RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond baker Keya Wingfield is one of 11 chefs competing on the newest season of Food Network’s Spring Baking Championship. Growing up in India, it took years of hard work and self-motivation to be able to test her skills against some of the best bakers in the country.
Wingfield is originally from Mumbai. Although she’s always had a sweet tooth, she didn’t start baking until 11 years ago.
“I had never even seen an oven before I moved here,” Wingfield said. “I always enjoyed the sugary aspect of food.”
In Virginia, Wingfield started working a variety of jobs, eventually enrolling in J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College’s Pastry Arts to turn her love of sweets into a craft.
“At the same time, I also got a job at a local bakery as a counter person,” Wingfield said. “I was always peeking in the back. I’m like, ‘What are you guys doing? Can I see? Can I see?'”
The bakery owner noticed Wingfield’s curiosity and invited her into the kitchen, where she learned to decorate cakes.
“I would decorate cakes at night and then go to school in the daytime,” she said. “I worked in every bakery in town.”
In 2010, Wingfield opened Candy Valley Cake Co., focusing on cake pops, which, at the time, were not the staple they are in bakery shops today.
“I started making them, really, just for fun because I thought they were so cute,” Winfield said. “Also, I love the fact that they’re portion-controlled because coming from India and seeing American portions, I could never connect.”
Since opening her own bakery, Wingfield has shared her work with dessert enthusiasts outside the Richmond region through social media, which is how she was discovered by Food Network.
“I was contacted by the production team on Instagram,” she said. “I have a pretty active personal Instagram where I talk about my Indian roots and my food.”
Those roots are what make Wingfield so adventurous with her flavors.
“My point of view is American desserts with an Indian twist,” she said. “My roots are Indian, but my training is Virginian, and at all times, I’m trying to combine the two and bridge the gap between.”
That mindset led Wingfield to tackle challenges on Spring Baking Championship in ways different from her competitors.
“I would stay up late at night, trying to figure out my game plan or the recipe or look at different ways of how I can continue to incorporate my point of view into a dessert, which is challenging because nobody else was doing that,” she said. “I had to convince the judges that my palette that I’m offering is good.”
In each episode of the show, bakers typically are asked to meet two challenges: one for an advantage in the second challenge and the other, which is an elimination round. They are given set amounts of time to complete each bake.
“The clock is real. It does not stop,” Wingfield said. “When you have 90 minutes, you have 90 minutes, period. So that tension that you see in shows like these is exponentially high in the actual kitchen.”
Over the course of filming the newest season of Spring Baking Championship, Wingfield faced another unique challenge. She was in the second trimester of her pregnancy.
“Being pregnant doing a show like that, I had my reservations, I did. But my doctors were very encouraging,” she said. “I couldn’t run around the kitchen like the other chefs were doing it. I couldn’t go and grab and reach for something really fast, or all those little things that really add up when you only have two hours to make a wedding cake.”
That’s compared with the four or five days Wingfield says she would normally spend making a wedding cake.
“An actual wedding cake is a labor of love,” she said. “But the show is a different format.”
Despite the stresses of baking under time pressure and being pregnant, Wingfield said she enjoyed her time on Spring Baking Championship.
“It is equal parts the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but the funniest thing I’ve ever done,” she said. “It was hard because you have to think on your feet.”
Wingfield said many of her competitors had more training than she did, so she was able to learn from them in the kitchen, as well as take advantage of all the ingredients the Food Network pantry had to offer.
“I did get to experiment quite a bit with different ingredients because they had a really wide pantry,” she said. “I don’t think there was any spice on that shelf that I did not use.”
Back home in Richmond, and now a mother of two, Wingfield is also going through a rebrand for her bakery, combining her Keya and Co. Instagram with her Candy Valley Cake Co. business, and working to expand her dessert offerings.
“I hope [viewers] learn that — be adventurous with your flavors. Try different things,” Wingfield said. “I hope they see how much of my heart I put into a plate, and I hope they learn about Indian cuisine or Indian flavors or a different way of experiencing a different flavor palette.”