ROCHESTER, Minn. — Julie Domaille is known for her incredible expertise in decorating cookies.

Whatever the occasion or the reason, what she does goes way beyond what most of us can do. The cookie is her canvas, her medium frostings of all sorts. The thing is, not only are they showstoppers to look at, but they are also delicious. (I speak from experience.)

In fact, when the Rochester, Minn., baker recently told me she was a finalist on Food Network's "Christmas Cookie Challenge," the news came as no surprise. In years past, thousands of bakers have applied to be a part of this event, but in our tech age, that has changed.

To be considered, hopefuls must have an Instagram account. Knowing this, Domaille has had one for a while. This enables Food Network "scouts" to see the best that is out there in the cookie world, which is how she was noticed.

"They came to me," she said. (You can find her @juliescookiecreations on Instagram or Facebook.)

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Domaille received a message from the production company, Sonic Dog, asking if she'd be interested in participating in the "Christmas Cookie Challenge."

"I was skeptical at first because I was thinking it might be a scam. So I did research, checked it out, and yes, it was legitimate," she said.

What followed were several lengthy interviews, as well as two baking assignments, amounting to an audition. Her first assignment was to bake six cookies in two different designs. She chose to highlight her Midwestern roots with a brightly attired lumberjack, and a little red truck hauling a Christmas tree.

The second assignment was to bake a 3-D cookie. What she came up with was an upside-down Santa stuck in a chimney with his legs poking out. Over several days, she received calls from producers, and finally one with the news that she was one of 20 who'd been selected as a "cast member," their term for contestant.

"Then it all became real," she said.

Rochester baker Julie Domaille is featured on Food Network's "Christmas Cookie Challenge." (Kimi Cieszynski Photography for Food Network)
Rochester baker Julie Domaille is featured on Food Network's "Christmas Cookie Challenge." (Kimi Cieszynski Photography for Food Network)

At the beginning of August, Domaille flew to New Orleans, where the Food Network was set to film. Prior to leaving, however, she needed a COVID-19 test. Once there, she was quarantined for two days prior to the competition.

Once there, the 20 "cast members" were placed into groups of five.

"The talent was insane," she said. "One in my group had been the pastry chef for Disney; the others were all professionals. And then there was me, a hobbyist, self-taught. They were also very young — late 20s, early 30s. I was the grandma of the group at 57."

"Walking onto the set to compete was incredibly exciting," she continued. "All five of us were together, masked, which came off as you were taped. There was a quick walk-through, and then it started. We all had our own stations with a set amount of limited equipment and ingredients, including a few bowls, measuring cups and spoons, spatulas, the basics. If you needed something, there was a pantry where you could run — literally — and hopefully find what you needed. Maybe they'd have it, maybe not. They don't make it easy, and that creates amazing drama — this is a reality show, after all."

Was Domaille able to get everything she needed for the challenges?

"No," she said. "I was missing an essential ingredient for both the cookie and the frosting." She couldn't tell me what it was.

Contestants baked their choices, no recipes allowed. There were also time constraints. The first challenge was 1 1/2 hours, and the second, 2 1/2 hours.

"I got it done even though you couldn't tell the temperature of the oven and there were no clocks, just a little timer. I went by look and feel," she said.

Was she nervous, I asked, my own heart pounding, imagining, as I listened?

"There was no time to be nervous," she said. "It was focus, focus, focus."

Judges for the event were Ree Drummond of "Pioneer Woman fame," and Eddie Jackson, a chef and former cornerback with the Carolina Panthers.

What cookies did she bake, and how did she do? Domaille is not allowed to share any details. To find out, we'll all have to tune in to Food Network at 9 p.m. Monday, Nov. 9. I'm betting my milk money on her.

Rochester Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to life@postbulletin.com.

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