From Food TV Fan to Culinary Producer
Pastry & Baking Arts grad Cher Lytle's career change led to work on a culinary competition show.
After logging nearly two decades in the entertainment industry producing and directing online content, Cher Lytle sought a career change, and a love of candy fueled her desire to forge a new path at the Institute of Culinary Education's Pastry & Baking Arts program.
In 2017, when Cher was laid off by her employer, she was out of a paycheck, and sadly like many people today, she could not find a new job. To fill her time, Cher resorted to baking.
“What I used to do to feel accomplished was bake,” she says. “When you don’t feel like you are doing anything worthwhile, you do feel like if you put a bunch of ingredients together, you’ve done something. So I used to bake a lot.”
By the spring of 2018, after no luck landing another job in her field, she told her husband she needed a career change. “My zen was baking,” she says. She discovered ICE online and scheduled a campus tour in June of that year, enrolling after the visit.
One month after her 50th birthday, the California-native was in the kitchen classroom filling her pastry bag, glazing fruits and making artisan candies. “I was going to school later in life, and I really wanted to succeed,” she explains. “I was more determined to get perfect scores on everything, so I worked my a** off.”
In her teens, however, Cher was not so comfortable in the kitchen. When Cher moved out of her parents' home, her mother gave her a copy of the “Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook” to learn the basics. It wasn’t until her 20s, when she became a vegetarian, that she taught herself to cook and bake well. She also admits it was around that time she became addicted to the Food Network. “I would put it on and have it going as my company for the day,” she recalls.
Upon graduating from ICE years later, Cher wasn't sure what she might do with her Pastry & Baking Arts education. A fondness for chocolate and candy, which stemmed from a trip to Paris, led her to explore opportunities with chocolatiers. She reached out to Chef Kriss Harvey at andSons, an artisan chocolatier in Los Angeles’ Arts District with a robust online business and shop in Beverly Hills. Cher’s telephone conversation with Chef Kriss led to an in-person meeting, as he was curious about her schooling at ICE and invited her to tour the facility.
“He had me watch how to make the caramel and view the machinery,” she remembers. “As we were talking, he starts texting someone, and then said, ‘What do you think about externing at Spago?’” After a stage with Spago Executive Pastry Chef Della Gossett, and with the help of Career Services, Cher secured the position.
“My last week of classes was my first week at Spago,” she says. “Chef Della is phenomenal, she taught me all the tricks.” Cher was surrounded by a talented team of sous chefs and moved through different stations working on the bread team for a month then on to the line, then the lunch shift where she prepared the desserts offered during service.
“I learned how to deal with lots of people,” she adds. “I got to the point where they wanted my input, and I was able to create a dessert for the menu!” Her addition — a sticky toffee pudding for the holidays — was a career highlight. “I learned so much,” she says, referencing the simple lesson that everybody burns cookies. “Nothing is ever going to be 100% perfect. You have to be okay with it and know that sometimes you have to remake things.”
Another memorable lesson was when Chef Wolfgang saw Cher preparing the restaurant’s signature apple tart tatin. “He put the sugar on the apples and showed me how to brand the tops to caramelize them perfectly without having to use a blow torch,” she says. “He had me do them a few times and gave me pointers along the way.” Cher remembers how wowed she was at the attention she received from such a famous chef. “I was amazed that he went out of his way to show me how to do it."
However, her first day alone at lunch service coincided with Mother’s Day weekend, which proved to be challenging. “It was just so overwhelming, a trial by fire,” Cher says. “It was also the first time I cried at work!” Cher eventually got into a rhythm and worked lunch service up until the city’s shutdown in March, when the impact of the pandemic led to another layoff.
Cher turned to filling her free time with baking once again.
“To keep my chops up in my teeny-tiny kitchen, I started selling my own product and launched a website called Cher’s Sugar Shack,” she says. Unexpectedly, a friend shared a job lead seeking a candidate with a love of baking and production experience. Many mutual friends tagged Cher’s name throughout the social media thread, which eventually led to her position as the culinary associate producer on Food Network’s upcoming show, "Candy Land."
“It was my past and present coming together,” Cher says.
Though she had never worked on a competition show in her prior career in production, Cher knew she had the skillset to tackle the concept's pastry fantasies. For example, when asked if she could make extra-large lollipops and bonbons, she crafted the props with gusto knowing she could always reach out to her former chef-instructors at ICE for advice. “I had a lifeline to Chef Missy,” she says.
In addition to supporting the contestants’ pastry needs, Cher assisted the art department with integrating edible features into the set, which emulates the classic board game. The show challenged Cher with creating an oversized peppermint bark and giant gumdrops and adding pieces to the set’s gingerbread house so the show’s host, Kristin Chenoweth, could break off pieces to eat.
“On any given day, I didn’t know what was next,” Cher says. Her education equipped her to be nimble. “ICE helped me to think on my feet. If I know the basics of what makes a cake — how much fat, sugar, flour — I can throw it together in my head.”
She recalls how amazing it was to make butter from scratch, hone her chocolate sculpting skills and practice plating techniques at ICE and appreciates the diversity of her chef-instructors. “We could learn all different kinds of techniques and how each instructor did things. There is a science to baking, but there is still finesse, and learning from different people is important.”
As for the future, she hopes to continue to blend her two careers. “Honestly, I would like to continue working on food television production,” Cher says. She not-so-secretly hopes that could lead to an on-camera role one day.