After being a contestant on The Great Canadian Baking Show in Season 5 (two years ago) and being eliminated in the bread baking round in Episode 4, Toronto’s Alina Fintineanu decided to up her game and enrolled in the prestigious pastry program at Le Cordon Bleu Paris, a world-renowned institution. Alina recently graduated from the demanding six-month course, earning her Diplôme de Pâtisserie. We spoke to Alina by Skype from Paris where she has extended her stay to study French.
From Luxe Baker to Rogue Tooth Fairy
Locally, Alina is known as The Luxe Baker, but while competing on The Great Canadian Baking Show, she earned the nickname of The Rogue Tooth Fairy. That’s because in real life, Alina Fintineanu has several letters behind her name (RDH, CAEd, CTP) as an orthodontic dental hygienist and a certified training practitioner who owns her own orthodontic consulting business.
“My two passions are orthodontics and baking,” states Alina. “Dentistry and baking don’t really go together. I am lucky in that I have been able to follow my two passions in life.”
At the age of seven, young Alina discovered her love of baking as she helped her mother stir the batter for fruitcakes, tarts and meringues. “Mostly I just licked the beaters, but I loved spending time with her baking.” Alina grew up in Romania and her family emigrated to Canada when she was 10 years old. (Another surprising fact about Alina, she started playing chess at age four and became a national champion a few years later.)
“The experience of being on The Great Canadian Baking Show was extraordinary,” says Alina. “It was like going to baking camp. All of us loved baking so much and many friendships were created. It’s been a few years, but we still talk and keep in touch. I feel blessed to have been on the show and to witness how the magic is made. I learned a lot about baking and about myself. I am a perfectionist and the biggest lesson I learned was to be kinder to myself. Mistakes are going to happen and it’s how you recover from them that counts. Mistakes are the best learning lesson. My confidence in baking and in myself really improved through the whole experience.”
Nervous by nature
Alina also learned how to conquer her nervousness.
“Something most people don’t know about me is that I was so nervous that I would get physically ill before the show,” she admits. “I had two choices; to let fear defeat me or to push myself past that fear. I chose the latter. In fact, I appeared on some live TV shows after that which meant no editing. I feel that I am now in my element on TV and want more of that!”
Fast forward to Alina’s time at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school. “It was immensely challenging as you are expected to work quickly and efficiently. It was rather like being on Master Chef. At the beginning I was a bit shell shocked learning to adapt to a new kitchen and the practicality of making things in a limited time frame.”
Before long, Alina was baking croissants, madeleines and her favourite dessert, French entremets; a complex dessert composed of a variety of elements such as sponge cake, fruit compotes, crémeux, nut praline and more, enrobed in a mousse and covered in a shiny mirror glaze or textured velour. “Entremets are a multi-layered dessert that has varying textures of crunchy, soft, sweet and salty and acidic, where balance is everything. As part of our final exam for Superior Patisserie, the challenge was to create original entremets with five to seven elements—of course I did nine– to flex our creativity and show the technical skills we learned.”
Making desserts that look like art is something that speaks to Alina’s personality. “My company name is The Luxe Baker which is a branding I created to describe my style of baking—it’s elegant, timeless, with clean lines and flavours that appeal to a wide range of people. Luxury is all about encompassing my baking style and it’s also a refers to who I am as a person.”
What does Chef Alina love about living in Paris
Asked about what she loves most about living in Paris, Alina answers quickly: “The list is long! Europe speaks to me as I am originally from Europe. Paris immediately felt like home. The work-life balance is celebrated. I quickly learned that is not acceptable to email a work colleague on the weekends—that is frowned upon. I love the pace, the culture, the shopping and the mecca of bake shops and eat at least one baguette every day. This is the birthplace of delicious food. And I get to walk by the Eiffel Tower every day on my way to school!”
Alina has landed a recipe column with Postmedia called Baking with Alina and she’s also a recipe writer for Canadian Living. Asked what she’ll do when she returns to her hometown of Toronto, Alina answers: “I am toying with opening my own pastry shop and Toronto is appealing, but I’ve never been to Asia and maybe it would be exciting to open something there.”
But Alina has her sights set on her dream job: “My greatest dream is to have my own baking show on TV and to host or judge baking shows.”
Asked if she has a baking hero or mentor, Alina replies: “Anna Olson—Canada’s baking sweetheart. I would love to be the next Anna Olson. I would love to be a staple on Food Network Canada. I love relating to people and sharing my passion for baking.”
For more information on Alina, connect with her on her Instagram page @luxebaker.
by Laurie Wallace-Lynch