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Adalberto Diaz said competing on the next season of "Holiday Baking Championship" has made him a more empathetic boss and culinary instructor.
"Being judged, it's the hardest part," said the owner of Salt Lake City's Fillings and Emulsions Bakery and one of 10 bakers selected to showcase their baking skills and family traditions.
"Holiday Baking Championship" premieres Sunday on Food Network. Check local listings for times.
As a business owner and teacher, Diaz said he is constantly critiquing the work of employees and students. The tables were turned this summer when he was selected for the competition, which has a $50,000 grand prize.
Diaz said like all the contestants he was subject to the harsh critiques of judges Duff Goldman (Kids Baking Championship), Nancy Fuller (Farmhouse Rules) and Lorraine Pascale (Lorraine's Fast, Fresh and Easy Food). "It was an eye-opening experience and a lesson to be humble," said Diaz, who grew up in Cuba and learned to bake from his grandmother when he was 9 years old.
With a love of technology, Diaz went to college for computer science and engineering, but with government turmoil in Cuba, he was forced to stop his schooling. In 1997, he started a bakery, although it was an underground operation as the communist government at the time didn't encourage free enterprise. Diaz said he had limited access to ingredients and equipment and baked many items in a pressure cooker.
Diaz left Cuba when he was 28 and spent nearly two weeks in a Texas jail. "It was an immigration thing," he said. "They wanted to make sure who I was."
Except for a short stint in Florida, Diaz, now 43, has called Utah home since then.
Through his food, he shares his Cuban heritage and his love of Utah.
"The judges are looking for some type of story that ties your cooking to memories and family," he said. "I know some people have an issue with Utah, but I really want people to know how thankful I am to Utah for welcoming me and giving me what I have."
Diaz said, throughout his run, Utah customers can visit Fillings and Emulsions, 25 E. Kensington Ave., Tuesday-Saturday to try the desserts that were featured on the Sunday episode.
"Holiday Baking Championship"
Salt Lake City baker, Adalberto Diaz, is one of 10 contestants on the Food Network series. The eight-week show premieres Sunday.