Sweet victory

Sugar Blooms and Cakes bakers beat American teams to win The Big Bake: Holiday


Advertise with us

A Winnipeg bakery is celebrating a sweet victory after securing a $10,000 prize from winning a baking competition show.

Read this article for free:


Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe:

Monthly Digital Subscription

$4.75 per week*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles

*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.

A Winnipeg bakery is celebrating a sweet victory after securing a $10,000 prize from winning a baking competition show.

Sugar Blooms and Cakes, located on McPhillips Street, beat out two American teams on an episode of the Food Network Canada’s third season of The Big Bake: Holiday, which aired Sunday, Dec. 4.

“It was very surreal to say the least,” said Marie Mallari, head cake artist at the bakery and her team’s lead baker. “Joining the competition, we did not expect to take home a win.”

Mallari and her team created a nearly five-foot-high cake in five hours to win the competition. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

Mallari, 32, was joined by her two teammates and fellow cake decorators at Sugar Blooms and Cakes, Erika Rotor and Geraldine Ong.

“It really felt great. I was so proud, and I’m so proud that we won and we were able to showcase our talents on TV,” said Rotor, 34, who has been working at the bakery part-time since 2016.

Together, they created a nearly five-foot-tall custom cake in five hours.

“It was like a really huge challenge for us, but we were able to… sail through,” said Ong, 31, who also works part-time at the bakery.

Three teams compete on each episode of The Big Bake: Holiday and are tasked with baking a large-scale cake based on a particular theme. This episode’s theme was “Santa Paws,” so bakers had to feature both holiday cheer and members of the animal kingdom in their design, Mallari said.

As a Filipino bakery, the team knew exactly what they wanted to do.

“I wanted to do something that incorporated our Filipino culture in it, so I said ‘OK, why don’t we do a Filipino Christmas but like with animals,’” Mallari said.

Stacked on the cake were edible replicas of balikbayan boxes — cargo boxes filled with gifts, toys, and goodies that some Filipino people send to family back home.

“They can’t be there physically, but in a way that’s their way of celebrating Christmas with their families,” Mallari said.

The Sugar Blooms and Cakes team (centre) beat out two American teams on an episode of the Food Network Canada’s The Big Bake: Holiday, which aired on Dec. 4. (Food Network Canada)

Different animals found in the Philippines were also on the cake: a carabao (a water buffalo native to the Philippines), a rooster and mice.

As part of the Bonus Bake — an added challenge where bakers make smaller treats to go with their cake — the team created mango-flavoured “cakesicles” in the shape of tarsiers, a small monkey also found in the Philippines.

To top off the cake, the team added a polar bear dressed in a Santa suit to pay homage to their home province.

“Churchill, Manitoba, is known for polar bears, and my daughter loves going to the zoo and seeing the polar bears,” Mallari said.

As a final tribute to the team’s culture, the cake itself was Ube Macapuno flavoured, made from mashed purple yams and frosted with sweet buttercream.

Showcasing her culture brought a sense of pride to Mallari and her team, she said.

“It’s not something you see often… to see like a Filipino bakery or somebody who’s representing (that culture) on mainstream media.”

So, for the Sugar Blooms and Cakes team, actually winning the competition was just icing on the cake.

“It was really, really humbling,” said Ong, who’s from Hong Kong but whose parents once owned a bake shop in the Philippines.

Sugar Blooms and Cakes head cake artist Marie Mallari opted to incorporate her team’s Filipino heritage with a design reminiscent of the boxes of gifts Manitoba Filipinos send home to the Philippines for the holiday. (Food Network Canada)

Mallari and her team were the rookies in the competition. Not only were they the first Winnipeg bakery to be on such a show, but the other two teams had been in several competitions before and knew each other well.

“There was a bit of intimidation.” Ong said.

But for Ong, the team’s friendship is what pulled them through.

“Being friends was the first thing that helped us win the game. We respected each other a lot. We knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” she said.

“Winning was more of a trophy for us to say that we have built this relationship in a really solid manner, and nothing can break us.”

Mallari echoed Ong’s sentiment. “We’re a great team, and I would have chosen Erika or Geraldine over anyone else,” she said.

Since the episode aired, Sugar Blooms and Cakes has been seeing an influx of customers. Last Saturday, the bakery completely sold out by early afternoon, Mallari said.

“It was insane. It was so busy. Our customers are so proud, especially the ones who have been with us for years.”

Sugar Blooms and Cakes opened in 2011 at a small building on Selkirk Avenue, seven years after Genevieve Melegrito, the bakery’s owner and Mallari’s mother, immigrated to Winnipeg with her family from Papua New Guinea.

Geraldine Ong (from left), Marie Mallari and Erika Rotor work on their design. (Food Network Canada)

“I always wanted to open a bakery, but my priority was my children, so I really waited for them to be grown-ups, and then I decided to open it,” Melegrito, 59, said.

After about three years on Selkirk Avenue, Melegrito scaled up and opened a new location on McPhillips Street. Because the second location was so busy, they closed down the first bakery about a year later.

Mallari started working there in 2012. Although she was in school to become a chiropractor, Mallari soon found a knack for cake decorating.

“I just fell in love with the craft,” she said.

Melegrito, on the other hand, had years of experience before the bakery opened. Born in the Philippines, Melegrito started her first cake business in Papua New Guinea in 1995.

“Out of her whole family, she’s the only one that has always been abroad. Everybody else is in the Philippines. So, she wanted to bring that, I guess, sense of nostalgia or comfort to everybody else who, you know, lives abroad or has been working abroad,” Mallari said.

To do that, Mallari said they try to make every dessert as authentic to Filipino flavours as they can.

“It’s just a place where somebody can come if they’re feeling homesick, or if they are craving their favourite Ube cake from the Philippines, and they can’t get it elsewhere, they can get it here,” she said.

Almost all the bakery’s staff and about 80 per cent of the bakery’s customers are Filipino, Mallari said.

Geraldine Ong (left) and Erika Rotor hard at work. (Food Network Canada)

But Melegrito said the customer base has been expanding since the win.

“I received a good number of texts saying, ‘We saw you on TV, we heard on radio, we’d like to try your Ube Macapuno cake, the winning cake,’ so they placed orders for this holiday,” she said.

“We’re very happy because I really wanted to penetrate a bigger market, other cultures, because most of our customers are Filipinos.”

As for the prize money, the team decided to split it four ways, with Mallari’s mother getting the fourth share.

“We parents, our wish, our dream is for our children to be a better version of us, and Marie is that better version of me.”


Report Error Submit a Tip


Advertise With Us

Arts & Life