Another Massachusetts culinary star is proving his chops on a food competition series. Ayer’s own Douglas Phillips, a baking and pastry instructor at North Shore Community College, has made it to the final four of Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship and hopes to punch his ticket to the finale on Monday night. Ahead of the penultimate episode, we caught up with Phillips to chat about his journey to the show, the essentials to great holiday treats and more.
Douglas Phillips talks Holiday Baking Championship
What inspired you to get into baking?
I got in very young. I was about 16 when I started working at a cake shop. I had been working as a short order cook doing savory stuff and I decided that there wasn’t as much artistry in it. I know that there’s a lot of culinary savory cooks that’d have me filleted for that. There is artistry on the culinary side, but I was more drawn to the artistry of baking a pastry. It’s a harder to spot to be in, I think, because when someone goes to a restaurant, they’re almost guaranteed to eat dinner. But they’re not always guaranteed to eat dessert, so you have to entice, not only with your flavors or how it sounds. There are challenges you face that are more unique.
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So what made you want to showcase your skills on Holiday Baking Championship?
My wife, in not so many terms. Food Network contacted the restaurant I was working at. They passed the message along to me and I waited a few days before calling them back because I was not interested. This is not something I’ve ever done or ever wanted to do. Looking back at it, I’m so glad that I did it, but it was nothing that ever interested me. Contests or competitions, I just wasn’t that kind of person. But my wife was like “Why not? What do you have to lose? Go try it out.” So then I did call them back. But I didn’t apply. I didn’t fill out an application. I didn’t seek this out in any way. They came to me, I suppose, and I fell into it. It was a wonderful experience.
What was the most challenging aspect of competing on Holiday Baking Championship?
The timing is really strict. You have 90 minutes to make something you might make it two days. It becomes about what can I pair back or how can I do this in the absolute, most efficient way. You really have to have this constant game plan running through your head, because they give you the challenge and then they say go – and that’s it. A lot of times, I would just have my sharpie and a blank sheet of paper and sort of sketch something out, and just go. You don’t really have any time to think beyond that.
What’s the key to serving up great baked goods during the holidays?
Things that people expect. If there’s something that someone makes every year because everyone loves it, it should appear there the next year. I love holiday cookies. You’ve got your gingerbread, your sugar cookies. My aunt always made baklava. My mom always made sugar spritz cookies that come out of a little gun. I always love those. My grandmother made pies. Keep it simple with things like that.
There’s a lot of science that goes into baking. How do you balance that aspect with the artistry of baked goods?
The science aspect has really captivated me. I really love the science of baking a pastry. I do a lot of research. Right now I’m reading several books based on it. I think understanding it really allows you to move forward in ways you didn’t think before. The way that you develop is by ratios. When I’m on the show, I’m thinking about what ratios make a cake, what ratios make a cookie. From there, you just adjust. I want this to be a cinnamon, so I change this to cinnamon. I want this to be a fruit cake or this or that. The science behind it is the reason you can succeed. That’s the reason that I have in my career succeeded so greatly. Understanding the fundamentals is what makes you great in the long run. It’s like anything. We have to understand Algebra 1 before we go to Calculus. If you understand why things happen you can put them together in ways people may not have seen before.
Holiday Baking Championship airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on Food Network