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Mike Riehls
 

Sugar and spice make yummy


Salmon and caramel? No ingredient is too tough for Michelle Wilson Brown to create delicious cupcakes. She proved that by winning "Cupcake Wars."


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May 03, 2012
You can taste love in every bite.

That's how Taste Love Cupcakes got its name. That's what the judges on Food Network's "Cupcake Wars" tasted. That's what led to Taste Love Cupcakes winning the Derby Dolls episode of "Cupcake Wars" late last month.

The gourmet cupcake bakery in Royal Oak is co-owned by Grosse Pointe Woods resident Michelle Wilson Brown. She and her business partner, Yolanda Baston, of Troy, met as students at the University of Michigan. While each pursued a career — Brown in law and Yolanda in business — they remained friends. When the two found themselves back in Detroit three years ago, after their respective marriages and careers took them throughout the United States and overseas, they decided to start a business. After only four months in operation, the duo applied and were accepted to compete on "Cupcake Wars."

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Michelle Wilson Brown, left, and Yolanda Baston, owners of Taste Love Cupcakes in Royal Oak, competed and won Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars.” Photos courtesy of Michelle Wilson Brown
Taste Love Cupcakes celebrated its first anniversary April 16 and the Derby Dolls episode aired April 22.

"We love the show. It's one we constantly watch being in the cupcake business," Brown said. "We've been watching it since the very first season. Every day customers would come in 'Oh my gosh, you guys should be on "Cupcake Wars." You make the best cupcakes.' I saw on Facebook they were casting for the next season, so we sent an e-mail. They called us, asked us to send in an audition video, we did and then we made it. It happened really quickly."

"Cupcake Wars

' pits four teams of two against each other in three elimination challenges. Each show has a theme — Brown's episode was roller derby — and in each round the cupcake decorations reflect the theme. In the final round, bakers prepare 1,000 cupcakes in an elaborate display also incorporating the theme.

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Red velvet cupcakes are the bakery’s most popular flavor.
In the first round, contestants selected one of four pairings and created cupcakes from that pairing.

The choices: peanut butter and pickles, fig and pork belly, caviar and chocolate and salmon and caramel. Brown and Baston choose salmon and caramel.

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Brown and Baston made sweet potato cupcakes during “Cupcake Wars.”
"That was rough, but we felt it was a decent pairing because we figured salmon is something that can be paired with something sweet anyway. It sounds weird, but the taste is good," Brown admitted.

"That was our round one. You get 45 minutes to make a cupcake out of those kind of weird ingredients," Brown said. "It was good. The judges loved the cupcake, actually."

In the second round, contestants prepared three different cupcake flavors and were judged on taste and presentation. Brown and Baston made tequila-lime cupcakes, dark chocolate-raspberry- mascarpone cupcakes and sweet potato cupcakes.

In the final round of 2 1/2 hours, competitors baked 1,000 cupcakes and created a themed display to hold them. All four types of cupcakes made in the previous two rounds are baked.

Each team was given a carpenter to build the display and four baking assistants.

The rest is history. Brown, Baston and Taste Love Cupcakes won.

As for Brown, her baking history started when she was a child. The self-taught baker — she reads books, blogs and practices baking and decorating — perfected the bakery's most popular cupcake, red velvet, through trial and error and, she said, "a lot, a lot of practice.

"Everybody says it's the best red velvet they've had. I've worked really hard on that. The red velvet is one I have been doing as a cake since I was really young, probably 12 years old, but just to transform that into a cupcake was difficult," Brown explained. "It took a lot of work and tweaking to make it the perfect cupcake because a cake

doesn't always translate well into a cupcake."

Born in Detroit and raised in Southfield, Brown and her husband, Michael, found themselves in Grosse Pointe after stints in Las Vegas and out east where Brown's "obsession" with cupcakes began.

"In New York they had so many cupcake places there, so I kind of started baking myself a little bit more," she said. "I grew up in a baking home, so it wasn't like it was anything new to me, but I focused specifically on cupcakes."

When Brown and Baston reconnected, they decided cupcakes were their business.

Brown explained, "We did a lot of research and we just decided, 'let's open up a cupcake place.' The metro Detroit area deserved something really luxurious and decadent in the form of a dessert, but affordable as well."

Brown and her husband have four children ages 9, 6, 4 and 3. The two oldest attend Monteith Elementary School.

When asked how she manages a growing business with being a wife and mother, Brown readily responds, "I get asked that all the time and the answer is 'I just do.' ...It is really difficult, probably the hardest thing I've ever done. But I think it's worth it."

How did two "west-siders" end up in Grosse Pointe? "My husband was working downtown and we were looking for a house. He basically picked Grosse Pointe for the schools," she said. "I admit at first I was kind of 'Oh,' because I'm a westsider, I never lived over here, so it took a while.

"But now I appreciate the fact I can walk my kids to school. We can walk to get ice cream. We can take a walk to the grocery store if we want to. I mean everything I need is right here — my kids' dentist, doctor. Everything is right on Mack so that is super convenient and there aren't many walkable neighborhoods in metro Detroit."

Brown called response to "Cupcake Wars" "crazy" and "phenomenal."

"We'd like to be a success story. You know something that just kind of started off small and is now growing. ...We want to grow, be successful and see where it takes us."

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