Charles Barrett had our attention when he said the magic word: doughnut.
But then his lexicon expanded — including such delights as gold leaf flakes, fresh edible flowers, cayenne cinnamon glaze and Earl Grey tea custard filling — and drooling might have become a problem on our part.
The Oakwood resident is growing accustomed to such reactions when he talks about his latest confectionery feat. This past month, the pastry chef was named doughnut-making king when he won the Cooking Channel’s competitive TV program, Donut Showdown.
“It was very exciting,” Barrett said. “We knew we were up against good competition.”
The Canadian show, which is in its second season, pits three doughnut enthusiasts against each other in each episode in a double-round elimination challenge. During the first round, all three chefs must use a surprise ingredient picked by the celebrity judges, and the remaining two rounds require the contestants to bake large batches of doughnuts based on themes picked by the judges.
Barrett, who works as a pastry chef for Atlanta’s Four Seasons Hotel’s Park 75 restaurant, found himself in the final round competing against the famous Rebel Donuts of Albuquerque, N.M.
“(Doughnuts) are (Rebel Donuts’) bread and butter,” Barrett said. “That’s what they do all day all week. They had a really refined presentation style, and I was very nervous. I thought they were going to win for sure.”
However, Barrett and his fellow pastry chef, Chris Munguia, who competed alongside Barrett, surprised the judges with a trio of epically edible doughnuts.
For the three rounds, the duo designed three different and dynamic doughnuts. First was the creation they dubbed “Crown Jewels,” which was a horizontal-shaped doughnut made of doughnut holes, marshmallows and rice crispies — all topped with 24-karat gold leafs and fresh edible flowers.
“Who doesn’t love to eat gold,” Munguia said.
The second doughnut, titled “Queen of Hearts,” was a playing card-shaped doughnut made of sour cream cake and topped with a cayenne cinnamon glaze.
Finally, they made “Duke of Earl Grey” which was a yeast doughnut with an Earl Grey tea custard filling and a topping composed of a chocolate mirror glaze and a handmade chocolate crown.
“I’ve always been a creative person,” said Barrett, when asked where he found inspiration for the winning entries.
Indeed, he has a storied culinary past. At first, he had a scholarship to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design for photography but opted to join the Navy instead. From there, he worked in sandwich and pizza shops. He finally started a course for construction management, but an opportunity arose for him to become a pastry chef.
“The more I looked at life, the more I realized that I don’t enjoy being behind the desk,” he said. “I’m a hands-on pastry chef, and the thing I enjoy, more than anything, is working. I get to play every day.”
He said Park 75 restaurant allows him creative license to craft desserts he considers special and unique.
“I’m allowed to push the perceptions of flavor and texture and temperatures and palate, and there’s just so much imagination and creativity that goes into that,” he said.
While Barrett mostly works with plated desserts and specialty cakes, he said doughnuts are more than likely to make an appearance on the restaurant’s menu.
“We’re still trying to unravel what all (of) this means for the hotel,” he said of his win. “But I think (this win shows that the restaurant is not just) big city. It’s not pretentious. It’s not posh and prickly. The level of service is extremely good, and it’s quite comfortable here.”
In the meantime, as the hotel debates which doughnuts will best showcase the restaurant’s personality, Barrett and Munguia just need to worry about splitting the big prize — $10,000 in Canadian money and the title of doughnut master. But neither is worried about sharing the glory.
“Together, (Barrett) and I have a very strong partner bond,” Munguia said. “Put any task in front of us, and we will come out with something beautiful and delicious every time.”