The 2019 winner of ABC’s The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition found his calling through a pair of disciplines: baking and prayer.
Posted in , Oct 11, 2021
I confess, I have a real sweet tooth. I grew up in California, where my parents settled after emigrating from the Philippines. My favorite Filipino dessert was anything made with ube, the sweet purple yam used in cakes, jams and shaved iced desserts, but I didn’t think my mom’s chocolate chip cookies could be beat. I was wrong.
Enrolled as an NYU film student in 2006—at the height of foodie culture—I frequented a bakery known for its unrivaled chocolate chip cookie, a food truck with molten lava cake topped with sea salt, plus every sweet shop in between. I also went to church on Sundays. You see, I wasn’t only in search of New York’s best desserts. I was also trying to find myself.
I landed a job at a Los Angeles talent agency in 2009 and put my degree to good use. But after three years, I knew it wasn’t the life of fulfillment I yearned for. I was weighing my options when a friend introduced me to a Franciscan friar. I became fascinated by the teachings of Saint Francis. In 2013 I joined the Capuchin Franciscans.
In chapel one day, I heard God telling me, “Go cook.” I went straight to the friary kitchen. I read as many baking books as prayer books. I practiced both disciplines every day. Cinnamon rolls after morning meditation were a favorite of the brothers. With their support I won ABC’s The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition in 2019.
Today, wherever I am stationed, the parishioners like to raffle off my dinners and desserts, which I’m happy to offer in the spirit of Saint Francis. “It’s said that one didn’t just see Saint Francis pray; his whole life was a prayer.” My goal is to emulate him: to bless, teach and serve others. And if I come bearing homemade ginger cookies, well, that’s just icing on the cake.