Gardnerville resident Roberta Cota-Montgomery, a cookie baker and owner of The Sugared Squirrel, placed first recently on Food Network’s Christmas Cookie Challenge. Cota-Montgomery said Food Network reached out to her after seeing her Instagram page (@thesugaredsquirrel). “I wasn’t going to do it, but my family really encouraged me and I’m glad they pushed me to because it was such an amazing and once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she said. “They have been very supportive of all my cookie craziness, and I can’t thank them enough.” The Christmas Cookie Challenge episode was filmed this spring and aired Dec. 3 on Food Network, featuring five bakers taking on various cooking challenges. Cota-Montgomery earned a $10,000 prize for winning. “It was really neat to see how a show like that is created. The whole experience and behind the scenes and what goes into it was interesting,’ she said. “… Everyone was so nice and helpful to each other.” Cota-Montgomery said despite the obvious that each baker wanted to win, there was no competition among them. “At one point, one of my friends was behind on time, so after I finished mine, I went over and started helping her,” she said. “Everyone obviously wanted to win, but still cared about each other and was willing to help one another out. It was really cool.” In the first challenge, bakers created a “fault-line” design with a crack in the cookie that revealed a surprise. Cota-Montgomery created a gnome mushroom house revealing a tree behind the icing and another that looked like Santa’s toy bag with toys popping out. The final challenge was a hanging giant chandelier cookie. Cota-Montgomery added a touch of her Mexican culture and Lake Tahoe to her creation. “I wanted to represent my culture and where I live into it, so it says ‘Feliz Navidad’ across the top and I added trees and snowflakes to represent Nevada and Lake Tahoe,” she said. Cota-Montgomery was surprised to win and said she is grateful for the experience and the relationships she gained from the show. “I would give up the $10,000 for the friendships I made and to relive the experience,” she said. “It was really cool.” Cota-Montgomery has been baking for as long as she can remember, always helping her mom bake cookies as a child. “I love the creativity of it, nothing is ever the same,” she said. Cota-Montgomery opened The Sugared Squirrel in 2017 after making holiday cookies for friends and family and received requests for more. “I was receiving so many requests, I just figured why not and since our community is so small, I like being a small part of people’s celebrations,” she said. Cota-Montgomery accepts custom orders that can be made on her website at thesugaredsquirrel.com. She said orders must be requested at least two weeks in advance and she is currently booked up at least two months. She also does pop-up events during different holidays throughout the year.