Washington has its share of expert bakers, and one of them recently won season five of ABC’s The Great American Baking Show. But the victor was not a pastry chef at some high-end eatery. He’s a Capuchin friar studying at Catholic University to become a priest.
Brother Andrew Corriente lives near the university at Capuchin College, where he wears a standard-issue hooded brown robe, starts his daily prayers at 6:30 am, and practices his baking skills in a bright, well-worn kitchen. “There are a lot of people who can bake better than I can in their home kitchens,” he said when we met up with him there recently. “But can you bake with three hours of sleep, with cameras talking at you, and with [judge] Paul [Hollywood] staring at you?”
A man of God may seem like an odd fit for a reality-TV competition, but it makes more sense when you get to know Corriente. After graduating from NYU, he returned home to Los Angeles to work as an assistant to a talent agent, looking to break into the movie industry. But by 2011, he felt he’d lost his sense of purpose. Soon after, he met a friar for the first time, and that put the idea in his head. A year later, he joined the brotherhood.
The idea of making desserts struck Corriente in much the same way religion did. One day while meditating in the chapel, he just had a random urge to cook. “So I went into the kitchen and I started doing stuff and never stopped,” he said. When someone later introduced him to The Great British Bake Off, he was hooked.
On the American show, he impressed the judges with both his vanilla-bean mascarpone cheesecake and his unflappable personality, and they picked him as the winner. But after the taping ended, he couldn’t talk about the results until the episode aired. Back at the friary, none of the brothers knew what had happened. Some suspected Corriente had won, though, and joked that the trophy was probably hidden under his bed. “I said, ‘If I had won, do you really think that’s where I would put it?’ ” he recalled. “That’s exactly where it was.”
Now Corriente has returned to his routine of prayer, chores, seminary classes, and service to the poor. Among other things, he cooks meals and serves them to day laborers who congregate outside a nearby Home Depot. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to be serving the poor beans and weenies all the time,” he said. “I want to give them something a little more special. I prepare everything with care and dignity. Everyone deserves a good meal.”
This article appears in the March 2020 issue of Washingtonian.