Sweet Genius runs into its second season with a new league of competitors from all walks of life, restauranteurs, professional bakers, homemakers, young and old. On this particular episode, Philesha Howard caught my attention with her spirit of determination, creativity, and finesse.
By the end of episode, she swept her competition and won the title of Sweet Genius with a hefty $10,000 cash prize to return home with her. I was intrigued to learn more about this young pastry chef that made winning look easy.
Philesha Howard was born into a military family that traveled quite bit throughout the country and years later they settled in Newport News, VA. She wasn’t aware of this possible career opportunity until later in high school when her Home Economics teacher, Mrs. Julia saw a lot of potential her and entered her into a culinary competition. Although she placed in second place, Philesha was still intrigued and wanted to know more about this industry.
After a visit from the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, she was convinced that this was her path. She would later attend the institute where she earned an Associate’s degree in Pastry Arts as well as a certificate in Le Cordon Bleu in Pastierre and Baking.
Once she started out in her career like most young aspiring chefs, she started working at a local fast-food joint but in her case it was McDonald’s. This was merely a pit-stop on her journey that she was about to embark in. Philesha’s career started as she describes as an “up-hill battle” where all odds were against her. She felt that being the youngest, a minority, and a female that she had to overcompensate and work 10x as hard as some of colleagues. It was often that she’d call home, beyond upset not understanding why she received such treatment at work.
Philesha faced kitchen sabotage like her colleagues replacing salt for sugar, deliberating destroying her recipes until one day she quit from the stress of it all. She took a break from the kitchen for a short time but her passion pulled her right back in.
Once she returned in the kitchen, she was reenergized with a new flame of determination to excel. She went on to work at several different restaurants, learning many new techniques from very talented chefs. Philesha picked up several methods and techniques, especially highlighting her experience working with aromatic herbs with baking. She credits that experience to her dynamic understanding of both savory and sweet.
Philesha is now a Pastry Chef at a catering company called “Cuisine & Company” in Virginia Beach, VA. She believes that her positive and negative obstacles helped shape her into stronger chef and competitor for Sweet Genius.
Q & A with Sweet Genius Philesha
Isaiah Kelsey: What were your thoughts going into this competition?
Philesha Howard: My thoughts prior to this competition was ” This is it Philesha, it took you nine years to get to this. You have to put all of it into this one day. You have nothing to lose. YOU. GOT. THIS. “
IK: What moment in the competition did you realize that you might win?
PH: The moment I realized that I might win is after the 2nd round which was candy. I just felt like I did everything I knew about candy (which honestly isnt that much) into that round. On that plate!
IK: Is there anything that you would do differently between rounds?
PH: What would i do differently you ask? ha….absolutely nothing! What I did that day was exactly how it was suppose to go. But if I had to chose one thing I think I would have used the musical note chocolate transfer instead of the colorful one used in the chocolate round.
IK: Since winning the title of “Sweet Genius” what have you done with the prize money?
PH: Since winning, the prize money actually came right on time. I paid off some debt, some of my college loans, gave some to my mom and the rest is saved. I’m living like that money doesnt exsist. Im still driving the same car that starts when it feels like it and living paycheck to paycheck.
IK: What does the title of Sweet Genius mean to you most?
PH: This title of Sweet Genius is just the beginning. Knowing that I am a part of Chef Ron’s world just motivates me to the fullest. I just want to grab this world by the horns and never let go. Its very rare to come across someone with an eclectic taste of individuality and with this title I want to be able to represent all types and all walks of people.
Philesha, as she describes herself as the “underdog”, being a young African-American woman she hopes she that inspired anyone that has a dream or goal to keep pushing. She believes that if you continue to have faith within yourself and God, that anything is possible, don’t give up.
“A chef is passionate…..creating recipes like a musician does notes.” – Philesha “Chefgemneye” Howard
For more information about Philesha, follow her on Twitter @chefgemneye