Edmontonian Renell Doneza competes on Cross Country Cake Off starting Thursday
In a new format, the two-night premiere of Cake Off happens Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m and wraps up Monday and Tuesday at the same time
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He tried out for one culinary show, but Renell Doneza was fated for another.
“I actually auditioned for the Great Canadian Baking Show and made it all the way up to the video interviews,” says the Edmonton-based learning facilitator and contestant on the inaugural season of CTV’s Cross Country Cake Off, which starts Thursday night. “It didn’t go anywhere, but one day something told me to look in my junk folder, and there was an email from one of the casting producers I’d dealt with.”
Doneza initially viewed the message with a certain amount of scepticism, but soon he was flying out to Vancouver earlier this year for the qualifying rounds of the Cake Off. With little time to prepare in the midst of his usual job duties, Doneza quickly conceptualised and put together a cake. In the rush to juggle work duties with his assignment, he didn’t consider that he’d have to take his creation on a plane out to the coast.
“That was a wild process that I didn’t know you could even do,” he chuckles. “I finished the decorations in my hotel room, brought it to the venue, and next thing we knew they were cutting into it.”
The tasty dessert, which sealed the deal for the Cake Off producers, was very dear to Doneza’s heart. It was called the “more than meets the eye cake” inspired by his idea of looking at what’s inside, not just outside. It reflected many things, including Doneza’s heritage and gender identity.
“I’m a Canadian Filipino, born and raised in Winnipeg, and part of the LGBTQIA + community,” he says. “I knew very well that people were going to come in with beautifully decorated cakes, and I had to be really clever about it. So I gave them a beautifully decorated, classic-looking cake on the outside, but with a flavour inside of ube macapuno. That’s purple yam and coconut, Filipino flavours, to show who I am as a person.”
Competing on the initial four-episode run of Cross Country Cake Off with 23 other bakers from across the country was something of an eye-opener for Donezal, who started baking in earnest during his late high school years. Not only was he thrilled to meet cookbook author Mary Berg and pastry chef Andrew Han as the show hosts, he also got to experience what he’d only seen on television: the pure terror of making tight deadlines while a camera watches your every move.
“When I see these shows where there’s a person in a panic and someone comes over to help, well, I always wanted one of those moments,” he laughs. “Of course, I did get to have one in the qualifiers, though it didn’t get recorded and it’s kind of in the background. But in my mind, I was like, I did it! We watch people struggle, we watch people cry, we watch cakes fall apart, and that was something I was kind of afraid of. I thought, I need to do anything to prevent that from happening. But really, it was fine.”
The atmosphere on the set at the Stanley Park Pavilion was so convivial that the contestants on the show, which was filmed earlier this year, have stayed in contact. According to Doneza, there are plans for future meetups among the Western crew, including here in Edmonton as Doneza engages in yet another semi-professional hobby, acting. In 2023 he’ll be performing at the Citadel in a musical theatre production, and his baking colleagues have decided to converge in town to support him.
In the meantime, he’s looking forward to the two-night premiere of the Cake Off this Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m. on CTV, and continuing on at the same time the Monday and Tuesday following. His family are all in Manitoba so they won’t be there to watch with him, but he will have a few other people lined up to view the fun. He does, however, draw the line at using his baking skills for the occasion.
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“My partner’s family is putting together a viewing party and I just love that they’re so involved in my life and excited for me,” he says. “But honestly, unless someone insists, which I’m sure they won’t, I don’t think I’ll be baking a special cake for this. I just want to sit back, relax and enjoy the show.”