Category: famous bakers

My interview with Pamela Ahn, contestant on TLC’s ‘The Next Great Baker.’

As many of you probably already know, on December 6th TLC debuted a new show with one of their most famous baking stars; Bartolo “Buddy” Valastro of Carlo’s Bakery in New Jersey. I’m sure pretty much everyone knows of Buddy by now, his show Cake Boss is crazy popular. And in that vein, the new show is called Cake Boss: The Next Great Baker. It’s on Monday’s at 9 p.m. EST. What’s the premise, you ask?

In the series, TLC favorite Buddy “Cake Boss” Valastro, along with various family members, put 10 talented pastry chefs through the ringer to earn the title of “Next Great Baker.”  At stake – $50,000 cash and a chance to work side-by-side with Buddy at Carlo’s Bakery. Each week, Buddy pushes the contestants’ baking and decorating skills to the limit through a series of increasingly difficult challenges that test their business sense and cake artistry. Someone will be sent packing each week until the NEXT GREAT BAKER is the last one standing.

I’m a huge fan of Cake Boss, TLC, and pretty much any show involving cakes and challenges, so when TLC e-mailed me and asked me if I’d like to interview one of the contestants, Pamela Ahn… I was psyched! But I decided to do it a bit differently; I thought I’d let my fans & readers in on the fun by allowing them to ask some questions of their own.

Pamela is a 29-year-old married electrical engineer AND baker from Washington D.C., and the owner of PamCakes. Busy lady! If you watch the show, you’ll know Pamela had a rocky moment in the first episode with her burnt cake, but stayed in the game and redeemed herself with beautiful red velvet baby shower cupcakes. The Monopoly cake was rough, but it’s hard working with others and having all your various visions come together in one cake… but that’s alright, she made it through and she’s still in the game! Judging from her answers below, she seems like my kind of baker; she does it because she likes to eat it, and it’s still fun.

Here’s a link to a video interview with her for the show, but like I said… me & my readers have some burning questions, so let’s get to it…

Question: What made you want to be a part of The Next Great Baker? (from me/Cupcake Rehab)

Pamela: My friends encouraged me to apply and since I love cake & I love Buddy, I said why not?  I don’t have anything to lose so I filled out an online application and the rest was history.

Q: What’s it like to “work” with Buddy Valastro? (from me/Cupcake Rehab)

P: Buddy is an inspirational man and he smells like cake!  :) All jokes aside, Buddy and his entire family are amazing, kind hearted people.  They touched me and inspired me to believe in myself and my talents, as raw as they are.  I am so thankful and blessed to have met them and I can say my life is better because of it.

Q: Does having a baking business & doing a show like this ruin baking for you; for example, does holiday or birthday baking become a chore when you do it all the time with all this pressure? Does it make it easier since it’s not being judged? Or do you just enjoy it so much that it’s always fun? (from me/Cupcake Rehab)

P: Participating in the show definitely tested my love/passion for baking & creating cake.  This experience actually confirmed my passion and love for cake is not only for fun/hobby, but it is also something that I want to excel and get better at.  Life’s a journey and this cake industry for me is no different, I hope to continue to work at mastering the skill and continue to bring my own unique perspective into it.  In the end, it is my dream to use what I’ve learned to help others do the same.

Q: What advice do you have, if any, for up & coming bakers, people looking to open a bakery or small bakery owners? (from me/Cupcake Rehab)

P: Well, I feel like opening a bakery or a shop is something I can speak less to.  Currently, what I have is my website: pamcakediva.com to share tips and recipes and make baking easier. The background work and time it took to make my vision for this blog to get setup was challenging and required a lot of research.  Entrepreneurship is something new to me.  I’m learning as I go.  However, I can share with you that anything in life for me has been a step process.  Step-by-step you’ll get to where you want to be.  Set small attainable goals so that you are not overwhelmed and the more you do, the better you will feel about the overall goal.  If your goal is to start a bakery, do the homework, research, and work towards it.  There are people and networks of people in your area that is more than willing to help, just don’t forget to seek them out.  I started small and didn’t realize at the time I was building a portfolio and numerous recipes.  I started baking for family and friends and in many ways things just started to fall into place.  The demand grew and with that my recipes and portfolio grew as well.  I still felt insufficient when I applied to be on the show, but I guess some of that accumulation of my previous work was there to support my big dream.  I just never thought it would ever come true.  Be brave, take chances, but make sure to pave the ground works for yourself so that you can have a chance at success.  In summary, dream big, but start small.

Q: What’s your favorite kind of pastry, dessert or cake to create?(from me/Cupcake Rehab)

P: I love all desserts actually!  Life is short, eat dessert first!  I love experimenting with new recipes.  I especially love Asian inspired desserts.  I would have to say my favorite would be a toss up between the Taro Cupcake & Mango-Passionfruit cake!  So delish!

Q: You’re a wife, an electrical engineer, a contestant on this new show, you have a business and you have a dog- how do you have time to do everything you do!?(from me/Cupcake Rehab)

P: I feel like time management and being flexible is a huge part of life.  Everyday I have to make a conscious effort to try to be a better wife to my husband, a better engineer at work, and a better cake artist.  I often make mistakes in all the above, but it’s how I learn from them that defines me and not the evident failures or successes.  I do feel overwhelmed sometimes, but then I work to re-prioritize, reinvent myself, and work to be better.  My dog, Tiger, is simply my joy in life.  He makes me laugh.  Tiger gets to lick the extra frostings from time to time and keeps me healthy when I jog/walk with him.  There is never really an answer to doing things the right way in life, it is just a journey to me.  I feel blessed to have someone wonderful to experience life’s ups and downs with and I try to take these endeavors in my life with a grain of salt.  I remind myself that lifestyle is how you want to define it and I try not let it define me.  I feel grateful to have an understanding/loving husband, be an engineer, a contestant on a baking show, pamcakediva.com, and Tiger, but I know all this is only possible by grace and not by might.  If tomorrow, any of these things change in my life, I’ll have to re-evaluate, adapt, and try to make it work for us.

Q: Why do you bake? (via Facebook from Heather, www.baketastic.com)

P: I love to eat it!  I have a passion for food, especially yummy desserts.  I started making them to share with family & friends and before I knew it, it became something I was known for amongst the people I know.  I bake, because I have a deep love for delicious desserts!  I bake for people, because they really seem to enjoy it and provide me constructive feedback to make it better!

Q: Where does your inspiration come from? (via Facebook from Heather, www.baketastic.com)

P: My inspirations for baking come from everything around me.  Common grocery and kitchen items such as Almond paste, and other neat items I can find at the grocery store, inspires to try out a new recipe each time.  I also love using Asian influenced items in my desserts.

Q: What is your secret for alleviating back pain from hunching over the production table? (this is a very important one! (: ) (via Facebook from Heather, www.baketastic.com)

P: I take a few breaks between cake making and cake decorating and I do stretches and yoga poses.  Just a few minutes of simple upward and downward facing dog does wonders for your back.  My advice is to not wait until you feel some stiffness before getting up and stretching.  Us baker are great with timers.  I recommend scheduling in your intermission stretches with your cooking timer and set it for every hour or so.  Posture is another key thing.  I have to make a conscious effort to sit up straight and maintain a lifted back even when I typing and even more so when I’m spending hours decorating cakes.

Q: Does your engineering background help structurally with the cakes? (via Twitter, from Sela)

P: I do believe my engineering training helps me design and understand the structural elements for cake design.  However, a lot of it goes back to the laws of physics, old fashioned trial and error, and using online + other resources on learning about cake structure.

Q: The transition from engineer to cake decorator/baker – any regrets? (via Twitter, from Sela)

P: Currently, I am still taking on both.  I do have thoughts of transitioning, however, I do like to take things a step at a time.  I have absolutely no regrets in getting my hands and feet wet and into everything cake.  I really do love it and believe that I have finally found my passion.  Cake baking/decorating allows me to combine my experiences in life and gives me absolute freedom in self expression and design creatively.  I really love it and would do it again if I can go back in time!

Q: Specialty cakes can get so involved with how they look that there’s a trade on how they taste, whats your thought on that and how do you balance quality of product with visual effects? (via Twitter, from Sela)

P: Be creative & adapt.  Be confident with what works and what doesn’t work, but always veer on the safe side.  I once had a client that really wanted a moist coconut cake in a Topsy Turvy cake.  The most moist coconut cake I know is one that you bake a vanilla or yellow cake and drench it in coconut milk immediately after it is baked, however, I needed a structurally sound cake sponge to use for the Topsy Turvy design.  So I adapted and baked the coconut milk into the cake recipe with my own alterations to the recipe and the cake offered that same coconut milk flavor, it was moist, but not unstable like the drenched version.  I think most clients are reasonable as long as you are willing to be flexible with them, be up front and help educate, offer them options, and be creative with your solutions.

Q: What do you plan to do with everything that you learn in this new experience? (via Facebook, from Leigh, Sweet Deal Bakery)

P: I plan to continue to share my secret tips and recipes on my website and hope that others can benefit from them as well.  I truly believe that each one of us have a dream, and as long as you work hard, stay focused, and is patient the rewards will come along the way.  I hope to use what I have learned to share it with others.

Q: What are your favorite unconventional ingredients? (via Facebook, from Leigh, Sweet Deal Bakery)

P: My favorite unconventional ingredient is the Taro root.  I absolutely love it.  When baked or broiled, it tastes a little like a cross between a mash potato and a sweet potato only with a subtle light vanilla flavor.  The taste is very light, but very satisfying and distinct.  It pairs well with coconut and whipped topping when baked into a cake recipe.

Q: We’ve all had one- so what is/was your WORST baking disaster? (via Facebook, from Iris, www.iris-mylifeinpurple.blogspot.com)

P: If you saw the first TLC Next Great Baker premiere episode, my worst baking disaster is a burnt cake.  Sometimes when you are in a unfamiliar, uncomfortable environment and under a lot of stress and pressure, you become forgetful.  I am still not sure what happened that day, but I’m glad Buddy saw great potential in me and gave me a second chance.

Q: What do you do to calm your nerves before challenges? Do you get nervous at all? If it was me, I’d be vomiting! (via Facebook, from Tania, www.lovebigbakeoften.blogspot.com)

P: I was nervous almost throughout that entire journey.  I was in a high pressure, high stake condition.  I bake in my own home and that is about all the experience I have as a cake maker.  I did different things when I was nervous, I prayed, I did yoga/stretches, I jogged in place to get my blood flowing and get pumped up.  I made funny faces to make myself and other contestants to laugh.  I’m all about hugs so I spread hugs and got a few good ones in return.  I thought about my dog & husband and how no matter the outcome, they will be proud of me and waiting at home to see me.

Q: What is it like to create a work of art under such pressure? (via Facebook, from John)

P: At first it was absolutely overwhelming and almost overbearing, but I think later I just tried to block everything out around me and just concentrate on the root of why I love creating cake & recipes in the first place: these are my stress relieve in life.  I love making cake, because I’m able to block out everything else in life and just indulge into my own creative freedom.  Once I was able to focus and concentrate, the rest was just white noise in the background.

And finally, just for fun and totally off topic…
Q: If you could paint the White House any color, what would it be? (via Twitter, from Yoyo, www.topstitch.org)

P: Purple, because it is my favorite color!

Thank you again, Pamela, good luck on the show, say hi to Buddy for me and happy holidays!

P: It’s been my pleasure!  Come visit me at www.pamcakediva.com!

I really want to thank Pamela for being such a great sport, and being cool enough to answer all our questions. I still have no idea how she even had time to!And also, best of luck on her journey towards being the Next Great Baker. And don’t forget to watch the show; Monday nights at 9 p.m. on TLC (I think they replay the show from the week before at 8 p.m.)!

As for me, I’ll be watching… and I’ll also be back with a new Christmas cupcake recipe in the next day or two.