Cliff Butler, the pastry chef at Dobie Twenty21 Student Spaces, serves hundreds of students a day. Starting next Monday, Butler will serve up not only sweet treats, but also large helpings of entertainment on the Food Network’s newest season of “Halloween Baking Championship.” On the show, Butler and other contestants will compete in a series of baking challenges to win $25,000.
The Daily Texan spoke with Butler about his passion for baking and his experiences on the show.
The Daily Texan: How did you get into baking?
Cliff Butler: I was in my early thirties and decided I wanted to go to culinary school. There was a school that had been open just a couple of years called Le Chef at Austin (now called Le Cordon Bleu School of Culinary Arts). It was a 12-month program — nine months in culinary and three for baking and pastries. When we got to the baking and pastries part, I kind of knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and I’ve been doing it for thirty years now.
DT: What is your favorite pastry you’ve ever baked?
CB: I’m kind of old school, so I look to take Southern desserts, but try to put a modern twist on them. I was the executive pastry chef at the Tropicana Casino & Resort in Atlantic City. I combined a beignet with Italian food. I took a beignet and stuffed it with sweetened ricotta cheese and chocolate chips, deep fried it and served it with three different sauces. It was good.
DT: How did you get involved with the “Halloween Baking Championship?”
CB: I applied just like everyone else. It’s a long process to get on, I’ll tell you that. You have to show pictures of your work, and you have to (do) telephone interviews. Then, you do Skype interviews. For one of them, I had to make something and show it on the Skype interview. I had to describe what I made and what I did.
DT: On the show, you don’t know what you’re going to bake until they tell you. What is it like having to work under pressure like that?
CB: It was one of the most difficult things of my life. Seeing it on TV and then being there in person doing it are two different things. It’s very stressful. You barely have time to think. You’ve gotta come up with what you’re going to do right then, and you have to know what you’re going to make. You have a matter of minutes to get started in your head.
DT: Could you describe your interactions with your competitors?
CB: We just kind of gelled. We all keep in contact with each other, and we actually all became really good friends.
DT: What’s your number one baking tip?
CB: When it comes to baking, I think patience is the most important ingredient. Unlike cooking, where you can just throw a steak on the grill or sautée vegetables, baking takes patience. Not only do you take something from nothing — a cook takes meat that’s already been made — a baker takes flour, sugar, eggs, milk, whatever, and creates something, and then you bake it, and then you decorate it. A lot of people say you can just about take any baker and make him a cook, but you can’t take a cook and make him a baker. It’s two different worlds.
Catch Cliff Butler on the new season of “Halloween Baking Championship” next Monday, Sept. 25 at 8 p.m. CST.