City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

Did Atlanta cake artist win Food Network’s “Halloween Wars?”

148334_130289733693226_130289367026596_142204_6211601_nKaren Portaleo, lead cake decorator at Atlanta’s Highland Bakery, has been part of a team that made it to the big finale of the Food Network’s “Halloween Wars,” which aired Sunday night.

The team’s spooktacular creations have dazzled judges throughout the four-episode series but competition has been ghoulishly fierce.

So, did Karen and company win?

Well…spoiler alert…


Her team, the “Bling Bats” actually stumbled early on, flubbing the first challenge with a design that seemed to confuse the judges. Rivals “Team Boo” took that one and seemed confident moving in to the final contest. Portaleo appeared pretty stressed throughout the episode and said during an on-camera interview that the idea of not winning was more than she could take.

This photo from the Food Network shows detail of one of Portaleo's creepy creations on "Halloween Wars."

This photo from the Food Network shows detail of one of Portaleo's creepy creations on "Halloween Wars."

Not to fear. Her team ultimately prevailed.

Judges loved both team’s designs but raved over Portaleo’s team’s confection, calling it daring, original and overwhelming (in a good way!)

“I’m kind of prepared for anything,” Portaleo said in the last on-camera interview before the verdict. She also confessed she had a tissue tucked away in case of defeat. But there were only happy tears.

“Winning ‘Halloween Wars’ is such an honor,” she said in a voice-over. “I know this experience will affect my work forever.”

Portaleo, who created a designer birthday cake for Jane Lynch this summer when the actress was here filming “The Three Stooges,” is in Hong Kong at the moment but sent us a celebratory message via email.

“The final challenge on ‘Halloween Wars’ was by far the most stressful but I was lucky enough to work with two incredible artists. By the end of a long, crazy, wild and exhausting day, we were the ones holding the champagne glasses…and a check for $50,000!”


- Jennifer Brett/The Buzz/

56 comments Add your comment


October 23rd, 2011
10:43 pm

I have been watching this series! I didn’t know she was local. I have been rooting for Team Bling Bats! Yeah!


October 23rd, 2011
10:50 pm

The bling bats had the stupidest idea for an end project it had good detail but the idea of an obese devil sitting on a green meatball with a poorly created bat in its mouth is stupid when the other team had an evil gargoyle perched on the entrance to hall with smoke coming from it and an entrance to hell in the back that looks life like who would you want to win ?


October 23rd, 2011
10:52 pm

go bling bats, what a great job and so well deserved………….yum yum all the way.


October 23rd, 2011
11:22 pm

The Bling Bats did a great job on the other episodes, but did not deserve this win! If each episode was being judged independently, which I believe it was supposed to be, the win belonged to Team Boo!! I was so disappointed to see the judges make that poor call. Team Boo absolutely presented the underworld as instructed and worked so well together (more so than during the entire competition). They left nothing to be desired in their scene. Everybody contributed their best and the whole concept was cohesive and beautifully detailed. Anyone that saw this has to know that they were robbed. I never blog about anything, but I had to find some place to blog about this because I hope that they read the blogs and know that some of their viewers feel that they should have been the winners. Again, for the Bling Bat fans, I think the Bling Bats did a great job during every other episode and deserved the wins that they received. They have a lot to be proud of; however, they did not earn this win. I really think that the judges gave them the win due to past efforts. I totally agree with Billy’s comments above – the concept was poor at best and the execution wasn’t even very good. So disappointed that I could not sleep until I found out if I was the only one watching who felt the same. Good to read Billy’s comment so I know I am not alone in my opinion.


October 23rd, 2011
11:41 pm

Team Boo totally won this!! Bling Bat’s piece looked like an awful menagerie of messy colors.


October 24th, 2011
12:28 am

I loved all of Bling Bat’s pieces up till their final one. Team Boo BLEW them out of the water and deserved too win! If they only gave it too bling bats due too their past wins then there was no point in even having a finally b/c no other team would have stood a chance even if they created a life size replica of hell!! esspecially since bling bats won every small and large scare challenge it wouldn’t even matter how amazing the other team did against them. I have never been more dissapointed in a competitions result. I actually yelled “you have got too be kidding me?!” at the TV. As others said team bling bats final piece had lots of muddy looking colors, and I would NEVER EVER guess it was an inspiration of the underworld. If I have no clue what the contest topic was I would have never known what they were going for. Team Boo’s piece was beautifully put together … the whole thing was hands down my favorite one throughout all of the halloween war episodes! And that says something b/c I watched the second one 5 times just too see team bling bats sleeping beauty design since it was so well executed. But Team boo HAD the image of the underworld down PERFECTLY! what do you imagine when you think of hell? a fat devil on a cyclopse pumpkin … or an eerie gate w/ a demon, bubbling water, ash and fire? … not too mention their bats! Was I the only one who noticed they had a fluttering bat? it completed the piece perfectly! Team bling bats bat looked like a piece of halloween candy chewed up and spit out on a stick! It’s like Team Boo shouldn’t have even tried b/c bling bats was going too win regardless. Not too mention ray’s extreamely perfect pumkin carving skills! He’s the one who held that team together even when they had terrible designs. he busted his ass. the only pumkin carving the guy on bling bats did that wowed me was the sleeping beauty pumpkins … other then that I found his carving too be amature at best…. I can’t tell you how many times I have put jagged teeth on a halloween pumpkin just like he did on the finally! These judges should be ashamed that they didn’t judge the finally on it’s lone basis, not on all the other competitions! And how in the hell could they look at that devil and say it’s scary?! Are you kidding? it looked like an overweight used car sales man in his halloween costume! whats scarier a demon of the underworld or a fat devil? I could go on and on forever. I watch all the foodnetwork cake competitions and this is the only one that actualy upset me in the end … so much that I had too write this long post!


October 24th, 2011
1:07 am

I thought each challenge was judged individually? If it wasn’t then I agree that Bling Bats deserved to win. However in that last challenge, Team Boo should have won hands down. Better carving, better concept, and higher level of difficulty. I thought Bling Bats did an OK job on the final challenge, but it did NOT deserve to win. My husband and I think its rigged. Team Bling’s bat was horrible, the inside of the pumpkin was sub par, and the devil sitting on top looked like something an average art student could create. Disappointed in the judges. You win some, you lose some. Team Boo got robbed.


October 24th, 2011
1:15 am

TEAM BOO SHOULD HAVE WON!!! Hands down. I was totally disappointed with finale. Get better judges next year that look at whole picture and not show favortism.


October 24th, 2011
4:11 am

I completely agree! Team Boo should’ve won. The judges liked the Bling Bats so much that they had already made them the winners in their minds despite their shortcomings. I thought the show was “Halloween” Wars….with that title, you’d think they would care more about the use of the pumpkins. Team Boo was criticized when the pumpkin was the emphasis of the piece and the candy and cake elements were secondary. Where was that same criticism when the Bling Bats made a cracked egg, or a frame, or just a hole in the pumpkin. Weren’t the other elements more emphasized than the pumpkin in those cases? New judges next year, please. This was so aggravating to watch.


October 24th, 2011
5:50 am

agreed,team boo definitely took that one


October 24th, 2011
6:31 am

I actually missed the finally last night but am now more anxious than ever to see it because of the comments given about both teams. I admit that team boo has been carried by their pumpkin carver and has been subpar to bling bats thus far so if they pulled it out of the box then great. But has anyone thought about that maybe bling bats won because that judge gave that stupid comment last week about changing their formula. Her comment was like throwing a wrench into a perfect running machine so maybe bling bats felt compelled to go a different way they are known for beauty as well as scary. So maybe food network felt they had to give it to them to save face from that dummies comment. Plus I don’t know any competition show that doesn’t take all the shows into consideration past and present. The decision isn’t supposed to be based souly upon that but they always reference it while forming a final decision. I’m sorry for team boo but in my opinion it doesn’t matter if team bling bats created a pumpkin rock and placed it on a cake stick with candy sugar on top they were going to win and they deserved it this finally was just a way to showcase that team boo has great talent also so both teams businesses get a boost in their careers (it’s great advertisement even when you don’t win.)


October 24th, 2011
6:34 am

Team Bling Bats…save your soul from hell by doing the right thing and giving the title and the money to Team Boo. You did not win that final competition and you know it! Team Boo destroyed you. They created the movie set piece that you did in the previous rounds. The judges will find themselves answering for their sins of lying, stealing and cheating Team Boo of their rightful victory!

Joshua John Russell

October 24th, 2011
7:04 am

You all make me ashamed to be an Atlantan! You should be supportive of local talent! I was asked to this competition as well and was told the winner would be selected based on the “Body” of work! You are the people who hold our city back! Shame on all of you! Try doing a competion of this magitude in from of cameras and away from home! Could you be more petty! This is disgusting!


October 24th, 2011
7:49 am

Did not know they were local. Congrats on all of the pieces. They were outstanding.


October 24th, 2011
9:01 am

To J. J. Russell, The only shame here should belong to the judges. As I, and most other people said, the Bling Bats did a great job on their other pieces, but as NightMaiden said, if they were going to judge this based on all of the presentations, what was the point of having the final competion and implying that it was independently judged. They never said “body of work” like on Chopped when they make it clear the decision is based on all the “courses” that have been presented to the judges. The Bling Bats have a lot to be proud of, but if these were judged independently as was implied to the viewers, Team Boo was ROBBED of their win. Again, like NightMaiden, I have never felt compelled to blog about the result of a show, but I was beyond disappointed by the judges decision. They were wrong, wrong, wrong and shame on them not us.

girl six

October 24th, 2011
9:14 am

wow, bats did show out in the previous competitions. i taped last night’s, i agree with the person who says she cannot wait to see that one now. comment to come.


October 24th, 2011
9:14 am

Wonderful news! They did great!


October 24th, 2011
9:15 am

Congratulations to team Bling Bat! I did not know Karen Portaleo was from Atlanta and was proud to see a local win the competition. All you that say she shouldn’t have won should be ashamed, she worked hard for the win. You too should also be proud that an Atlantan won the competition!!!!!


October 24th, 2011
9:25 am

The competition was judged on the body of work, not the individual challenge. I’m so happy for our local talent!


October 24th, 2011
10:45 am

I agree….Team Boo….should have had it….they came up with an awesome underworld Concept”"”My handz down to Team Boo”"”"”


October 24th, 2011
11:12 am

I am so glad that I am not the only one who thought Team Boo did the best job at the end. The bling bats did not deserve that win. Team Boos was way cool.


October 24th, 2011
11:46 am

Someone call the police…… Team Boo got robbed….. Ray is and always be the “MASTER” Pumpkin Carver……. Everyone on Team Boo is so talented…… I think the judges got this wrong, so wrong…….


October 24th, 2011
12:09 pm

Why have a final contest if you are going to give the prize to the one who won the previous challenges but not the current one.

Team Boo is the real winner here – in this FINAL challenge.


October 24th, 2011
12:16 pm

I am so on point with Kimberly. I could not sleep. Team Boo should have won this. They were on point with the instructions given. I thought the team that won, had a fat court jester, the eye of a cyclops and the mouth reminded me of the plant Seymour – feed me! What does this have to do with the underworld? I also agree with Lisa, someone call the police! Team Boo was robbed! If I had $50,000 I would give it to Team Boo! really would.


October 24th, 2011
2:05 pm

Do you know where we can see photos or video of the two final pieces?


October 24th, 2011
2:31 pm

Week after week, Karen Portaleo’s imagination and artistry spearheaded her team to some amazing pieces that blew the other team’s out of the water. Even Ray Villafane, who is an amazing artist and captain of Team Boo, couldn’t keep up with her talent. I am in awe of her talent and even though the finale was weaker than some of the other pieces Team Blingbats produced, was still worthy of the win. Team Boo’s piece was great too, however predictable.


October 24th, 2011
3:33 pm

Team Boo Won that last challenge hands down. Bling bats did incredible work for most challenges but the last one was not met. No flying bat, no underworld and there pumpkin looked like a Protozoid Slimer from the Duke Nukem video game. That show was either rigged or the judges should be discredited and disqualified as they judged on overall performance of the entire series and not the final challenge.


October 24th, 2011
3:58 pm

As the majority of the posts here indicate Team Boo won the final competition. If the final decision was to be based on the overall competition that fact should have been stated and as said in a previous post the final competition would have been a waste of time since the Bling Bats won all of the other competitions. Other Food Network shows make it clear if they are going to judge individually or overall. Sweet Genius is one show that judges individually. Chopped is based overall. If Food Network is going to start using judges that who can’t see quality work then it isn’t worth wasting my time watching any more of their competition shows. I think Food Network needs to come clean and cough up fifty grand to Team Boo and apologize for their idiot judges. To Team Bling, enjoy your winnings but you have to admit you lost the last two competitions in the final show big time!


October 24th, 2011
4:08 pm

Team Boo won the final competition absolutely! They met the criteria perfectly and had a wonderful presentation. It’s not a matter of where the winner is from ro what they did last week – it’s WHO DID THE BEST WORK THIS WEEK!


October 24th, 2011
4:18 pm

Team Boo should have won, not the bling bats.

Eda Feyler

October 24th, 2011
4:46 pm

The Bling Bats did not deserve to win this time. They were sloppy and their end piece was confusioning and they were missing the bat!!! The Boo team did an exceptional job and hit it right on! That was an awesome cake. Very disappointed with the judges to make such a poor decsion. This woman seems to be in every contest and wins all the time. It makes me not want to watch anymore.

Colleen Ruzicka

October 24th, 2011
6:19 pm

I was very disappointed with the judges choice of the winner The bling bats very talented , Team Boo
blew them away. I call for a rematch.


October 24th, 2011
7:58 pm

Agreed – not even a close call in the last challenge. Team Boo had a mesmerizing piece while Bling Bats had a sup par, cartoonish, crayon-colored disaster. The judges got this ALL wrong


October 24th, 2011
8:15 pm

This was supposed to be a week by week challenge. Did they change the rules? Bling Bats did NOT deserve to win this one. Team Boo brought it and finished the final challenge in a big, scary way. They deserved the win and I’m extremely disappointed in the judges.


October 25th, 2011
6:24 am

I agree with everyone!! Team Boo was robbed!! I never blog either but was so upset about this I too had to find somewhere to rant!!! Bling Bats piece looked like a cartoon and wasnt scary at all.


October 25th, 2011
7:02 am

I have to say that The Bling Bats deserved to win. While Team Boo did their best cake so far, it was not better than the Bling Bats cake. Perhaps the Team Boo folks are upset because this weeks cake was their most cohesive, but it was not better than the Bling Bats cake! In terms of style, originality, artistry or cohesiveness, the Bling Bats deservedly won! And to top it all off, so to speak, she is a hometown girl!

girl six

October 25th, 2011
8:38 am

okay…ummmm…i watched my dvr. i saw the show. i saw both pieces. team boo’s was off the chain. however–even though bat’s bat was not batty, their idea and the wings on their creature were very scary. the impish devil riding the pumpkin was not scary. just glad i was not responsible for choosing a winner.

Northern girl

October 25th, 2011
12:03 pm

Like everyone else here, my daughter and I have been breathlessly watching every episode of Halloween Wars. I happened to see it on Sunday night, but had to watch it again with my daughter on DVR. Her reaction was the same as mine. “You Have Got to Be Kidding Me!!!” We absolutely LOVED all of Bling Bats work up until this last night, especially the “Sleeping Beauty”, Karen and Susan’s work was beyond phenominal every single week. That being said, I did not think that their concept showed me “The Underworld”, the devil reminded me of a fat elf instead of something scary.
This is what I would love to see. Karen Portaleo, Susan Notter, and Ray Villifane TOGETHER! The Food Network Dream Team!!!


October 25th, 2011
12:44 pm

Though Bling Bats devil on the top was bigger – I feel Team Boo should have won it!! They put more effort into their whole design it was very well put together…. the gates in the front, their inside cave – the misty smoke – and their bats swinging outside the cave was very realistic and more cleaner looking then Bling Bats – the Bling Bats design was very cheesy looking their bat did not even look good and did not move aroung like Team Boos Bling Bats didn’t deserve to win. The judges should be thrown out too!!


October 25th, 2011
1:32 pm

I even emailed Food Network I was so upset with the results. Don’t get me wrong, Team Bling Bats is very talented, but Team Boo litteraly blew them out of the water.

On the bling side

October 25th, 2011
3:06 pm

It was said several times he should have sculpted the demon to larger scale. Kudos to Ray for taking it full on – but Team Boo’s figure was off scale. (Did you see Karen measuring her figure out??) Team Bling’s bat was lame but maybe their candy confection tasted better. Personally I liked the obese devil on Karen’s cake – down to the disgusting pores on his nose. As far as a team, although both had A personalities on both teams – the Bling Bats were more cohesive as a group and all allowed to have a say. Ray took way too much control — again, awesome job but I did like Bling’s concept better. Team Boo’s was predictable, Team Bling’s more imaginative. But I would love to see a rematch—Thanksgiving??Christmas??? Easter????

Gran Norma

October 25th, 2011
3:17 pm

No surprise that Karen Portaleo is being slammed by individuals that have failed to recognize not only her genius with cake, pumpkins and other challenges, but her grace under pressure and professional work ethic.Hope that this positive comment reaches the decision makers at Food Network.


October 25th, 2011
3:26 pm

While Team Boo was so/so, Team Bling Bats deserved to win. I’m looking at it from an over all performance point of view throughout the whole competition. Team Boo couldn’t get their stuff together for a while, had some pretty amateur like products, and then they “Dynasty” performance of this one chick…c’mon…they lacked throughout. Sure the pumpkin carver is an awesome artist; however, unfortunately, you’re only as good as your team. A friggin’ cuddly brown bear waving with an bum arm out of a chocolate pool…wow…nope, they didn’t deserve to win.


October 25th, 2011
3:42 pm

I’m sorry to see that the judges get this one wrong. Up until the last two contests, Bling Bats were the best, but the last two belong to Team Boo – NO CONTEST ! The head of the devil on the clown’s body was outstanding, the rest was second rate. Team Boo’s final showing was outstanding, far more detail, sure the demon could have been larger, but so what…the entire sculpture was far more detailed than Bling Bats. Both my wife and I feel that the outcome was already decided before the final contest.


October 25th, 2011
3:49 pm

saw this link from @AtlantaDining – this is amazing – I think some people need to find something more to get upset over than competitive baking shows… #firstworldproblems


October 25th, 2011
4:15 pm

I have to say that I am so disappointed that Team Boo did not win. Their display was magnificent. Bling Bats’ display was ok, but in my humble opinion, it did not compare to Team Boo’s. I’m so very disappointed. Ray, you and your team did a wonderful job. You guys were gypped out of $50,000. I think the judges had a soft spot for Bling Bats throughout the whole competition and were biased. I agree with Dan that the outcome was already decided before the final contest.


October 25th, 2011
4:57 pm

Apparently, most of the people did not watch previous Foodnetwork contests or understand the judging procedure. Then it would be obvious why Team Bling Bat won and why they deserved to win.

It would have helped if the show explained what the challenges were judged on. From the judges’ comments and previous Challenges/Contests/etc., it appeared that the judging was based on 4 criteria (in no particular order): 1. Representation of theme, 2. Technical difficulty, 3. Artistic merit, and 4. Teamwork (how well each artist incorporated their specialty into one cohesive unit.

If the challenge was based solely on #1 (representation of theme), I could understand the upset feelings. Team Boo nailed this part. It was on the other points that Team Boo fell short once again.

#2 (Technical Difficulty): Up until the final challenge, I was very impressed with Ray’s pumpkin carving. But that giant pumpkin basically just hollowed out and stones carved on top that the cake decorator colored was meh. I didn’t know most of the competitors (especially the pumpkin carvers), but Ray was a master. The only other time in the competition I didn’t like his work was in the stuffed animal small scare challenge. He basically hollowed out a pumpkin for a pot (no carvings that made it stand out) and cut out some small cups (I wouldn’t have known what they were if he hadn’t said so). You could say that he was working on the gatekeeper. It was very good, but he did it out of modeling chocolate. The cake decorator (sorry don’t know her name) should really have worked on it (it’s her area). The comment the judges made were that the gatekeeper would have been more impressive if it was larger (a menacing figure standing over the gates to h*ll — my comments). Shawn, on the other hand, carved menacing teeth on a grand scale. Susan Notter ran rings around Janson(?) throughout the competition and the last one was no exception. On another forum that I visit regularly said that the hot sugar poured over the ice to decorate the interior of the pumpkin is a basic skill that beginning sugar artists learn. Also, the dry ice is something every Halloween party giver knows. It would have been better if it was red smoke or bubbling/gurgling river. Susan’s giant wings and the cyclops eye were more difficult. The cake decorator basically covered the ground and made the branches. The bats she made looked like flies buzzing around in the background. Neither did well with their bats. However, Karen shined with her devil in the details.

#3 (Artistic merit): Some of these comments will overlap. Team Boo’s creation standing by itself looked very impressive, but put it next to Team Bling Bats, it would have been overwhelmed. The judges commented on the “Wow” factor. If you came upon the two side-by-side, you would notice Team Bling Bat’s first. The sheer size and color makes it stand out. Team Boo’s is more muted and looks like a scale model.

#4 (Teamwork): This is the closest that Team Boo came to working together to make one cohesive piece. However, Ray’s work still overshadowed the others in terms of effort and difficulty. Janson’s sugar work (he seemed more comfortable with chocolate) could have easily been replaced by a number of other people.

When you put everything together, Team Bling Bat just won out.


October 25th, 2011
8:09 pm

Well, this sucks I thought that Team Boo was going to win because of the pumpkin carver!!!!!!!!!


October 25th, 2011
10:22 pm

There’s a reason why THE MAJORITY of the posts here favored Team Boo in the last episode: Team Boo was better. Period

Yes, Team Bling was better in the previous episodes but in the last episode, Team Boo was far better.

Plum Girl summed it up best in her opinion on this matter:


October 25th, 2011
10:54 pm

The winner wasn’t picked on the individual challenge people. Either way I preferred the bling bats final piece over the other piece. Opinions are like a**holes, everyone has one.