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Rising to the challenge

By Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Published 2:33 PDT, Fri October 15, 2021

Last Updated: 2:35 PDT, Fri October 15, 2021

Richmond baker to feature on CBC show

With more free time during the pandemic's early days, many Canadians turned to baking as a new hobby.

But for Richmond’s Caron Lau, 26, that hobby has landed her on the upcoming season of The Great Canadian Baking Show, which premieres on Sunday.

“I got a crash course (in baking) with my friend in a convent in 2019,” says Lau. “(My) friend is becoming a religious sister, so I went to visit her and she loves baking. A big thing in that convent and in convents in general is the idea of service, so one day of my visit there was spent in service, baking for the whole convent.”

Lau practiced making things like meringues and pie crust, but her biggest takeaway was the ability of baking to bond people together. And during COVID, she looked for that comfort and bonding ability.

“It wasn’t really until lockdown when I had to fly home from grad school and do the rest of my coursework online that I really needed something that got me moving and gave me a goal to work for during the day. In March 2020, when everyone was baking bread, I baked bread too.”

Lau bought herself a stand mixer and started with the hardest things she could think of: macarons and croissants. Despite some initial challenges, she describes the feeling of being able to troubleshoot recipes as exciting. Croissants remain her favourite thing to bake.

“With things that are very technical, like croissants and macarons and things like that, I typically follow a recipe and then innovate as I go,” says Lau. “It’s the most satisfying feeling in the world when you cut the croissant open and it’s perfect.”

Born in Hong Kong, where homes are tiny enough that the oven doubles as a storage space for pots and pans, Lau has also experimented with recreating items her family would typically buy from their local Chinese bakery.

“Those are understandably the (recipes) that my parents are the most happy with,” she says. “As all of my Asian family friends are reaching out, I feel more of a call to make the things I grew up eating from the Chinese bakeries.”

Lau’s favourite combinations are inspired by Asian flavours, and she particularly loves mixing citrus and tea. She also gets ideas from menu items she sees at bakeries and coffee shops.

When she’s not baking, Lau works as an occupational therapist. She was inspired to apply for the show because of something her profession calls “smart goals,” which are “tangible time oriented goals that you set for yourself.”

“I decided to put my schooling to good use and set myself a smart goal to apply for the show,” says Lau. “As a new baker, I was more shocked than anything when I got chosen. It’s been the biggest privilege.”

The show filmed over the summer with a “baker bubble” in place. Bakers were regularly tested for COVID-19, and wore masks and visors whenever they were not on camera. Lau says she felt very safe with the precautions in place, and that she loved getting to meet other bakers from across the nation.

Describing herself as fast and decisive, Lau says she prioritizes efficiency when baking at home—so the time pressure of the show didn’t affect her too much. 

“I know that the second I get too comfortable, I won’t learn as much,” she says. “I did a degree in English and Biology, because I love analysis but I also love experimentation and figuring things out

when something is not quite perfect.”

As a frontline worker during the pandemic, baking was an ideal after work de-stresser for Lau. And she would love to marry her two passions by helping people with disabilities learn and re-learn how to bake.

While Lau is nervous about watching herself on TV, she’s excited to represent Richmond on the show. 

“I’m excited that I’ll get introduced as an occupational therapist and people will have to figure out what I do,” she says.

“I’m honestly so thankful for this whole experience. I feel like baking gave me so much meaning during a time where there’s a lot of confusion and global confusion everywhere, and I feel so glad that I get to (take) something that was so meaningful to me and show that to the world.”

The Great Canadian Baking Show airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on CBC, and can also be streamed on the free CBC Gem app.

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