The man responsible for the delectable desserts at a list of Oxford hot spots is moving through the Food Network shows, premiering on a new baking-based competition show this weekend fresh off a win on Cutthroat Kitchen.
City Grocery Group’s executive pastry chef Dwayne Ingraham came from a small town in Louisiana and decided to travel north to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. There, he found his first restaurant job as a waiter at Chesterfield’s in Hattiesburg and soon realized he wanted to turn that into a career.
“But I love putting food on a plate. That is what I thrive for,” Ingraham said. “I could be in that kitchen every day with those guys and being in that environment. I love it.”
He soon transferred to the New England Culinary Institute and learned quickly there his love for pastries and baking could be turned into a profession. From there, he hopped around the country and landed a few high-profile gigs in Las Vegas casinos before joining the Oxford community in 2010.
Ingraham is the pastry chef for five of Chef John Currence’s six Oxford establishments, perfecting the ending to a meal with delicious cakes, tarts, ice creams and more.
“My favorite part of my job is actually getting to create dessert menus, especially the ones for City Grocery,” Ingraham said. “That’s the one that I definitely use a representation of exactly what I want to be doing and where I want to be going as a pastry chef. It’s our fine dining establishment, so I have a little more liberty to play with more components.”
Ingraham is also a little familiar with the small screen after his big win on Cutthroat Kitchen in February where he was challenged to not only cook three courses but deal with a handful of painful sabotages along the way to victory.
“You never know what to expect on that show, you’re just kind of hoping you’ll make it through the day,” Ingraham said. “It’s all about surviving those sabotages. I did enjoy the competitive side of it, but I’m very internally competitive. It wasn’t about just how I could stand up against the rest of the competitors, it was about is my technique and training and skill, has it been enough to get me through anything this show may throw at me.
“That’s where my competitive side comes from, it’s an internal battle of trying to always strive to be better and be the best at what I’m doing.”
This weekend, Ingraham will be broadcast into homes around the country once again as he competes in Food Network’s Spring Baking Championship Sunday at 8 p.m. CST for a chance to win $50,000. Bobby Deen hosts this sweet competition as contestants attempt to rise to the occasion with their springtime treats and win a sweet spot in the hearts of judges Duff Goldman, Nancy Fuller and Lorraine Pascale. While Ingraham loves his work in the restaurants, this competition gave him an opportunity to focus only on the challenges and what his skills could do to win.
“I have never felt more creatively free in a long time like that,” he said. “What was wonderful about this show was it gave me the opportunity to only have my own limits to worry about. Whenever I’m creating a menu, there are a lot of things I have to take into consideration. Being on Spring Break gave me a chance to only worry about my limitations and what I could do. It was such an inspiration to be in that environment and push myself to see how far I could go.”
Since the Cutthroat Kitchen win and the commercials for Spring Baking Championship have begun, Ingraham has been recognized around town, and the incredibly humble chef is amazed every time.
“It’s been really wonderful. It’s definitely made me feel a sense of community,” Ingraham said. “I didn’t realize how many people in Oxford knew who I was. I have a small little island in the Currence empire in the back corner, and I’m always surprised when anyone knows my name.”
Ingraham is one of the lucky ones who was able to persevere through tough times and prevail as one of the top pastry chefs in the country, and he has advice for any aspiring chefs looking to go far in the culinary industry.
“Make sure you love it, make sure you want it. This industry is tough,” Ingraham said. “It’s long hours, the pay is terrible for the most part, you’re going to miss most likely every graduation and birthday, your weekends are gone. Whenever folks are in party mode, you’re feeding them. If you can get through all of that, learn your craft. This is one of the few jobs that’s still a very craftsman trade. We apprentice and need to watch everything to move ourselves forward.
“If you want to make it in this industry, don’t get so single-mindedly narrowed in on one specific thing. If you want to be successful in this business, make yourself a jack of many trades. Learn as much as you can because what’s been really cool about this position I’m in — we’re able to provide a little bit of everything. When John shows up and wants bread, we can provide that. When he wants ice cream, we make our own in house. That makes me more valuable.
“Understand every aspect of what we do, and then the love for what you’re doing will shine through those techniques.”
Amelia Camurati is editor of HottyToddy.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.