Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Honours student, residence leader, and top cake maker – StFX student Sammy Johnson competes on CTV’s Cross Country Cake Off  

January 11th, 2023
StFX student Sammy Johnson recently competed for the title of Canada's best cake maker on CTV's new holiday series, Cross Country Cake Off. Photos courtesy CTV.

Amongst juggling her studies as a fourth year honours accounting student, her duties as a StFX residence student leader, and running ‘Sammy’s Sweets,’ Gerald Schwartz School of Business student Sammy Johnson took on a new challenge this past year—competing to be Canada’s best cake baker.

Ms. Johnson of Hammonds Plains, NS was a featured competitor on the new CTV series Cross Country Cake Off, nationally broadcast in December 2022.

“It’s an experience I will cherish,” says Ms. Johnson, one of eight talented bakers to emerge from a large pool of applicants as the best of the best of the Atlantic region, and one of 24 cake makers from across Canada invited to compete for the national title and a $50,000 cash prize on Cross Country Cake Off, the four-episode holiday series hosted by chef and cookbook author Mary Berg and pastry chef Andrew Han. 

Ms. Johnson, who’s been running Sammy’s Sweets out of her mom’s Hammonds Plains kitchen for the past five years, says her mom’s cousin tipped her off to news of the new show last April. She applied and went through several initial rounds. In July, she was invited to compete in the first qualifying round held at the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site.

To earn a place in the show’s national holiday finals, bakers had to bring a cake that told something about themselves. Her cake (using a recipe from her grandmother) was a bit of a play on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich “because I am a university student, so we don’t live on a high income”) and had nods to her family, down to the Nova Scotia raspberries that reminded her of berry picking with her grandmother.  

Ms. Johnson's cake from the first round. Photo: CTV



Ms. Johnson was one of four from that event to receive their bronze cake stand and advance to the Cross Canada Cake Off Kitchen in Toronto where two silver cake stands and a place in the finals were up for grabs.

THE GREATEST GIFT

Here, bakers were tasked with telling a heartfelt story, in cake form, of ‘The Greatest Gift’ they’ve given or received. 

A self-proclaimed teddy bear fanatic, Ms. Johnson baked a two-and-a-half-foot, bear-shaped cake, representing the 10-foot teddy bear she received the Christmas she turned 16. In its lap was a smaller, fondant bear, a nod to her first-ever Christmas bear, ‘Mr. Bear.’ 

Although she didn’t advance to the final, Ms. Johnson, the youngest competition, just 20 years old at the time, says the experience was amazing. She’s always enjoyed watching cooking shows, but never imagined she would be on one. 

“It was kind of surreal,” she says. “The set alone was just phenomenal. I could have just sat in the back and watched everyone bake.”

Competing in the Cross Canada Cake Off Kitchen, Photo: CTV

While the show was a competition, she came away with community—her “cake friends” who are still in touch, who still talk and bounce ideas of each other. 

She says something else that stood out was how pleasant, welcoming and nice the production crew were, helping make the entire experience really great. 

BUSINESS SKILLS HELP TAKE THE CAKE

Ms. Johnson says the skills she’s learned as a Schwartz School of Business student parlayed well in the competition. 

“I spoke from the heart, which is kind of what we learn here in business,” she says, noting how she also drew on skills gained, from making eye contact to good posture. 

At StFX, Ms. Johnson’s certainly excelled. 

Last year, she received a $7,500 Schwartz Business School Research Internship Award, to conduct research under a StFX faculty member’s mentorship. Supervised by Schwartz School Acting Dean, Dr. Bobbi Morrison, her work focused on transparency specifically in relation to the nine Colleges of Pharmacy across Canada. 

Additionally, she’s a long time residence leader. Currently a senior community advisor on the student residence team, she’s also served as a CA, and mentoring younger students to success is one reason she loves the job. While she does most of her baking at home in Hammonds Plains, she’s certainly found occasion to share sweets she’s baked, including always returning from university breaks home with treats. “It’s a bonding experience, and I get to hear about their break.” 

She also volunteers with Kevin’s Corner Food Resource Centre, the StFX Students’ Union student food bank, which also works to eradicate food poverty. 

StFX’s support also helped enable her participation. She had to miss some class time to film. Her professors offered tremendous support, she says, including helping her catch up with the school work.

BAKING RELIEVES STRESS

Ms. Johnson, whose great-grandmother was a wedding cake decorator, says she enjoys the creative process inherent in baking. She’s always loved being in the kitchen and loved baking with her grandmother, who taught her how to use an old-fashioned piping bag. She started Sammy’s Sweets Facebook page originally to share posts of her creations, but thanks to skyrocketing interest, soon started a business. 

Baking, she says, is a chance to forget about the outside world. 

“It relieves a bit of stress,” she says. “When I go home on weekends and I’m baking or icing something, I’m in my own mindset. I really enjoy it. It calms my mind.”

“It’s just me there, having fun.”

Sammy Johnson on Cross Canada Cake Off, Photo: CTV



Ms. Johnson says she was initially nervous to watch herself on TV, but opted to host a watch party (“obviously, we had cake”) “and we had a blast.” 

Her 2023 resolution is to work on marketing her business more. At some point, she may like to open a bakery.  

For now, she looks back warmly on her time on Cross Country Cake Off.

“It’s one of those lifetime experiences I’ll never forget.”

 

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