Mystic's Adam Young wins 'Best Baker in America'
Mystic — Adam Young, owner and head pastry chef of Sift Bake Shop in Mystic, was able to "pull out all the stops" to be named the Food Network’s Best Baker in America on Monday night after competing on the competitive bake-off show of the same name.
Young was awarded a grand prize of $25,000 — a lump sum that he intends to invest in his newest venture, a second Sift Bake Shop, which opened in Watch Hill at the end of May, and toward hiring additional staff for both locations, he said Tuesday.
“It was just total flattery,” Young said. “I always feel confident in what I produce but you never know. For the finale, you don’t see the judgment of the other competitors, so you don’t know what the judges like and what they didn’t like, and you don’t see it compared to yours. So you really have no idea how you stack up to the others, you just have to wait and see.”
On Monday’s finale episode, Young competed against two impressive finalists in their own right — Jean-Francois Suteau, a famous French pastry chef currently working in West Virginia, and Lasheeda Perry, head baker at the Four Seasons in Atlanta, Ga.
“Those two competitors are very, very strong. Lasheeda is strong in taste and flavor, and Jean-Francois is very strong in presentation,” Young said. “To be able to outmatch them in both categories was amazing. To be very honest, I’m very surprised that I won.”
As part of their final bake-offs, the three competitors were tasked with making a chocolate torte as well as a grand chocolate cake as their final masterpiece. Competitors are given their assignments just moments before a bake-off begins, requiring them to think quickly.
Young’s torte combined apricot with lavender, a tricky combination that can quickly go overboard without proper oversight.
“Lavender with apricot pairs nicely. And lavender and chocolate pairs nicely together. But you have to be very careful when you use lavender because it is a strong, fragrant, French herb,” Young said. “It can very easily overpower everything. When you’re using it, you have to be very conscious about it because it can really get very out of control.”
'A Hail Mary every time'
As for the finale cake, one that required the use of chocolate and caramel, Young soaked his chocolate cake in a coconut rum syrup, stacking each layer with complex, textural fillings — coconut praline combined with crunchy, creamy, smooth, salty and sweet layers. On top of that, Young elected to use fruits that paired well with chocolate (think: passionfruit, coconut and mango) — the entire thing made to perfection in just six hours.
“It sounds like a lot of time, but really, when you’re doing all that stuff — you’re making the cakes, they have to bake and cool, you have to fill and stack the cakes, the glaze and chocolate work — it really consumes the entire six hours for sure,” Young said.
“The strategy is like a Hail Mary every time. You work as hard as you possibly can. You implement as much technique as you possibly can. You pull out all the stops, all the decorative elements that you know how to do, that you can make in that short amount of time,” he said.
Young is being named Best Baker in America just two years after launching his own French-inspired pastry shop in downtown Mystic — a period of time that he has characterized as “very, very busy.” Besides getting a new business off the ground, Young also simultaneously welcomed the birth of his first daughter, Stella, who is now 2 years old. Since then, Young, and his wife, Ebbie, have had to balance raising a child as well as an ever-expanding business — one that requires Young to work early mornings, late nights, birthdays and holidays. Though it's all been an incredible effort, the ride has been worth it, he said.
“We have an awesome family and to be able to say now, ‘Hey, all this hard work isn’t for nothing,’ it’s really gratifying,” he said.
In addition to receiving the constant support of his family, Young has garnered the support of his surrounding community. On Monday night, hundreds gathered at downtown Mystic’s Pizzetta Pizza, a restaurant that sits next to Sift, for what was supposed to be an “intimate” finale viewing party to support Young.
“It feels amazing. Obviously, we had a wonderful night last night,” Young said. “The community is so sweet. All of our regulars came out. ... It was an amazing feeling to be surrounded by a community who was so supportive of (the show) and of me. I’m on cloud nine today. It’s more than a wonderful feeling.”
Second try at TV
Working in kitchens since he was 12 and graduating from the New England Culinary Institute, Young, a Vermont native who is 33, has quickly established himself as a well-regarded pastry chef after studying under French master chef René Bajeux and pastry chef Joy Jessup in New Orleans throughout his 20s. He was named head pastry chef at Westerly’s Ocean House Hotel & Resort in 2010, and he stayed there until opening Sift in 2016. Prior to Ocean House, he was the head pastry chef at an exclusive club in Vero Beach, Fla., as well as other stints in New Orleans and Washington.
This is not Young’s first time on a baking cook-off show. He was one of nine contestants on "Spring Baking Championship," which aired on the Food Network in 2017. He was then one of three to make it to the finale, though he did not win.
After being invited to compete on the first season of “Best Baker” in 2017, Young had to turn down the opportunity due to scheduling conflicts. It was a stroke of luck, he said, that helped him mentally prepare for the realities of such a competition — one that Young explained as two full weeks of 18- to 20-hour days scheduled with bake-offs throughout the morning, promptly followed by reaction interviews throughout the evenings.
“It’s very, very long days, and that’s part of it,” Young said. “They want to see you fatigued. By the end of the competition, you’re tired.”
Though Young proved himself as a formidable competitor from the get-go, impressing judges with his complex and beautifully enrobed petit fours, two weeks of around-the-clock competitive baking was no easy feat. Thinking of his family, his wife, his daughter and his staff, “basically all the people that support me,” helped him persevere, he said.
Cookbook on the horizon
The show, which selected nine competitors including Young, featured some of the best pastry chefs in the country, many of whom have competed on other bake-off shows on the Food Network in years past.
Looking toward the future, Young says that, in anticipation for a busy summer, he has hired an additional 15 employees over the last few months from his original 35.
“We are definitely going to see an incline in business, and the show is really great for that. It opens us up to a much broader demographic other than people who are close enough to know about the shop through word of mouth. That’s exciting to see who will come around afterward,” he said.
Young also said he hopes to start writing a cookbook soon, one that will include both sweet and savory recipes.
Additionally, Young might possibly open several bake shops throughout New England. Before that, though, Young said he is looking forward to seeing how this summer goes.
While looking back on everything it has taken to get to this point in his career, Young said, “Totally worth it. Totally worth every second.”