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Overland Park baker to appear on Food Network’s ‘Christmas Cookie Challenge’

Host Eddie Jackson watches over Overland Park’s Robert Duensing as he makes a Things That Go-themed soft butter shortbread car and sleigh cookie on “The Christmas Cookie Challenge.”
Host Eddie Jackson watches over Overland Park’s Robert Duensing as he makes a Things That Go-themed soft butter shortbread car and sleigh cookie on “The Christmas Cookie Challenge.” Food Network

Cooking show contestants often stage their own watch party, but Robert Duensing will likely sleep through his 9 p.m. Food Network TV debut on Monday, Dec. 4.

“That’s past my bedtime: I’m a baker,” said Duensing, who typically starts his workday at 5 a.m.

For a dozen years, the baker and owner of Best Regards Bakery at 6759 W 119th St. in Overland Park has dreamed of appearing on the Food Network.

Earlier this year he made the cut for “The Christmas Cookie Challenge.”

“They wanted someone who was passionate, but not seeking publicity,” said Duensing, who was plucked by casting directors from a pool of 20,000 contestants for a chance to win $10,000.

His 17-year-old daughter worried: “Is it really good for the business if you crash and burn on national TV?”

But Deunsing decided to go for it: “It’s not really whether you win or lose. It’s how you approach it.”

Host Eddie Jackson presided over the contestants as they were given two challenges per episode. “Pioneer Woman” Ree Drummond was one of the judges.

When it comes to baking, Duensing is passionate and self-taught. To prepare for his moment in the spotlight, he devoted three weeks to practice: downsizing his commercial cookie recipes and watching previous episodes at least 10 times. He spent the last night in his hotel putting together timelines for imagined challenges.

“Cookies are really beneath pastry chefs and I have no problem spending three weeks just to get the perfect texture on this one cookie,” he said.

He’s proudest of these three signature 1/4-pound cookies: Toby’s Spiced Apple Pie, Toby’s Chocolate and a Cranberry Orange. He’s also proud of his soft, thick, flaky sugar cookies based on Walker Shortbread, with the addition of eggs.

“I don’t get into the really odd ones,” he said of his Christmas cookie repertoire. “What we try to do is cookies that are big, thick and when you bite into it, you think it won’t be done but it’s cooked all the way through.”

Duensing recalled “The Christmas Cookie Challenge” as “the most intense 90 minutes of my whole life.” An awkward moment came during his three-hour interview when the producers asked him to jump up and down with joy.

“I love what I do, but I couldn’t be a cheerleader without substance,” he recalled. “I was not going to say I will beat everyone because I don’t know about that.”

When he found himself waiting to go on air with a Korean “hipster” pastry chef and two millennials, the contestants joked that they were missing the home cook archetype.

“I raised my hand and said, ‘I’m the old lady home cook,’” he said with a hearty laugh.

To celebrate his TV debut — which happens to fall on National Cookie Day — Deunsing will offer a free 1/4-pound cookie with the purchase of any lunch.

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