Angel Food's Katy Gerdes on Project Runway, pizza donuts, and winning $10,000
If you're a fan of donuts and competition cooking, then you probably already know about the show Donut Showdown on the Cooking Channel. But if you weren't tuned in for Friday night's episode, you might not know that our very own Katherine Gerdes of Angel Food Bakery went head to head against two other competitors in a fierce pastry throw down -- and won big.
Local pastry chef Katherine Gerdes won big on the Cooking Channel's Donut Showdown
While donuts were new territory for her, Gerdes is no stranger to televised competition. We sat down to talk a little bit about donuts, baking for Angel Food, and how her time as a competitor on Project Runway helped her to prepare for the world of pastry competition.
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Katherine Gerdes: I've always been into baking so as I kid I was always doing it in the summers and whenever I was bored, or for family holidays. I don't have a grandma that bakes and my mom doesn't cook, so when we needed 10 pies for Easter, that was always my job. I was just kind of self-taught that way and then all through design school, I would get a job as a pastry assistant. I just kind of talked my way into those jobs and I'm not exactly sure why anybody actually hired me, but I think I was good for summer assistant.
Then I did the fashion thing and to put it bluntly, I just don't like that industry. My personality just doesn't gel well with the fashion industry. I'm not cutthroat in that kind of way. I mean, I'm super competitive in other ways, but I just couldn't put up with it.
Having a design background could actually be pretty helpful in terms of pastry. Would you say you were able to put those skills toward baking?
I needed to get out of the fashion world, so the next logical move was to find a job doing something I knew that I could get a job as, which was a pastry chef. The design lends itself really well to pastry, because anybody can put frosting on top of a cupcake, but can you make it look nice? Can you make people want to buy it for $3? Having gone to design school, you can translate that way of thinking into anything that you do. So it's like, how do I take this baking recipe that's maybe clear-cut and how can I change it to make it something brand new?
So, once upon a time, you were a contestant on Project Runway. Were you able to take things that you learned from that experience and apply it to the Donut Showdown?
I think my biggest fault on Project Runway was that I was too aware of the fact that I didn't want to be known as the crazy person on the show, which is something I still believe. I don't want to be known as the crazy person on TV, so I was too self aware in that case. I also was working for Target design at the time, which is obviously very retail-driven, having to think about what millions of people are going to buy, so those two things combined made for a very boring TV persona.
The sheer fact that I'm a business owner now and having to be more aggressive in my daily life, that's helped to bring a lot of personality out of me and on TV, that's what they want to see so I'm not going to hide that. You know, we have 45 minutes to make two dozen donuts and if something gets messed up I don't have time to [say to] Crystal who's my assistant on the show and one of my chefs, I don't have time when we're on TV to be like, "Crystal, I think your hair is really pretty and I love you, but you really screwed that up, so lets try this again." Instead I just have to be like, "DO IT AGAIN!" and just yell at her, and they want that. That's what they want to see on TV and that's what it's like in the bakery on a daily basis.
Would you say that the open kitchen environment of Angel Food helped to make you feel a little bit more comfortable for the show?
You know, I do TV appearances pretty regularly for like live cooking demos and stuff, and at a certain point, you know, they just say that you have to pretend that the cameras aren't there. So I just have to do what I do, and having this bakery has really helped, especially this bakery because you can see everything that we do. You get used to doing everything while you think people are scrutinizing you and if you screw while people are watching, you almost have to pretend that you didn't screw up and be like, "No, I meant to redo this, I just didn't want to do it right the first time!" Having an open kitchen is a lot like being on TV all the time, so I think we were pretty prepared for that mentality.