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Local Pastry Chef Crystal Smith Competed on TV's Chopped and Won

The 'Chopped' champ dishes on her success.

Many of us think we could compete on a reality cooking show and take home the top prize, but Crystal Smith actually made it happen on Food Network’s Chopped she was named Chopped Champion.

If you’re unfamiliar with the show, four contestants compete in three cooking rounds, receiving a basket of ingredients to work with each time. After each round, one chef is eliminated (or "chopped"), leaving one winner of a $10,000 cash prize. Smith’s episode, "Flour Power," which aired on July 11, featured three other female pastry chefs, and a baked component was required of each dish.

Smith is the pastry chef at Bayview Yacht Club in Detroit, where she’s created the entire dessert menu from her own recipes. On the morning she spoke with BLAC in the club’s lounge, she’d just pulled a peach and pecan baklava from the fridge.

"I took a Middle Eastern dessert and gave it a black southern twist," Smith says.

She cooked the peaches in whiskey and brown sugar, careful not to burn off all of the alcohol (she likes the kick). And instead of the traditional honey drizzle, she whipped up a sauce of maple syrup, cinnamon, orange zest and lemon juice and zest.

Smith has been dreaming up unique creations like this since she was a little girl growing up in Detroit. That spirit of creativity took her all the way to The Art Institute of Michigan, where she graduated from its culinary program in 2015.

Smith says her first two jobs out of culinary school were minimum-wage bakery positions that disallowed creativity. But then she met Allie Lyttle, who at the time was executive chef at the now-closed Wicked Table in Farmington.

"This may sound a little trite, but I saw a lot of myself in Crystal," Lyttle says, recalling when she was starting out herself and found chefs were reluctant to give her an opportunity to prove her potential.

So Lyttle hired Smith and, as expected, she advanced quickly before moving along to Bayview in 2016. Lyttle moved on, too, to Parks & Rec Diner in Detroit. Smith calls Lyttle "one of the best chefs I’ve ever encountered" and credits Lyttle with encouraging her self-confidence. It was Lyttle who gave Smith’s name to the Chopped producers. After a series of phone calls and interviews, Smith had been cast. She filmed in New York in March, arriving a few days early to check out the city. Before the competition, host Ted Allen asked Smith if she felt intimidated competing against notable New York chefs.

"I said, ‘I lived in Detroit my whole entire life, and if I can make it 34 years in Detroit, I can make it through anything. This is a cake walk for me,’" Smith says.

"Each basket, I tied it to one of my kids," adds Smith, who’s also a mother of three. "My kids are my motivation to not give up. I have to grind so they can eat."

Since winning Chopped, Smith has been investing time and money into her company, You Had Me At Cake 313, with plans to open a storefront soon – where folk can go not just for delicious desserts, but for support and opportunity, too.

"That’s my goal, to be a fixture in the community," Smith says. "For me, that’ll give me a sense of fulfillment. For me, that’s what being rich is about. It’s not about money; it’s about being happy."

Oct 11, 2017 01:28 pm
 Posted by  TANISHA96

I just watched the episode in a rerun last night and I was rooting for Crystal as if I knew her. Not only was she a Detroit girl but she seemed so positive and motivated to win for her children.

Reading this article about what you want to do with the winnings makes me even happier you won. You didn't buy a new car, you want to do something to uplift your community Congratulations Crystal and keep setting the example that you are for our next generation.

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