamed up with baker Rodolfo Goncalves, who runs a New York-based cake business, Goloso by Rodolfo. Though they’d never met before cameras started rolling, Schonour said the two are now “lifelong friends.” He trusted her engineering insights, “and I had to do the same kind of thing when he told me, ‘You can’t do that with chocolate,’” she said.
This tight-knit teamwork, Chang said, ended up being crucial to the competition, which is hosted by magician Justin Willman. “By the end, the teams that made it further along were the ones who [got] along really well with their partner,” she said.
We won’t give any spoilers as to how far Schonour got in the competition, but Chang said that elimination got more difficult as the rounds wore on. “You get to know everybody,” she said. “You really want all of them to win.”
Both Chang and Schonour said they ended up on the show — which shot last fall in Los Angeles — after they were recruited by e-mail. Schonour initially believed it to be a scam, but decided to take a leap of faith because of the pandemic. “If I wasn’t bored out of my mind, I probably would never have written back,” she said, adding that the show mandated extensive quarantining measures.
But boredom was nowhere to be found on set. Other objects the contestants made during the show include garments, golf courses, and robots. Trial and error, Schonour said, was inevitable, remembering incidents of melting projects and exploding cream guns.
“You need to do these things that you’ve never done before and you’re going do it with about 15 cameras pointed at your face,” she said, “but eventually the adrenaline takes over.”
Chang said that she and other cast members hope it will get picked up for a second season. So far, this hope doesn’t seem out of the question — on Oct. 14, it was the fifth most popular kids’ show on Netflix, according to the platform’s rankings.
“It was really fun and interesting to see a show come to life,” Chang said. “It’s more than just a regular pastry show or baking competition.”
Dana Gerber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org