If a dessert could describe Kristen Washington, she said it would be a cinnamon roll because that baked good is brown and round, just like her. The Jackson native grew up watching her grandmother Maple Washington throw down in the kitchen, and while those skills skipped her a few of Kristen’s siblings, Maple passed them down to Kristen.
Some of her favorite recipes she learned from her grandmother are her peach cobbler and tea cakes, which fed her a love for dessert in her youth. “Dessert can be your breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Washington told the Mississippi Free Press. “You can have a cinnamon roll for breakfast, and it’s still a dessert. And it’s comfort food. Dessert is a comfort food.”
As an adult, Washington always baked in her freetime for fun, using her grandmother’s old recipe books or following Instagram reels for cake ideas and inspiration. She started selling funnel cakes in 2021, and later that year, she made a birthday cake for her sister-in-law. Washington was hesitant, but her sister-in-law encouraged her to step outside her comfort zone.
“She was my first birthday cake,” the baker said. “It turned out good and everyone was hyping me up, so I said, ‘Let me start doing this more.’”
That affirming moment led Washington to launch PhatKake’s, her at-home baking business where she creates homemade cakes, funnel cakes, tarts and other desserts. She named the business after her childhood nickname and runs it while balancing her day job as a personal-care aide.
Washington had just gotten the job as a PCA when a casting director directly messaged her on Instagram in May 2022 about ”The Great Chocolate Showdown,” a baking-focused competition show on the CW. Initially not knowing anything about the television series, Washington suspected that the situation may be a scam.
After researching the show and contemplating, however, she decided to apply for the series at the last minute. She received an invitation in June 2022 and is now a contestant on season 4 of the show, which premiered on Aug. 5, 2023.
“Everything moved so fast,” she recalled. “We had Zoom meetings, and they gave us an itinerary. I told my supervisor I’m about to be on this show and I’m going to be leaving for this amount of time.”
In August, the show began filming in Toronto, Canada, where Washington competed against other bakers whom she said were a bit more experienced than her, she admitted. At the time of filming, she had only been baking for about 10 months.
“I didn’t have knowledge about a lot of the stuff, but the judges knew we were amateurs, so it wasn’t too bad,” the 24-year-old said. “But having cameras on you every second, every moment you’re doing something was a bit intimidating.”
Washington said that she and fellow contestants used chocolate in every dish they prepared and that they focused mostly on French desserts. She learned some new baking techniques and a list of buttercreams she had no idea existed, and she befriended other bakers on the show, though she was not allowed to disclose the specifics on that aspect of the season just yet.
Through the show, Washington hopes to represent Jackson as she demonstrates her southern personality and the talent the city she calls home helps cultivate in its residents. With only three episodes premiered so far, Washington is still in the competition. The winner will receive a grand prize of $50,000. If crowned the victor, the home baker would love to invest the money in her business and help her grandmother.
“I’m trying to build my business up, and the show gave me that push I needed to stop procrastinating and stop playing,” Washington said. “It showed me my true potential. I always doubted myself, and I was always scared to do stuff. But since the show, can’t nothing faze me.”