North county has another hometown hero in the form of a star baker, Melissa Yanc. Yanc, who is the owner of Healdsburg-based Quail & Condor, was recently named the winner of the Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship.
Though Yanc is based in Healdsburg, Quail & Condor heads to both Cloverdale and Windsor for each city’s respective farmers market.
The show premiered on Nov. 4 and ran each Monday until its finale when Yanc was selected as the champion and the recipient of $25,000 for her work on a two-tiered plaid cake.
“It was the second to the last episode and I wasn’t really expecting to make it to the finals. I was second-guessing myself,” Yanc said.
At the end of each episode taping each participant conducts an interview and Yanc had been preparing to talk in the interview about other contestants and what her time on the show was like — she was prepared to go home. However, she continued to be safe, eventually moving on to the final round.
Then, “In the final episode I thought for the first time that I might win this,” she said.
For her final cake creation, Yanc had to model her cake after a green and blue plaid blanket. She then created a matcha green tea sponge cake with pistachio and a vanilla buttercream icing.
Decorations included an airbrushed pattern with a cardboard stencil of her own creation and chocolate jingle bells that when broken, revealed whimsical sprinkles inside.
Yanc said the outside of the cake was neat and fancy — reflective of her mother’s neat and pristine Christmas decorations, but the inside was fun and silly like her son.
While the plaid cake was the confection that secured her spot as the winner, Yanc said an ice-rink themed cheesecake was her favorite item to bake. The cake had a ginger snap crust and a salted caramel swirl filling with mini figurines of the judges skating on the ice on top.
So what is Yanc going to do with the $25,000?
She said she plans to spend it on a wedding for her and her longtime partner Sean McGaughey. The two met in Colorado and for years the duo focused on putting money into their business.
“This is the first time that we are spending the money on ourselves,” Yanc said.
Receiving a cash prize was certainly a positive part of the experience, but for Yanc, getting a chance to be a part of the show was also a prize in and of itself.
“I’ve always been a baker,” she said. When she had her first child it was hard to transition from focusing on one role to two — mom and baker. “The experience was very validating. It reminded me that I am still a baker and I am still in it.”
She said she has even been recognized on the street a few times following her appearance on the show.
“I’ve never been in this position,” Yanc said. “I got recognized half way through the show. I was buying soil and a lady came up to me and said, ‘I know you!’” Yanc recently spent Christmas in Colorado with her family and she said she was also recognized a few times there.
She said she also saw an increase in her Christmas cookie box sales. She said people as far away as the East Bay and San Francisco came all the way to Sonoma County just to buy her Christmas cookies.
What’s next for Quail & Condor?
Yanc and McGaughey are working on setting up a brick and mortar store in Healdsburg that will be shared with Black Oak Cafe. It will be near Wild Flowers in downtown Healdsburg.
Black Oak Cafe will feature small plates and breakfast foods and Quail & Condor will provide the bread and pastries.
“We are starting construction so hopefully we will be open in March,” Yanc said.
As a part of the endeavor Yanc started a $20,000 fundraising campaign on Kickstarter for a bread oven. Fundraising was important since bread ovens can be the most expensive party of opening a bakery since the ovens are pricey. The Kickstarter campaign was fully funded and raised $20,621.