Sweet Challenge: ‘Spring Baking Championship’ gives UA chef a place to shine

click to enlarge Sweet Challenge: ‘Spring Baking Championship’ gives UA chef a place to shine
(Food Network/Submitted)
Manja Blackwood,UA’s executive sous chef, couldn’t reveal much about her time on the Food Network’s “Spring Baking Championship.”

Manja Blackwood keeps her head down and serves as UA’s executive sous chef.

On Monday, March 6, Blackwood will take centerstage on the Food Network’s “Spring Baking Championship,” which streams the same day on Discovery+. The show has already finished filming, but Blackwood couldn’t reveal much about her time there.

“I loved it,” Blackwood confessed. “Everybody was very friendly. I loved the staff. It was the first time I’ve done something like this. I would love to do it again for sure, if something comes up.

“It’s a heck of an experience.”

An East Germany native, Blackwood attended culinary school in West Germany. After an internship, at age 21, she moved to Arizona, where she worked at several hotels and resorts.

Now at the UA, she oversees the bakery with a team that produces everything sweet. Culinary talent runs in her family, as her grandparents started a café and ice cream shop that was passed down to her mother.

Blackwood said her family’s love of baking keeps her passionate.

“I always think food brings the family together,” she said. “That’s how it was for the holidays with my family. We get the chance to experience the holiday, get together and feel the warmth, especially around Christmastime or springtime. Food is always interesting — all around the world.”

Spring Baking Championship is hosted by Jesse Palmer, who puts a dozen bakers to the test in 10 episodes featuring challenges involving flowers, garden parties and weddings.

The goal is to win over judges Kardea Brown, Nancy Fuller and Duff Goldman.

“Food Network’s annual baking series celebrates the season with visually stunning, edible creations and spirited competition between the incredible bakers,” said Betsy Ayala, head of content, food, Warner Bros. Discovery.

“Monday nights have become appointment viewing for fans for this reason and they are in for a treat with a double-stacked night of spring baking skill and craftsmanship.”

“Spring Baking Championship” kicks off with a two-hour episode at 7 p.m., when Blackwood and the 11 other bakers enter the “Spring Baking” kitchen to make over the desserts that made them fall in love with baking.

In the finale, the three remaining bakers must design and create a dream wedding cake for a real couple. In the end, one baker is crowned the new “Spring Baking” champion and takes home the cash prize and a spot in Food Network Magazine.

To learn about the contestants, viewers can visit foodnetwork.com/springbakingchampionship. “Spring Baking Championship” is coupled with “Spring Baking Championship: Easter.”

Blackwood works out of a commercial kitchen in the Student Union Memorial Center’s basement. She and her staff make goods for 32 restaurants across the University of Arizona campus.

Last summer, Blackwood and her team created gluten-free and allergen-friendly items. In 2022, the staff opened Cactus Grill on the third level of the Student Union Memorial Center. It offers hot breakfast, lunch and dinner entrees, soups, grilled sandwiches, stir-fry bowls, barbecue, a salad bar and made-to-order sushi.

“We do a lot of catering on campus, too,” she said.

“I do love what I do, creating new things and presenting them. It’s a lot of work, but we have fun with it. Some people don’t know we have a bakery on campus.”

Being on “Spring Baking Championship” was the ultimate way of networking, Blackwood said.

“I befriended people from different areas and backgrounds,” she said.

“It was kind of nice. I built friendships. If I need a recipe, I can ask if they have any idea of how I can do that. It’s nice to ask questions of someone.”

“Spring Baking Championship”

7 p.m. Monday, March 6

Food Network, Discovery+