Written by Phil Cerroni
By Alice Canham
Got a taste for reality TV? Soon you’ll have the opportunity to watch – and cheer for – an Irving resident as he battles the competition on ‘Sweet Genius’, a Food Network presentation.
Joe Baker and his wife Blair, who was raised in Carrollton, have lived in Valley Ranch for about a year. He teaches locally at Cordon Bleu, specializing in desserts. Being a pastry chef is his lifelong dream come true.
“I spent my childhood cooking with my parents and my grandparents,” Baker said. “I was always drawn to the elegant pastries that surrounded holidays.
“When I was very young, eight or nine, I was always experimenting with food creations that were well beyond my skill level.
“As an adult, I never gave up that love of pastries, so I kept pursuing it.”
He has also worked as a sous chef, but it’s pastries that push his buttons.
“I’m enamored of the challenge,” he said. “The specificity of every single movement we make…I think I’m lucky to do something I love.”
Raised in Montana, Baker grew up on game and seasonal ingredients, with a healthy respect for freezing, canning and pickling. It gave him an appreciation for using every ingredient wisely and with care.
A stint in the military only underscored that attention to detail, which he furthered by attending L’Academie de Cuisine.
“I remember the day I stopped being a regular cook and realized I was someone who was on the path,” he said. “I got this amazing job straight out of school and frankly, I wasn’t qualified for it. I was working with another guy, more seasoned – he’d been there a year or so, plus a lot of other places – and we were working on this one banana dessert. I was just hacking at that banana because I was in a rush, unfocused – almost in a panic.
“He looked at me and told me to throw everything away. He was concerned that if I didn’t care about that banana, I might not care about anything I had done that day. It really had an impact on me – to always do it right. To care about everything I prepare.”
Being in Dallas is also part of his dream come true.
“I think honestly North Texas should be a stronger food scene,” Baker said. “We should be on par with New York, New Orleans or L.A.
“We have a particular cuisine here. I love grapefruit and pecans – they’re both a part of our rich, Texas heritage. The wonderful produce that’s available year round – I couldn’t ask for a better place to be right now.”
Baker can’t say what his dessert challenges will be on the show, but the Food Channel has provided a tantalizing teaser: the chefs get a fruity cereal as their mandatory ingredient in the first test. The second test? Candy confections from a strawberry drink and a yellow pepper.
“Based on the show’s charismatic nature, I expect I’ll need to pay close attention,” said Baker. “We [four contestants] will all just be reacting to whatever surprise they present us with.
“I have never won a single competition before. It’s almost a running joke with me and my friends – that someday I might actually win something.”
What’s next? Baker will keep teaching, and he is working with Dallas restaurateur John Tesar to create a dessert menu for Tesar’s forthcoming restaurant ‘Spoon’. Maybe he’ll seek out more experience in front of a camera.
“I had never cooked on a set before,” said Baker. “I saw room for improvement.”
The season premier of Food Genius is Oct. 18 at 9 p.m.
Some information provided by the Food Channel.