Mystic's Adam Young shows promise on first episode of Food Network's "Best Baker in America"
Walk into the bright and airy Sift Bake Shop in downtown Mystic and you’ll be presented with exquisitely crafted chocolate raspberry tortes in eye-catching fuchsia, lemon tarts with jellied centers, opera cakes, and macarons of varying flavors, including peanut-butter-and-jelly, mimosa and rose water. This sort of perfection comes at no easy cost. Every variable, from air temperature to humidity — elements that could potentially distort the intended results of these remarkable creations — must be accounted for, ensuring that sponges, meringues and chocolate glazes are perfect. At Sift, owner and head pastry chef Adam Young is in control of all that.
In the studio kitchen of the Food Network’s “Best Baker in America,” however, those factors are in complete flux.
“It’s hot in that kitchen. That’s something that the viewer is not aware of,” Young says while explaining his time competing on the second season of the bake-off television show “Best Baker in America,” which was filmed over two weeks in Los Angeles in February.
“We are baking in essentially a studio, and there are lights and there are cameras and there is heat coming off those lights, and it’s just a completely different environment,” he says. “You usually have a very controlled environment to create pastry in, and this is a little more, I don’t want to say chaotic, but uncontrolled. … Even the humidity in the air, being out in Los Angeles, plays a big impact with the tenderness of the pastries.”
Fans can tune in at 9 p.m. Mondays to catch Young compete on the bake-off until he wins or is eliminated, neither of which he could disclose to The Day as per Food Network stipulations. The show, which selected nine competitors including Young, features 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. The season finale of “Best Baker” will air June 18, and a grand prize of $25,000 will be awarded.
Working in kitchens since he was 12 and graduating from the New England Culinary Institute, Young, now 33, 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 during his 20s. He was named head pastry chef at Westerly’s Ocean House Hotel & Resort in 2010, and he stayed there until opening his French-inspired bake shop 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 — a stroke of luck, he says.
“That was great because it gave me an opportunity to watch the first season and how it played out. I could ask myself, ‘Am I a good fit for the show?’ And after watching it, I was like, ‘Oh this is great, I feel like I could definitely do well on this.’ So when they called me for the second season, I said absolutely.”
Still, the crux of the show is catching competitors off guard and challenging them in improbably difficult ways. To see whether Young is finally able to make the grade, you’ll have to tune in every week to find out.
But on Monday’s season premiere, Young seemed to navigate the kitchen with complete ease. Besides acing the show’s cake challenge, he also won the petit-four challenge straight out of the gate — establishing himself as a formidable competitor.
The trick to creating show-stopping pastries, Young says, is to simply “use what you know.” Chocolate molding, for example, is one of Young’s greatest strengths.
“I wanted to implement that a little,” he says, while talking about the exquisite white chocolate lotus flower creations he made to top his cake in the second challenge and the thin chocolate rings he placed on the challenge-winning petit fours. “I just wanted to have some embellishments that would kind of make mine stand apart from the rest of the competitors.”
Young does admit that his time on “Spring Baking," however, helped ease any stage fright.
“It takes the initial jitters away when there are cameras in your face and you’re sweating,” he says. “What’s always running in the back of your mind is that, at one point or another, America is going to see you mess up. If you burn something, if you break a piece of chocolate, or a structure, everything is documented. You can’t go back, and there aren’t any retakes.”
But making mistakes also didn’t seem to be an issue for Young on Monday — a feat considering that other competitors had difficulty enrobing their petit fours or keeping their cakes from toppling over.
“That’s actually when I do my best work, when it’s go time and there is no turning back,” he says.
In the case of the first challenge, as other bakers watched their petit fours come out lumpy or uneven, Young, staying calm under pressure, enrobed his layered delights with a piping bag, ensuring control and accuracy.
“All of that work that goes into making the layers — baking the cake properly and filling the layers properly — none of that matters until you are at the most critical point of the glazing, or the enrobing, process,” he says. “If you put all this work into the perfect petit fours and you screw up the glaze, there is no coming back from that. And there is no time to redo all that stuff either. Anytime you are doing any sort of glazing technique, like, that is the pinnacle.”
“(Petit fours are) one little bite, so you want every layer — the French buttercream, the ganache, the praline, the milk chocolate, the amaretto — all those things really need to pack a punch to make that entire petit four harmonious,” he says.
And even though Young watched the first season, he says he never practiced new baking techniques or potential ideas to execute before going on the show. Baking every day in the Sift kitchen was enough.
“A lot of people did practice before going on the show, but I actually do my best work off the cuff,” he says. “I think it’s almost better to go in blind than to really know. It forces you to really get creative and be resourceful as opposed to going in there with a game plan and knowing what you want to do.”