Ten amateur bakers from across Canada will face off in a new season of CBC's Great Canadian Baking Show, and among them is a 29-year-old Calgary engineer, Oyaks Airende.
He says his passion for baking stems from a childhood memory that has transformed into a talent.
"I watched my older sister and her friends bake my fifth birthday cake … I remember vividly it was a square, vanilla cake," he said.
"I was blown away by the entire process. And I just thought, 'OK, I'm going to do this on my own someday.'"
When he moved to Canada several years ago, he figured it was a good opportunity to start baking.
Then during the COVID-19 pandemic, he says he found himself baking more often. Last spring, he spotted an ad for the casting calls for the show.
"I thought, 'OK, I might as well just put in my application' and that was it," Airende said.
Though it's his first baking competition, he says he's baked all his life.
He says baking is a combination of arts and science — which, with his engineering background, is helpful.
"My background in engineering and science … has helped me understand how the different ingredients react to just give you those decadent and lovely treats you find on the shelves everywhere," Airende said.
His specialty is cakes — especially his signature red velvet cake, though he can't divulge whether he made it for this show.
"That's my go-to," Airende said. "I think I can bake it with my eyes closed."
When it comes to cake decorating, he says it's a chance to put on his "artistic hat" and create both classic and modern designs.
"I tend to put out some … designs that a lot of people find really bold and eccentric," Airende said.
Critiqued with cameras 'all over'
His friends are big fans of his baking experiments and have critiqued him before, he says.
But having his sweet creations critiqued on a TV show was a unique experience, Airende says, especially when two celebrated bakers were judging his work.
"It's a whole different thing, you know, having cameras all over," he said. "It was kind of nerve-racking, but I enjoyed the process as well."
He says it was also a bit strange filming amid COVID-19 restrictions.
"Everything had to be based on COVID protocol … face shields, when you're off camera, everything you touch gets sanitized, [there's] social distancing, of course," Airende said.
He described the people "looking like Ninjas" around the set.
"It was a little bit awkward. But, I mean, we had to maintain protocols and safety first."
The new season of the show launches this Sunday, Valentine's Day, on CBC TV and CBC Gem.
Airende says he'll tune in with friends, virtually.
"[I'll] probably have like a Zoom party with some of my friends and the other bakers as well," he said.
With files from The Homestretch.