Arundel High School graduate Alexandra Berrich recently placed third out of 41 competitors in a prestigious national baking competition.
Berrich advanced to the national SkillsUSA Commercial Baking Contest from June 20-24 after winning regional and state competitions. Commercial baking is large-scale production of various baked items.
“My mom first got me interested in baking,” Berrich said. “In middle school I knew I wanted to bake.”
Berrich attended the Center of Applied Technology-North for culinary education her sophomore, junior and senior years following morning hours at Arundel High for core classes. Her senior year at CAT-North was dedicated to baking after spending the previous two years studying culinary.
“Going to CAT-North fueled my passion,” she said.
At CAT-North, Berrich learned of the SkillsUSA competition. SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers and industry representatives working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce, focusing on vocational careers.
SkillsUSA is “big on leadership (and) being at the top of your workforce,” Berrich said. “In high school, I got to go to SkillsUSA conferences. I learned a lot about SkillsUSA at CAT-North.”
Berrich stayed after-school two hours every day with her mentors, former students Jackie Mearman and Josie Wolfe and her baking teacher Peter Akerboom.
The regional competition was held at CAT-North. Berrich competed against four other students. Contestants are given the required recipes and had two hours to prepare three baked items.
“Everyone had to bake the same thing,” Berrich said. “A packet (with the recipes) went to everyone.”
Berrich won the regional competition.
Next came the state competition held at the Lincoln Culinary School in Columbia. Berrich faced 15 other junior and senior high school students. Each had four hours to bake four items, different from the regional contest.
Berrich won the state competition, received a medal and secured her spot in the national competition.
In late June, Berrich traveled with Wolfe and Mearman to Louisville, Kentucky, to compete against other students from across the country.
“I didn’t want my parents to be there (because) I’d be so nervous, but then I wished they were there,” she said.
Before traveling to Louisville, Berrich received the packet of recipes for the competition to practice. The 41 competitors had six hours to make pineapple pie, a pan loaf, braided loaf, single knot rolls, sugar cut-out cookies, blueberry muffins, éclairs, cream puffs, and decorate a nine-inch cake.
However, when Berrich arrived at the national competition, each contestant was given a new recipe packet with changes made to several recipes.
“It was definitely nerve wracking when you’re (already) nervous,” Berrich said.
While her mentors were there, they couldn’t assist her.
“You had to make it all yourself,” Berrich said. “Mentors were not allowed to talk to you.”
The purpose of the competition was “trying to measure your basic knowledge of baking,” she said. She found time management was critical.
“I know I could have gotten first,” Berrich said, “but because of time management, I missed the powdered sugar on the éclairs.”
Berrich also noticed at the end of the competition her cake frosting got bumped.
“Everyone told me I had the prettiest cake,” she said, “but they took points off for the bump.”
Despite slight errors, Berrich placed third. She received a medal and a $3,500 scholarship toward college. Her parents arrived for the award ceremony.
“I didn’t know I would learn as much as I did if I didn’t compete,” Berrich said. “(I’m) sad it’s over — (it was) a good learning experience, but I’m excited to go to school.”
On Sept. 12, Berrich will pursue her dreams by attending the Culinary Institute of America in New York.
“I’m going to study culinary, then baking. I want to learn both sides of the industry,” she said.
She said her short-term goal is to work at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee.
“It’s a resort my mom and I have really liked; (we’ve) never been but dreamed of going.”
Berrich’s long-term goal is to “open a cafe and bakery with my mom, Aslinn,” she said. “I want to name it after my mom’s nickname: Gushie.”