By Pam Kragen on August 9, 2021
Next Wednesday, local pastry chef Christophe Rull will return to TV screens for his third network cooking competition, the new Netflix series “Bake Squad.”
The 36-year-old San Marcos resident won Food Network’s “Halloween Wars” in 2017 and was crowned champion of Food Network’s “Holiday Wars” in 2018. But unlike those ultra-competitive shows that earned Rull and his team up to $50,000 in cash, the only prize in “Bake Squad” is bragging rights. While Rull and the three other contestants aim to win the individual rounds, the show’s goal is building camaraderie and teamwork to please the customers in each of the eight dessert-making challenges.
The series is hosted by Christina Tosi, founder of the famous New York-born Milk Bar dessert shop empire. She hand-picked the contestants during their auditions last year. Many pastry chefs would feel nervous performing in front of Tosi, but Rull didn’t know who she was.
“She was asking me questions and I could tell she knew what she was talking about,” he said. “I asked her if she was a pastry chef because her questions were so precise and she said ‘I’ve got a couple of shops in America.’”
Rull, who recently finished up five years as a pastry chef at the Park Hyatt Aviara resort in Carlsbad, declined to say how well he did on “Bake Squad” but he described the experience as a fun and sometimes “mind-blowing” adventure. Rull and his fellow bakers Gonzalo Jimenez of Denver, Ashley Holt of Brooklyn and Maya-Camille Broussard of Chicago compete to create over-the-top desserts for events like a teen’s birthday party, a wedding and a girl’s “I kicked cancer” celebration.
“It was definitely challenging, every single episode,” Rull said. “The main goal was to put out the beautiful display at the end of the day. But I think this show will touch people watching at home. It’s not only about the beauty of the pastries but also about our personal lives and who we are outside the kitchen.
For Rull, “Bake Squad” was a warm-up for the cooking competition he’s been dreaming of his whole adult life. In October, he’ll spend two days in Chicago with three or four other American pastry chefs competing for the honor of representing the U.S. in the World Chocolate Masters event in Paris next year. National chocolate masters from 20 or more countries will compete in a grueling multiday contest that no American has ever won. Rull hopes he, or one of his fellow U.S. semifinalists, will finally break that streak next year.
Rull has gained some local fame in recent years with the enormous chocolate sculptures he created each holiday season for the Park Hyatt Aviara resort’s lobby. One year he made a 250-pound Christmas train out of molding chocolate, which is edible “clay” made from chocolate and corn syrup. Another year he made an 11-foot-tall Christmas village out of chocolate, gingerbread, marshmallows and icing.
To prepare for the semifinals, Rull left his job at the Park Hyatt last month to focus full time on practicing his training and techniques in the kitchen of the San Marcos home he shares with his wife, Wilma, and 16-year-old stepson Byron.
“This has been a dream since the beginning of my career. there are pastry jobs everywhere, but there’s only one World Chocolate Master. I want to fully focus the next couple of months on this,” he said.
Compared to competing on a TV series, where Rull said his strategy is keeping it “simple, elegant and tasty,” he expects the semifinals to be the toughest challenge he’s ever faced.
“Every single minute counts and every move you’re doing is being watched and judged. The pressure is much higher,” he said.
Rull was born and raised in Marseilles, France, where his grandfather was a bread-maker. He began cooking by his father’s side as a small boy, where he graduated from peeling carrots and potatoes to cooking the family’s meals by the time he was 12. After high school, he spent four years in cooking schools, where he grew to prefer the art of pastry-making.
“I liked the artistic side of it,” he said. “You can be more creative with pastry because you can go bigger and ‘up’ the volume with it in ways you can’t do with other cooking.”
He finished his training at the prestigious Ecole Nationale Superieure de Patisserie in Yssingeaux, France, then worked at a series of European resorts before moving to the U.S. in 2009 for a job as a founding pastry chef at the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. It was there where he helped assemble the largest showpiece of his career, a hanging mobile of 20 sugar sculptures that descended from the ceiling as the dinner finale at a gala for the Michael Jordan Foundation.
Looking ahead, Rull said that in September he will begin teaching classes on chocolate through the online cake decorating school Sugar Geek Show and he’ll be teaching online and in-person classes with the Stéphane Tréand Pastry School in Tustin.
“I love my life here in San Diego,” he said. “Every time I have some free time, I’m on a surfboard and I love the beautiful weather. I don’t plan to leave San Diego any time soon.”
“Bake Squad” premieres on Netflix.com on Wednesday, Aug. 11. All eight episodes will be released at the same time.