BEAR CREEK — Hannah Councilman always had a dream: to have her own cooking show on the Food Network.
That dream got a step closer to reality when the Bear Creek native was selected as a competitor on the network’s 2022 season of “Halloween Wars” — a spooky baking competition featuring sugar work, cake baking and pumpkin carving.
“I would go play outside and go to my play kitchen, and I would pretend I have my own cooking show,” Councilman said of her childhood. “I was able to live my dream … I just cannot believe that it’s been checked off my bucket list.”
She remembers being a toddler and sitting on the kitchen counter, swinging her legs while watching her mother create delicious treats and meals. In fact, her mother was the one who introduced Councilman to baking, which ultimately became her passion.
“I remember first thing I ever made was brownies, and mom would always just encourage me,” Councilman said. “She was so patient and, no matter if it took longer, or if I messed things up, she would always just have me in the kitchen as her shadow.”
That passion would ignite something in Councilman — a dream to attend culinary school and work in the food industry.
After graduating from her home-school high school program in 2019, Councilman attended Wake Tech Community College in Raleigh, where she double majored in culinary arts and baking and pastry arts. Councilman also received a scholarship from food distribution company U.S. Foods, which paid for her entire studies at Wake Tech.
And for her final project at Wake Tech, Councilman was tasked with making chocolate for Sam Ratto, founder and owner of Videri Chocolate Factory in Raleigh.
“He tried my desserts and he was like, ‘Can I hire her right now?’” she recounted. “I was hired on the spot.”
Councilman, then just 19, became one of the head chocolate makers at the Videri Chocolate Factory, where she works to this day.
And as her career at the chocolate factory was beginning, Councilman, 20 at the time, was contacted by a Food Network casting agency, which saw her sugar work on her Instagram page.
“This was the biggest dream of my life,” she said. “I auditioned and found out I was going to be a sugar artist for Halloween Wars, season 12.”
Before she knew it, Councilman was on a plane heading to a studio in Utah, where the show would be filming for over four weeks.
Halloween Wars traditionally features several teams, each team consisting of a pumpkin carving artist, a sugar artist and a cake artist. The three teammates work to create elaborate, spooky displays based on a themed challenge.
Councilman teamed up with two other Food Network newbies — Jannet Michael, who worked with the pumpkins, and Reggie Harris, who baked and sculpted the cakes. Together, they became Team Squad Ghouls — and according to Councilman, her team was seen as the least likely to win.
“What was crazy is that we were absolutely the underdog,” she said. “All the other teams had at least one person who had already competed (in a competition show) before. So we were the only ones, we were walking into this blind.”
Filming was a taxing event — a six-day work week with each day lasting 12 to 15 hours meant long, exhausting days for Councilman and her team. Squad Ghouls created several elaborate displays during their time on the show, and in turn, proved they deserved to be competing against some of the best in the business.
Councilman said despite its underdog status, her team went on to win the first episode on which they were featured.
“The whole attitude shifted,” she said. “Everyone realized we were here to play, so it was just wild.”
Each week from that point, Councilman’s team continued to advance in the competition, even avoiding elimination in the “bottom two” in one episode. Team Squad Ghouls eventually made it to the semifinals before they were eliminated, ending their five-episode tenure on the show. Despite being eliminated that episode, Councilman said some of the best compliments from the judges on her work came from that episode.
Former NFL player Eddie Jackson tasted one of Councilman’s creations — a gluten-free chocolate cake with a peanut butter buttercream icing, with pieces of fried red seaweed coated in chocolate throughout the cake.
“Eddie said that it was the best cake he had all season,” Councilman said. “You can see my facial expression when you watch that, and I had no words.”
After filming through January, Councilman went back to Bear Creek, where she had to keep her role in Halloween Wars a secret for months. She said once she was able to reveal she would be featured on the show, the community came out in droves to show support.
“At the Goldston Old Fashioned event this year, I would walk two feet and someone would stop me and say they watched me on the show,” Councilman said. “Just to be able to see the amount of support from everyone and from people that I didn’t even know … it was just so encouraging.”
The last episode of Halloween Wars aired on Oct. 30, but there’s more in store for Chatham’s own Food Network star.
Councilman, now 21, said she is continuing her work at the chocolate factory, as well as working on her food blog, Rosemary Whisk (www.rosemarywhisk.com), which showcases gluten-free and dairy-free recipes Councilman uses on a daily basis.
Councilman said for her, being on Halloween Wars was validation she picked the right career, one she wants to continue for as long as she can.
“This is the right field for me,” she said. “It was just a very validating mark of where I’m supposed, to be who I really am … it was just so encouraging.”
Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @HeedenTaylor.