photo by Rob Pryce
Tune into the Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship each Monday on Food Network & discovery+! to watch host Jesse Palmer along with 12 of the best bakers from across the country as they bring festive cheer to our television screens! Each week, one will be eliminated as judges Nancy Fuller, Duff Goldman and Carla Hall narrow down the best Holiday Baking Champion. Winner will receive $25,000 and a spot in Food Network Magazine!
I spoke with competitor Antoine Hopkins, a graduate from the Art Institute of Philadelphia with a degree in baking and pastry, and the current pastry chef at Normandy Farm Hotel in Blue Bell, PA. Hopkins tells us about his time on the show so far, his favorite holiday memories, and some tips to help your holiday prep just a bit easier. The bakers are getting ready for Thanksgiving for the next few episodes, so set your DVRs or tune in on Monday nights at 8pm, EST.
Q: Can you briefly tell us a bit about your career as a pastry chef? Where did you begin and what inspired you to go down this career path?
A: My path towards being a pastry chef began in 2009. I started working in the bakery department at a supermarket. In 2010, I decided to attend culinary school. I always loved the comfort that great food seemed to bring to people and I wanted to be a part of something that makes others happy . I joined the pastry program at school because it was the shortest program. Once I started learning the science behind pastry, I fell in love with it. I was inspired by the seemingly infinite ways to be creative when doing pastry and, of course, the fact that it makes others happy .
Q: You are currently a pastry chef at Normandy Farm Hotel in Blue Bell- what’s one of your signature creations at the venue?
A: At Normandy Farm, one of my signature creations that people have come to love is the Pumpkin Cheesecake with white chocolate, Oreo crust, and a whiskey mousse on top. It’s finished off with house made whipped cream and tempered chocolate deco.
Q: How did you end up on this season of Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship? Why did you decide to go for it?
A: I believe one of the producers found my profile and resume on Instagram or LinkedIn, and reached out to me to see if I was interested in doing the show. I was very hesitant at first because I don’t seek attention and normally just stay to myself . But I also thought that this is once in a lifetime opportunity and I’d always be asking myself “what if?” if I didn’t take it.
Q: In round one, the bakers were asked to create meringue pavlova wreaths in fall flavors. Tell us what you came up with and why you went that route for your wreath.
A: For the pavlova challenge I decided to do rosettes with my meringue because I felt that would make it look more like an actual wreath. I ended up choosing sweet potato and decided to make a sweet potato pastry cream that I could pipe into the pavlova. I went the route of transforming that flavor into a pastry cream because I knew it would be sweet enough, but not too sweet and also have a texture that most would enjoy.
Q: What was your favorite holiday tradition growing up? What traditions do you have now with your own kids?
A: My favorite holiday traditions growing up we’re decorating the house with Christmas lights, helping my mom bake cakes (more like licking the frosting off the beaters!) and going to get the Christmas tree. Now with my own children, we always go get a Christmas tree together and go see all of the cool lights and decorations throughout the city.
Q: If you don’t mind sharing- what’s your go-to hack or tip to make holiday food prep just a bit easier?
A: My hack to make cooking/baking easier during the holidays is to make anything you can in advance. From streusel to top your pies to pastry cream to fill cream puffs – there are a lot of components from sauces to garnishes that can be made days or even weeks in advance, frozen, and then thawed and ready to use when needed. Even most pie fillings can be made in advance.
Q: What do you hope to take away from your experience on the Holiday Baking Championship? What’s your plan if you win it all?
A: One thing I’ll take away from this experience are the great people I’ve met, also the fact that if you focus and stick to your dream, that dream can actually come true no matter what anybody says. If I were to win I would use the money to put towards opening my own place or buying a house for me and my kids.
Fans can get more baking and decorating tips from judge Carla Hall at www.foodnetwork.com/shows/holiday-baking-championship. Or follow along on social media using #HolidayBakingChampionship for tips and holiday-themed games with Duff, Nancy and Jesse.