Challenging Karl Fong to a bake-off is a scary proposition.
The Hercules baker who has trained at Contra Costa College, the California Culinary Academy and also for a brief stint in Barcelona, has also practiced martial arts for over 25 years.
Fong says the latter brand of discipline was particularly useful when competing this past May in the fifth season of the Food Network’s popular show, Halloween Baking Championship.
The founder and owner of Vallejo-based “Cakes by Karl,” Fong was invited by the show’s producers to compete against seven other baker contestants. The show’s episodes only began airing in recent weeks, and with episode four set to air on Monday, Fong is among the five remaining contestants. And he’s been a favorite from the start, in part due to his martial arts mindset.
“I try to bring high energy, hustle, and to move quickly and efficiently,” Fong said. “I love working under the pressure.”
Of course, Fong was not allowed to tell us whether he ends up winning the Halloween Baking Championship in the final three episodes that remain. The finale is slated for Oct. 28.
“We filmed back in May, and it’s been a long time to wait,” Fong said. “Of course, people ask me all the time (if I won), and I say you just got to wait.”
The show’s producers found Fong on Yelp!, during a search of bakery and pastry shops. He thought it was a joke when they called, but after about a month of back-and-forth and conversations with the casting director and executive producer, he was invited on the show.
Filming took 16 days in LA, with 6 a.m. wake-up calls and a lot of waiting around before filming, Fong said.
Fong is patient. His success has been a long time coming. A lifelong Bay Area resident, Fong practiced and loved art from a young age, and also watched a lot of baking and pastry shows. “I loved being in the kitchen,” he said.
In the over 2-year Contra Costa College culinary arts program, he studied under Chef John Allen, before completing the seven-month program at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Throughout that time, he’d worked at restaurants, and also for one month under a pastry chef in Barcelona.
About 11 years ago, Fong left a restaurant in San Francisco for another his friend launched in Vallejo. He worked there until launching Cakes by Karl nearly two years ago, which currently produces desserts and tarts to about 11 different restaurants and cafes in the Bay Area, and scored its biggest account with both Berkeley Bowl stores. The business also does wedding cakes, custom cakes — pretty much everything, Fong said.
The rapid success of Cakes by Karl has the business stretched thin. It doesn’t account for the new business that may rush in due to Fong’s participation in the Food Network challenge. Fong says he’ll be looking at ramping up the business to meet the demand.
For now, Fong is just enjoying creating for his customers. And perhaps a young person out there has been looking up at him on the TV, as he did at their age, inspired by the art of baking.
His advice to aspiring bakers? To anyone wanting to achieve their goals?
“Just push through it,” Fong says. “Most of the time it’s not comfortable, but it’s the ones who are strong enough and willing to push through who get there. It’s a constant struggle. After one challenge it’s on to the next.”