A sweet holiday surprise…Monterey baker featured on the Food Network
It’s that time of year when we love to indulge in sweets. Tammy Hunziker, who owns Room for Dessert in Monterey, specializes in custom-decorated sugar cookies. She recently competed on the Food Network’s Christmas Cookie Challenge. In the show, contestants bake and decorate holiday-themed cookies in a set amount of time.
The episode already aired, but you can still watch it. KAZU’s Erika Mahoney interviewed Hunziker in her bakery. They talked about cookies, competition and creativity during COVID.
Erika Mahoney (EM): Well tell us about competing on national television.
Tammy Hunziker (TH): It was so exciting. When they first reached out to me, I thought it was a spoof. And then they kept messaging me and asking more questions, and I realized it was for real. And I was so flattered and humbled and beyond excited…and nervous, of course.
EM: How do you think they found you?
TH: Instagram. And again, I thought it was a spoof and was so glad that it wasn't.
EM: So tell us about what it was like when you showed up for the actual filming of the show.
TH: It was incredible. It was at the Discovery Studios in Kentucky. You just walk in and the building is huge. The set was massive and so impressive and so festive. Just Christmas all over. There was a huge sprinkle wall, which I really liked. At our individual stations, we only had the most basic of ingredients: butter, sugar, flour, eggs. Every other ingredient or tool that we needed was stationed throughout the whole set.
EM: For those of us that watch these cooking show competitions, you always wonder, are you given a heads up about what you have to make? Did you know anything?
TH: We didn't know what we had to make. The thing that was really nice was we had to go through a bunch of baking auditions, if you will, so that they can see if you're capable of doing it. They don't want you to look bad.
EM: So without giving too much of the show away, because people can still watch it, you did make it to the final round. And what's really cool is you represented Monterey Bay.
TH: My family has lived in the Monterey community since before California was a state. And so to be able to represent my hometown, and a place that I love, was just extra exciting. And it was really easy to incorporate Christmas themes into the second round, which was snow globe. Very touristy sort of thing. and we are a tourist town. We have snow globes on our wharf and in places where visitors would come to see.
EM: Just thinking about the Monterey Bay area, you've owned this business (Room for Dessert) for 12 years. How did you become a baker?
TH: Totally by accident. I love to bake. I was a stay-at-home mom and always baked for my daughters and was the PTA mom that loved to bake. And then I ended up opening a full commercial bakery at a local private high school and did the food service for that high school and actually five other schools for almost 10 years. Then I had two storefront bakery locations in Monterey.
EM: Has the pandemic affected your business?
TH: I actually have only benefited from the pandemic. I have to say I feel horrible for everyone who's suffered. But what happened is people really wanted to make celebrations extra special. So now, instead of having a birthday party where you might have the whole class or more, you only had your immediate family. And because custom cookies can be out of some people's budgets, because they weren't ordering 200 for a birthday party, they were ordering two dozen. And so I was able to actually do all those special events and it was phenomenal. Also, there was a lot of at home time, and so I made cookie decorating kits so that you could come and pick up cookie decorating kits and it could be a fun project.
EM: Well, it's the holidays. What is your advice to the amateur baker?
TH: My advice to the amateur baker is love every minute because it doesn't matter what it looks like. It really only matters that it was made with love because it is a real ingredient that goes into everything you do, and it makes the complete difference in the quality of the time of the project.
Tammy Hunziker owns Room for Dessert in Monterey and recently competed on the Food Network’s Christmas Cookie Challenge. You can still watch the show, search for season 5, episode A Very Retro Christmas. We won’t tell you how it ends…Happy Holidays.