As part of Black Voices' Sunday Magazine, we're inviting our favorite foodies over for dinner. They'll share their go-to recipes, what they're making this season, and the family traditions that have inspired their love (and soon to be our love) for food.
If pastry chef Buddy Valastro is the "Cake Boss", then Dana Herbert is the apprentice. Better yet, call him the "Next Great Baker," the title he earned after winning the TLC competition hosted by Valastro.
Not surprisingly, Herbert's affinity for food is rooted in family tradition. "In my family, the tradition has always been around the table. Food has always been that driver, bringing the family together," he says. "No matter how busy you were, that would be the one place where you'd find everyone, around the table, laughing and joking and so forth."
Watching his grandmother "burn," as he puts it, is where Herbert began to develop his culinary chops. Grandma's cookies and jams and jellies were only part of the repertoire Herbert remembers fondly, alongside savory staples such as crabcakes, of course. "We're from Maryland, so crab is in everything," he jokes.
Follow that with some Cookie And Biscuit 101 in high school, an undergraduate degree in hotel and restaurant management from the University of Delaware and a degree in both food and pastry from Johnson and Wales, and Herbert was well primed for the "Next Great Baker" casting call that he discovered online last year.
Getting picked for the show turned out to be the easy part. The real challenge, Herbert would find, was taking time off from his position as head chef for a government agency and training his wife, who'd recently been laid off, to run his business while he baked his way to the show's $50,000 grand prize.
"I just kind of went on faith," he says. "I said, 'Well, God, if you want me to go, you're going to make it work out and I'll go. And He did."
Since winning the show back in January, Herbert has taken his pastry skills around the country, along with his mission to combat diabetes, a disorder that's prevalent in the African-American community.
"I've been traveling and doing a lot of community work, teaching people how to cook good-tasting, healthy meals and doing things in moderation so that they can enjoy some of that cake that they see us make all the time," he says.
Herbert's secret substitutions include Splenda in lieu of sugar (depending on what he's making; leaner cakes can handle it, but something like a pound cake won't, he says) and olive oil instead of less healthful oils (a go-to trick in deep, dark chocolate cakes, in which the chocolate flavor shines through no matter what).
ROOM FOR DESSERT?
Although he likes to keep clear of the kitchen during the holiday season, Herbert is otherwise whipping up easy edibles like cranberry bread pudding with salted caramel sauce, bacon ice cream and chocolate peanut butter cheesecake -- recipes, he says, that are "super duper easy" to make.
(We'll let you be the judge since Herbert's shared his holiday favorites below.)