The grueling stress a Colorado pastry chef endured on a televised baking competition almost convinced her never to try that again. Four years ago, Amber Croom tested her skills and her nerves on Food Network’s “Holiday Baking Championship.”
“All of us suffered from a case of PTSD afterward. Standing there looking like ‘What just happened?”’ says Croom. Perhaps the memories of the 2016 experience became more enjoyable and less painful over time. The Alabama native changed her mind and decided to give it another go when she was offered an opportunity to cook on a new Food Network show. “Every chef I know has at one point in time dreamed of being on ‘Chopped,’ and what you would do and what you would make,” Croom says.
The new series that premiered Feb. 3 is “Chopped Sweets.” Four chefs are tested on their abilities to impress a panel of judges with desserts created out of “eccentric” mystery basket ingredients. The winner of the three rounds collects a $10,000 prize.
Nothing to Prove
This time around, Croom took on the challenge feeling more confident about who she is and her talents as a pastry chef. “With the ‘Holiday Baking Championship,’ I felt the need to prove myself. I felt the need to validate who I was as a chef and that I had made the right decision in changing my career from engineering to pastry.”
Before enrolling in Culinard’s pastry program, Croom was a student at the University of New Orleans. She planned to become a naval architect and marine engineer until the Hurricane Katrina disaster in August of 2005. “After that happened, I looked at what really brought me joy, and I decided to go to pastry school,” Croom says.
Her inspiration for cooking and baking comes from growing up with a mother who is a phenomenal cook. Croom and the “Holiday Baking Championship” runner-up both planned to become architects before changing careers. She and Shawne Bryan, now an executive pastry chef at a Bahamas hotel, bring a scientific mindset to their creations. “You’re very calculated. You’re very methodical. I think that helps a lot in pastry as far as composition and how things look,” says Croom.
The pastry chef has no doubt that she has made the right career choices. She left Rimini Gelato in Vail, Colorado shortly before traveling to Los Angeles to film the “Holiday Baking Championship.” Croom definitely preferred the one-day shooting schedule and faster pace of the “Chopped Sweets” show she appears in at 10 p.m. Eastern Time on Monday, Feb. 10. “We get there at 6 a.m. You try to make it through all your rounds. If you make it to the end, you’re there until 11 or 12 o’clock at night,” Croom says.
Faster and More Fun
Concocting desserts from the mystery baskets leaves the chefs on “Chopped Sweets” with no time to think about anything but your own game plan. “I think for me, doing that is what helped me stay focused on what I was doing and not really worrying about what my competition was doing,” says Croom.
The theme of Croom’s episode on Food Network is chocolate. A fact she finds ironic because her mistakes with a white chocolate dessert box on the “Holiday Baking Championship” led to her departure in the fifth week of the competition. The “Chopped Sweets” challenge had the pastry chefs coping with adding savory ingredients to their chocolate creations. “They had one that was Indian inspired, so you can just imagine an Indian savory dish that you have to put into a pastry. That was probably the weirdest one,” Croom says. “It was definitely a ride I will never forget ever.”
The new show is a development the pastry chef is glad to see because of the focus it puts on her profession. “There is a market for it. Pastry chefs are just as capable and inventive as savory chefs, so to give that a voice and put a face to that is amazing,” Croom says. “I was very happy to be a part of the inaugural season.”
Building Own Brand
After her departure from the “Holiday Baking Championship,” Croom moved to Baltimore to work as a pastry and sous chef during the inaugural year of the Sagamore Pendry Hotel in 2017. She next took an opportunity to work as a chocolatier for one of D.C.’s largest catering companies, Occasions Caterers. Now, she envisions a future that gives her the freedom to build her own brand. “I have a lot to offer,” says Croom. “My goal is to have my own test kitchen as well as to teach from it and grow the next generation of pastry chefs.”
As the founder of And 4 Desserts, Croom also wants to do menu consulting and make amazing desserts for restaurants. “A lot of restaurants don’t actually have the money to spend on pastry chefs. So, being able to create menus for them as well as wholesale products is definitely a goal of mine.”
With private catering and some teaching opportunities keeping her busy, Croom is more than ready to take the steps in constructing her vision for And 4 Desserts. As for the $10,000 prize “Chopped Sweets” had up for grabs, tune-in to find out if she nabbed the money for a fabulous vacation.
Follow Amber Croom on her website launching soon and on Instagram.