“I always bring the D.C. swag with me wherever I go,” says executive pastry chef Padua Player aka SugaChef, who started his own pastry company- SugaChef Desserts– just a few miles from his hometown of Washington, D.C.
With four stints on Food Network TV shows, he started baking by growing up the youngest of seven children in Northeast D.C. “I’ve always had a passion for food, for desserts specifically,” says chef Padua. He was his mother’s sous chef, which inspired him to check out step-by-step cookbooks from the local library.
In high school, SugaChef worked as a dishwasher at pioneering D.C. chef Bob Kinkead’s first venture in the city. It didn’t take long for him to start doing prep work and then plating cold appetizers and desserts.
Soon enough, chef Padua brought his desserts for the restaurant’s pastry chef to critique. Impressed, she invited him to assist her in making French and pumpernickel breads. “I knew it was my happy place,” he says.
From there, he went on to work in a hotel bakery before attending culinary school. Afterward, he returned to his native Washington, D.C., a city he loves. “What I love about Washington, D.C. is its diversity, culture, history, and food.”
“People from other places mainly think of D.C. as a historical city. The most surprising thing is we have really good food here. D.C. is building a reputation for delicious food,” says SugaChef. Being a lover of food with bold flavor, he loves attending the city’s annual D.C. Caribbean Carnival, an event going back to 1993 with music and authentic food from the Caribbean.
The D.C. Caribbean Carnival is one of many events in the D.C. area that chef Padua enjoys. (In 2012, the festival moved to Baltimore, merging with Baltimore’s annual Caribbean Festival.) As a child, he got to be in the Cherry Blossom Festival parade down Pennsylvania Avenue steps from the White House.
When people visit Washington, D.C., from around the world, he recommends visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture, where he says you can spend days exploring.
When he’s not in D.C., SugaChef loves traveling. When visiting new cities, he always stops at bakeries. His dream is to take a baking class in Paris. For now, he’ll continue teaching baking classes for youth in D.C.’s historic Anacostia.
Even though he loves big cities like New York City, it’s Pennsylvania that SugaChef enjoys the most. He says, “I just love simple American desserts, and I’ve found that many places in Pennsylvania have classic American desserts done well and with fresh ingredients. I’ve always had great desserts in Pennsylvania.”
Though it’s hard to find time to travel, working as an executive pastry chef for a top catering company, running his own business, and appearing on Food Network TV shows, appearing on shows like the “Holiday Baking Championship” and “Cake Hunter,” it was “Chopped Sweets” chef Padua was most nervous to do.
“It built my confidence, and that’s the most valuable thing,” he says about baking on his feet while competing on “Chopped Sweets.” The show invited SugaChef to believe in himself.
And now he wants to pass that on. “I want to give people the same confidence that I learned, especially people at home. When they see me in the kitchen, they know they can build the confidence to make that soufflé or do that dessert they’ve always been afraid of trying,” he says.
Currently, he’s writing a cookbook, working to appear on more TV shows, and hopes to have a product line one day to help inspire more people.
Until then, he’s motivated by creating made-to-order desserts for clients. He says, “When people eat my desserts, I want them to be transported [to the country where they first ate it]. It’s heartwarming for me and brings up so many memories for the client.”
Despite working long hours, baking is his passion, and what fuels him is learning. “The most important thing is creativity and imagination. I pride myself in continuing to read cookbooks, see what’s on social media, and watch videos because I think it sparks creativity. You’re aware of food trends. It helps you stay abreast of what’s happening on the food scene,” says SugaChef.
Chef Padua’s ideal day is to work nine to five, but that’s not his reality. In talking to aspiring chefs, he wants them to know that hard work is required. He says, “My biggest piece of advice is to be prepared to work hard. Sometimes TV or the Food Network is great in some sense and bad in another sense simply because the younger chefs think you’re going to get into this business, work nine to five, and rise to the top to become big-time chefs. That’s few and far between. Be prepared to work hard.”
Alongside the hard work, SugaChef loves the food industry because it involves working with talented people, delicious food, and it challenges him to think creatively. It also takes imagination.
And he can already imagine his future trip to Paris, eating pastries from every bakery and taking a macaron baking class.
Enjoying the Meet the Locals series? Continue your travels with another Meet the Locals in Split, Croatia.
by Austin Graff