Food is food, yes!
For most of us, food is that which is edible, good, and nourishing or at least energizing for our body. Then, we get into a space where the air is rare, and the aroma smells like a creative cool cuisine. That is where we can find Dr. Winnette McIntosh Ambrose, the owner of The Sweet Lobby, a boutique bakery on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Winnette was also found this year on Chopped where her creative cool cuisines could be showcased and experienced. For those of us who might not quite get the Chopped challenge, it’s the television show where chefs must create cuisines with surprising, bizarre, mystery ingredients. On January 23, 2018, McIntosh Ambrose did not just wow with her aroma, but with taste, to win the baking round of the Chopped Gold Medal Games. What is really cool to know about this Trinbagonian (Trinidadian) chef is how her culinary skills surfaced. It was during her sophomore year at MIT that McIntosh Ambrose began her love relationship with French pastries. As she put it during an interview, “I went from a total nerd with no interest in anything culinary, to a total nerd who was very interested in recreating all the things I saw in pastry shops in Paris.” https://alum.mit.edu/slice/engineer-turned-double-food-network-champion
The Sweet Lobby founder earned a double major in chemical engineering and foreign languages and literature, specifically French. Graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), this creative cool cuisines chef worked for a few years, later returning to earn her PhD in biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University, focusing on biomaterials and stem cells. All the while she continued fine-tuning her culinary skills. With the help of her brother, Timothy Ambrose, she won the Cupcake Wars Challenge in 2012, a mere ten weeks after opening The Sweet Lobby in 2011. Demands for more of those creative cool cupcakes skyrocketed, and it was then that McIntosh Ambrose became the Trinbago (Trinidad & Tobago) chef creating cool cupcakes full time.
The culinary ingredients for the Creativity Challenge for the 2012 Cupcakes Wars were breakfast dough and a cut of lamb for the first round, and the second round, dough and a nostalgic spaghetti product. Once the Cupcakes Wars was won, the demand to create creative cool cuisines was also increasing for Dr. Winnette McIntosh Ambrose, and as she put it in one of her interviews, “I am super excited competing among the best of the best pastry chefs and bakers, but it is so important for me to prove that I can also tackle savory; one way that I am doing that is through my Trinidadian heritage.”
We can understand then her cool creative cuisine of a meal of cauliflower choka, paratha and curried turkey, which helped McIntosh Ambrose win an episode of the Chopped Gold Medal Baking competition earlier this year, leading to her qualifying for the US$50,000 Grand Finale held on January 30, 2018.
How did this trained chemical engineer become a creative culinary chef? Winnette McIntosh Ambrose credits her husband, Ricardo Ambrose. She recalled them both going to MIT and actually starting cooking together simply to survive the cold during their time at MIT.
She surely would have had to survive to make it to the Grande Finale of Chopped. The culinary challenge then was to use banana curd, caneles, freeze-dried blueberries and hot chocolate to create a delicious dessert. What did Winnette think of this challenge? In an interview, she shared, “My strategy in this round was to bowl the judges over with the complex flavours of my Trinidadian roots.” So she created a blueberry cake with banana-hot chocolate sauce and meringue.
Asked in an interview about her experience of Chopped, she responded, “Chopped is everything that it appears to be on TV and then some; it is high stress, super intense, the time limitations are just crazy, and you will be pushed to work with some really wild things. The competition is real—I mean you go up against people with some real culinary chops. It is not something to be underestimated.”
Underestimate it she did not, as she wowed the judges. Although Winnette was not the overall 2018 winner, her creative cool cuisines remain memorable. Luckily for her, she noted that as a trained scientist, she appreciates the art of scaling up. A scale up it has been, as The Sweet Lobby has gone from five to thirty-five employees, now supplying creative cool cupcakes to stores across the country, including Whole Foods’ and local DC coffee shops; it has now grown to become the largest producer of French macarons in the Mid-Atlantic.
If you cannot find Dr. Winnette McIntosh Ambrose at The Sweet Lobby, she just might be at her other production facility and globally inspired market and bakery in Washington, D.C. called Souk.
By Kerriann Toby
Kerriann Toby holds a Master of Counselling and Bachelor of Psychology. She is a dynamic therapist, trained mediator; and educator since 2000. In addition to being a trained educator, mediator, and therapist, she is a certified Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) Professional. Kerriann has also trained in cyber counseling and holds clinical registration with Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) & Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA).
In mid-October 2015 she initiated operations of KarryOn geared toward the provision of a variety of enhancement and developmental services for the individual, groups and the organization; e-Coaching/Counseling, Mediation, EAP Services and the creative presentation of psycho-social information. She can be reached at email@example.com.