AYER — Pastry chef Douglas Phillips had a sweet television gig.
On Dec. 17, Phillips won the $25,000 grand prize in the Food Network’s “Holiday Baking Championship.”
Season 5 began Nov. 5. The seven-episode bake-off highlighted the chefs’ skills at making everything delicious from cranberry desserts to pumpkin spice-based treats. Phillips’ concoction of “fruit cake cream” in Episode 6 whisked him to an automatic place in the finals.
Phillips’ first job, at age 15, was at a pizza joint and gave him a taste for the industry.
“I took a job at a cake shop after that,” he said days before the finale aired. “I much preferred going home smelling like powdered sugar than of grease.”
After that, he applied to the best cooking school he could find and was accepted at Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.
Phillips, 28, grew up in Ohio, and moved to Massachusetts in 2014 via New York City’s world-famous culinary subculture.
A colleague launched Woods Hill Table in Concord and asked Phillips to head the dessert menu.
“It taught me how to be flexible,” he said. “A farmer would walk in the back door with a crate of peaches. So I got creative on how to work peaches into the day’s dessert selections. You learn to adapt.”
But Phillips gave up restaurant work in favor of teaching at North Shore Community College, and consulting so he could be at home nights to cook dinner for his family.
“I didn’t try out for the show,” he said. The network contacted Woods Hill, offering the opportunity to appear in Season 5.
“I had never done a competition before,” he said. “I didn’t answer them right away, but my wife said, ‘why not?’ So, I listened to her.”
The series was filmed in Louisiana over an undisclosed number of weeks. The nine contestants, rivals on stage, became friends.
“The best part of doing the show was interacting with the other chefs. It is not as cutthroat as you might think,” Phillips said.
Winning for Phillips is less about the money, although “my wife (Taylor) is a school teacher and we’re not exactly rolling in dough,” he said. Rather, the prize is professional exposure.
“I really like living in Ayer,” he said. “It is a nice quiet town and a great place to raise my daughter (20-month-old Claire). Winning the money would help set me up for the future.”
Last week’s season finale, “Gifts of Greatness,” tasked the remaining three contestants with their final projects.
“In the pre-heat, they have to create a beautiful holiday ornament display,” according to the network’s press release. Then for the final showdown, “the bakers channel holiday gift shopping by creating a cake that is decorated like a gift on the outside and reveals a surprise inside when sliced.”
As this season’s winner, Phillips, will be featured in an original video to be aired on FoodNetwork.com, and in a feature article in “Food Network Magazine.”
“This could be great exposure for my new program at NSCC,” said Phillips.
The one-year academic program, which he wrote, at the college will offer pastry and bakery certifications to students interested in a culinary career.