It was 1am in February, and Sydney Hayden was baking up a kitchen flurry. The goal: A three-tier, eight-layer snowman cake that would impress the judges enough to nab her a spot on the upcoming season of The Great Canadian Baking Show. Auditions were the following morning at Marriott’s Residence Inn on Grafton Street. The late night wasn’t exactly by design—Hayden had been up all day, working two full-time jobs. But it wasn’t just a regular cake she was baking, either.
“It was designed to get lit on fire,” Hayden, 23, recalls, speaking by phone with The Coast. That would lead to some haggling on Hayden’s part. The Residence Inn’s staff, understandably, had mild concerns about the idea of setting something ablaze in a building where hundreds of people slept. The persistence worked: Hayden convinced the show’s producers to let her light the cake outside the hotel. In the end, it helped to win her a spot as one of 10 contestants on the show’s 7th season—premiering Sunday, Oct. 1 on CBC.
Hayden describes the experience of being on the show—Canada’s answer to the television hit The Great British Bake Off—as an “emotional rollercoaster.”
“Everything felt like the highest highs, and simultaneously the lowest lows. I don’t even know how to describe it—it was probably the lack of sleep,” she laughs.
A Sacred Heart alum and aspiring surgeon—Hayden is pursuing a master’s of human anatomy at the University of Colorado—she fell in love with baking early, thanks to a family tradition: Making chocolate chip cookies with her mother. There was one important flourish, Hayden stresses: Each cookie came with a Hershey’s Kiss at the centre. Her mother called them “Kisses From Heaven.”
“There’s no better chocolate chip cookies in the world,” Hayden tells The Coast. She reckons she’s baked them “hundreds of times” between high school and her undergraduate years at McGill University—“I could bake them in my sleep,” she adds.
She started a baking account on Instagram with a high school friend and made cookies to support local charities. While her own culinary cravings fall more on the sweeter side as opposed to savoury, she began experimenting with bringing the two together: Adding a dash of curry powder to sugar cookies, say, and then pairing those cookies with candied pineapple and peaches.
“One thing I’m really passionate about is creating dynamic and interesting flavours and profiles,” Hayden says. “My head would be spinning with a million different flavours that I was trying to match up and fuse together.”
Hayden is Halifax’s lone entrant in the upcoming season of The Great Canadian Baking Show. She’s just the fourth Nova Scotian to compete on the show in its seven seasons—and has hopes of becoming the first Maritimer to win it all. (Dalhousie prof and dentist Sachin Seth was the runner-up in Season 2.)
As fate would have it, she entered on a whim.
“Everyone I knew in Halifax was telling me to go. Like, people I knew in other countries were sending me the link. They knew before I did,” she laughs.
On the show, contestants from across Canada compete against one another in a series of food-themed challenges over the course of eight weeks. Hayden can’t divulge whether she won this year’s competition—trade secrets and all—but says it was a series of extremes:
“[It was] the extreme stress, but also extreme excitement and extreme love—I mean, our cast got very close, very, very quickly. We were a family. I’ve never connected with people like this in my entire life.”
The show is available to stream for free on CBC Gem. It premieres at 8pm Atlantic.
GET TO KNOW SYDNEY:
Profession: Studying to become a surgeon
Favourite Halifax bakery: “My family loves getting baguettes from LF Bakery.”
All-time favourite dessert: “We have a cottage in PEI, and there’s a bakery there that’s the essence of my childhood; it’s like a two-minute drive away. And it’s just classic—probably pie filling from a can, but everything is so delicious. It’s called the Olde Village Bakery. The desserts come in a styrofoam package: There are the butterscotch squares, brownies and date squares—and the butterscotch squares melt in your mouth. It makes me think of coming home from the beach, being sunburned and hungry from jumping in the waves and just eating all this butterscotch.”