Yolanda Gampp Dishes On Crime Scene Kitchen And How To Cake It - Exclusive Interview

Even if you have not been fortunate enough to catch Yolanda Gampp as a guest judge on many baking shows, chances are you've seen the incredibly talented Toronto-based cake designer and decorator on her YouTube channel and blog — How to Cake It. From her famous take on the Popeye's chicken sandwich to her beloved turkey cake, and even the hyper-realistic watermelon, Gampp has turned tons of heads with her insanely detailed cake versions of many popular food items. Though the baker is very skilled at solving problems in her own kitchen, her latest project required her to judge the resulting dessert from contestants who had to decipher clues to guess what had been made in the kitchen. 

Along with Michelin-starred Chef Curtis Stone, Gampp is a co-judge on the new Fox baking competition, "Crime Scene Kitchen" which will premier on May 26. She sat down with Mashed to discuss the new show, as well as some of her favorite How to Cake It moments — among other things — in an exclusive interview. 

Yolanda Gampp tells us what clues to look for on Crime Scene Kitchen

Could you tell us a little bit more about Crime Scene Kitchen?

Oh, absolutely. So it's a really great show and the contestants have to decipher clues that are left in the Crime Scene Kitchen, which are generally ingredients or tools that help you make some sort of dessert. And they have to decide what dessert is missing from the kitchen. And therefore they need to bake in their own kitchen. It's really interesting to see how different minds view different clues. And the other really special thing about the show is in a lot of competition shows all of the contestants can see each other, but on "Crime Scene Kitchen," they can't see into each other's kitchens.

So each team is really on their own with their own thoughts, with whatever they've gathered in the Crime Scene Kitchen. And it's not until everyone's done that they start to see what the other team's made. So it's really, really interesting and it works out differently every time.

What were some clues that contestants tend to overlook most often or have trouble with?

I think the toughest clues are the clues that can lead you in many directions. Obviously, if you see flour, flour is in almost every single baked good. So really it's the combined clues that should lead you to the conclusion. And I'll say that the most difficulty usually came from them not searching the kitchen thoroughly. Like we wanted them to look in the trash, look in the dishwasher, look everywhere. And often they wouldn't open every single drawer and you can miss something.

Some clues were kind of misleading, and that was an indicator of not using that ingredient.

Yes, and they definitely learned as they went on in the show. So the first time in the Crime Scene Kitchen, I think they were just sort of gathering all the information they could. Right. And they didn't pay attention to, was it closed? Maybe where was it placed? Was it next to something else? They didn't pay as much attention to that. And they certainly learned to pay better attention.

Successful contestants, what set them apart from those who struggled a little bit more with the clues?

Well, interestingly enough, what set them apart was being good detectives. All of the contestants can bake in their own right. Whether they're professional, or aspiring, or they bake at home. So they all have strengths, some sort of strength, at least in certain areas of baking. But this show is about making the right dessert. So if you're not good at paying attention in the kitchen and you're not good at figuring out what the clues mean. You can bake us the most beautiful dessert, but if it's way off from the missing dessert, it's not going to get you anywhere.

Behind the scenes of Crime Scene Kitchen with Yolanda Gampp

Whether it was the contestants' desserts, or how they use the clues, or even the quality of what they served you, what were you most surprised by on "Crime Scene Kitchen"?

I'd say, I'm still most surprised by how every challenge would work out. Because you get to watch the teams grow and you start to think that you've figured them out. But every dessert is so different and every batch of clues is so different. So you could think one team is, they're going to take this and then they go in a completely different direction that you didn't see coming. And then I was also very impressed with some of the desserts that were put in front of us, especially with a time restraint. Baking is difficult and baking is really time-consuming. And when you're doing it against a clock, there's no time for mistakes.

If you were in the "Crime Scene Kitchen," how would you approach the evidence?

Wow. I feel like it's so easy to say, being the witness, but it's really difficult. It's so well done. I can see how people arrive at their answers. And it's really difficult. Going in, I thought, "How are they going to break this down?" But it's not obvious. I'm a really organized person. So I do think I would be good at looking through the kitchen thoroughly. I think I'd pull up the oven and pull out the fridge. I think I'd be really good at that. Now whether or not I paid attention to how the ingredients were used, I'm not sure. I feel like it's really easy for me to sit here and say," Oh, I get it right every time." I don't know that that's true.

Can you share anything from behind the scenes?

I mean, it was so much fun. I honestly feel like I dreamt it. I didn't know what to expect going in. It's the biggest set I've ever been on and I thoroughly enjoyed being a constant judge. I've been a judge on many shows, but it's usually just the guest judge. And Joel (Joel McHale is the show's host) is hilarious and he's the perfect host. I'm a huge fan. If you've ever watched How To Cake It, I certainly don't take myself seriously. I take my work seriously, but I don't take myself seriously. And so he's absolutely hilarious. He had me in stitches. And there was also a lot of eating and tasting, which led us to some sugar comas, some very like just, yeah. We'd go on a high and then boy, do you drop after that much dessert.

Yolanda Gampp explains the baking pitfalls to watch out for

There's always someone who makes something that doesn't set up in time. And so with your experience on both "Crime Scene Kitchen" and How To Cake It, what exactly is the problem that happens there?

Well, with cake it's very different. And I mean, everything I make certainly takes much longer than two hours. So with me, it's usually a structural problem. I've been a cake decorator for 22 years. So, I'm using recipes I engineered. That part usually doesn't go wrong unless there's something wrong with an ingredient. It's usually structural, like it's too hot in the kitchen. Or I need to chill the cake for a long time before I can carve it, that kind of thing. 

So, it's time. And that's why I really empathize with them going against a clock. Because in baking, unlike cooking, in baking, you can't really save things. You either do it right or you fail and you start again. But on a competition show, you can't start again. So you have to work with whatever you have.

What is one of the most common mistakes you see from people that come onto How to Cake It?

I think a lot of people assume that you do everything in one day. You know what I mean? Like you bake your cake, and you make your buttercream, and you make your simple syrup, and then you start carving it into a turkey. And then it looks like a turkey. And I feel responsible because obviously our videos are edited down. I take three days to make a cake and you watch a 12-minute video. And I joke about it all the time. I'm very open about it. 

I once said, every minute you see on YouTube is actually two hours and I'm not lying. And even when I wrote my book, I was adding it like with the publishers that I broke my recipes down into days, letting people know that there is definitely a prep day in the world of cake decorating. And then there's a decorating day because everything I do is more of a project than a simple baked good. And I want it to be honest about that and I want to set people up for success.

How Yolanda Gampp chooses her cake designs

How do you choose your cake designs? And what's your favorite that you've made so far?

So when we first started the channel, I had been selling cakes to clients for 16 years, which I'm blessed to have had that career, but I had to make the cakes that people wanted. I couldn't just make cakes I wanted to make. So when we started the channel, I had a whole bucket list of cakes I wanted to make. Cakes that I daydreamed about making. And that's what we did in the beginning. For example, the watermelon cake, which is the top-viewed cake, was just something I had always thought about making. But then we grew such a strong community, and this is the beauty of YouTube. It's so interactive. You don't shoot it all and put it out and then only here after the fact. It's ongoing so we can pivot and we can listen to our audience. So they started to suggest things they wanted to see me cake and we listened. If I'm passionate about it, or if I think that's a fantastic idea, then I absolutely cake it.

I just spoke about my roasted turkey cake. That is my favorite so far, I think because I had trouble carving it. It took me three hours to carve the shape. And it was one of the cakes where the whole time I was doing it, I was thinking, "Why did I say I could do this?" A lot of people don't realize, but pretty much 95% of the cakes on the channel I've never made before. And I'm doing it for the first time on the channel. I don't practice. I haven't made it 10 times. And I'm the type of person who I still consider myself a student in the world of cake decorating. So every time I make a cake, I want to try something different, do something different, make it in a way I've never made it before. 

I loved your Popeyes chicken sandwich.

I don't think you can understand. Early on, on How To Cake It, I made a burger which was super popular. I think it's still one of the top-viewed cakes. But we did the Popeyes because, or I chose to do the Popeyes because people were lining up for the sandwich. And it's funny, I had to make that cake and that sandwich was not available in Canada yet. So I was just looking at pictures of it. And normally I love to have a model. But I love, I absolutely love that cake. I would pick that. The team, we talk about which one we would pick over the other. So I'd pick that cake.

Yolanda Gampp's amazing cakes start with a lot of research

How did you come up with the idea of using simple syrup?

I didn't come up with that idea. Simple syrup is well-known in the professional baking world. So when I was really young and right out of culinary school and I worked in two different bakeries, simple syrup was just something that was always there. And so when I started to make cakes on the side and eventually stopped working in bakeries, I had a simple syrup bottle that my ex-boss had given to me. And when we started the channel, it was one of the top three questions. "What is that? Why are you showering your cakes?" And I realized, the home baker has no idea. If you read an average recipe in a magazine or even a baking book, it hardly ever talks about simple syrup. And so I was so happy to share this with the world and how you can flavor it.

And it's really important, especially with the type of cakes I make. Like I just explained, they take days. So I'm the only one that gets to eat the cake sort of fresh out of the oven when I cut the top off. But my clients or anyone who is receiving the cake is typically eating it days later. And often cakes that end up at celebrations are not fully consumed. So they're eating it days after that. So the simple setup is there to just lock in the moisture for the length of that process.

Your cakes are so realistic. How do you approach that process? How do you know where to begin?

I feel like I never know where to begin. I'm in the process of sculpting a cake today and I'm like, why did I get myself into this? I do a lot of research in the sense that I constantly look at pictures of the object. If the object is easily attainable, then I want it. Like, so if it's a watermelon or a chili pepper, I'll have the real thing in front of me at all times. I'm really obsessed with getting it right and figuring out well, how to cake it. And I've always been like that.

Can you share what you're working on today?

Yes. I'm working on a rotisserie chicken, which it's so funny. I made [the] turkey so long ago that I swear it's like every time I make a cake, the minute the cake is done, it just leaves my brain. And I think to myself, "How did I do that?" And then I go back and watch myself do it. And I've learned things along the way. Even on How To Cake It, I've learned things along the way. And maybe the way I did it six years ago, I wouldn't do it now. I would do something different.

Yolanda Gampp confesses how a meringue mishap spun hilariously out of control

What's the worst kitchen mistake you've had or kitchen nightmare?

So many. It's funny. I used to bake cakes in the kitchen of my home, like in my mom's kitchen. And I can't even believe I did that because I just had a little small mixer and a regular home oven. It would take so long. And when I finally saved up enough and bit the bullet and decided to buy a professional fridge, and a professional oven, and a professional mixer, all three of them shocked me. So the fridge, the first cake I put in it, the fridge was so cold that the cake looked like I had held it under a shower head. And I had to get the fridge adjusted to remove a lot of the humidity because while cakes like the fridge it does not like humidity. The oven was so powerful and hot that I had to figure out, when I set it to 350, it was more like 400. So I burnt the first cakes I baked in the oven.

And then the mixer was so powerful that I had quadrupled my buttercream recipe based on my stand mixer was four quarts and this one was 16 quarts. Four times four. Perfect, right? And it was like an "I Love Lucy" episode, particularly the chocolate factory episode. The meringue was so voluminous because of the power on this mixer, that it was just coming out of the bowl. And I was like trying to scrape it. It's so funny because that was way before I ever thought I would do what I do on camera. And it's the one moment that I think it would be great if that was captured because it was like, I was laughing in my own nightmare. You know what I mean? I couldn't stop laughing, but it was horrible. It was a terrible cleanup. I feel like I broke that mixer in, like I really broke it in hard the first time I used it.

The kitchen tools and tips Yolanda Gampp swears by

What are three kitchen tools you can't live without?

Okay ... definitely my simple syrup bottle. Can't live without [it]. I would say never underestimate the power of a good sharp knife. For me, that's a serrated knife and a paring knife. Very important. And then I think it would be, oh God, this is really hard. Actually, I have a new tool. It's a MixerMate. And it's basically a spatula with a notch in it. So you can get all the batter off the paddle in your mixer. Because if you bake, it never comes off the paddle. And then you get in with your fingertips and it's very messy. And I'm known for not liking mess. So this solves the problem.

Do you have any cooking tips or recipes you'd like to share with our readers?

I'm super proud of my vanilla cake recipe. It's actually our most searched recipe. I think because people are used to the sort of fake flavor of a boxed vanilla cake or a vanilla cake you would get in a big box store and they've never had homemade from-scratch vanilla cake. I'll also say I'm really happy with it because a vanilla cake has nothing to rest on. There's no chocolate or really moist banana in it to level it up. It's just, it's the simplest cake you can have. It's very buttery. And I use vanilla from Grenada, which is where my mom is from. And I have been smuggling it home all my life. So I always, every time my uncles or my aunts go back to Grenada, I'm like, you know what I want. So I currently have four large bottles. I always have a stash and I think it makes all the difference.

Yolanda Gampp tells us about her favorite foods ... that aren't cake

What do you eat typically eat in a day?

Oh wow. I love food. In fact, on set, we ate so much onset because we tried so many desserts. But obviously Curtis (Gampp's co-judge Curtis Stone) is [a] super talented chef, but Joel and I both love food as well. So, every time we got to order lunch were like, what should we get? What should we have today? In a typical day, for breakfast, I'm pretty good. I usually have like coffee, oatmeal. For lunch, I really love making salads. If I could have a salad, YouTube channel, I would. I just think people wouldn't watch. And then dinner, my husband is the cook in our house. So I'm very lucky. He's good at making anything. He loves to make pasta, homemade pizza, he'll make a whole roast chicken, he'll make a homemade chicken noodle soup. And I'm really adventurous with eating. So I'm not picky at all. And of course, there's usually cake in my day. But I feel like I don't have to say that.

What's your favorite fast food item?

Oh my goodness. I'm from Toronto. And in Toronto, there's a burger chain called The Burger's Priest and I'm obsessed with their high priest burger. It's delicious.

Be sure to watch the series premier of "Crime Scene Kitchen" May 26, on Fox.