You may grow tired of Christmas cookies within the next few days, but for out Houston baker Scott French, they will always be on his mind.
French, of Mister French’s Gourmet Bakery, won this season’s Christmas Cookie Challenge, and a big $10,000. You can watch a rerun of the finale on the Food Network at 8 p.m. this Tuesday, December 24.
Hosted by food truck owner and former NFL player Eddie Jackson, Christmas Cookie Challenge had five bakers who entertained viewers for weeks and who possibly inspired some tasty home baking. The judges were Ree Drummond, Vivian Chan, and Dan Langan. French wowed them all in the final episode when the bakers were charged with creating a tableau out of cookies that depicted a story about a mischievous elf—and featured a secret ingredient.
“My ingredient was cayenne pepper,” says French. “So I had to come up with a story and a recipe with cayenne pepper. I did a snowman selling [my Mexican wedding cookies as] snowballs. The snowman goes on break and the elf shows up and adds cayenne pepper to the snowballs, and sells them as fireballs. The snowman comes back and sits on the elf!” And French had to do all of this in 90 minutes.
But this wasn’t French’s first rodeo. Literally. He’s competed in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s Best Bites competition twice, and one once with his elaborate cookies. Most of his creations are special orders, and he’s produced a 3-D car, a six-foot mask, and a complete replica of a woman’s mansion, all out of cookies.
The 47-year-old was born in Montana and raised in Alaska. He has a master’s degree in architecture, which helps him build his cookie creations that he says resemble elaborate ice sculptures “that don’t melt.”
French came to Houston with his partner, who was from here and wanted to return to be closer to his family. French designed gas stations for Albertsons, then moved into the food industry as a corporate trainer and menu manager for Pappas Restaurants. He first started baking cookies as Christmas gifts for friends, but when his partner passed away in 2010, he used baking as a form of therapy. In 2012, he opened Mister French’s Gourmet Bakery and finally gave up his day job. In 2017, he was named one of OutSmart’s Heroes of Harvey after he opened his bakery to feed thousands of first responders.
Although French is well-known for creating cookies for office parties and special events in Houston, he was still shocked when the Food Network called him last year.
“I thought I was being punked! But they were like, ‘No, no, go to the website and look at the upcoming shows,’” he recalls. “I filled out the form, and they selected me for the show. We filmed it in February, but it didn’t air until December so I couldn’t say anything about it for almost a year!” But the wait was worth it for the national exposure and the big payoff.
“I’m putting the money back into the business,” French says. “I cut most of my cookies by hand, so I bought a 3-D printer to make my own cookie cutters. And I’m starting a cookie camp for kids this summer, and date-night classes where couples have a catered dinner and then come into the kitchen and bake their own desserts. For a small business, $10,000 is a big help.”
Last year, French moved into a Georgian Colonial home in Montrose. He lives in the back and has his bakery in the front part of the home.
“It’s really nice to have a space for consultations,” he says. “It’s not a walk-in-and-buy shop. Our sales are online, and a lot of the business is special orders for companies and special events. And I want to lease part of the home out for small cocktail parties.”
So, what is French’s favorite cookie?
“I get asked that a lot!” he says with a laugh. “I love sugar cookies. It took two years to perfect my recipe. But my real favorite is a soft snickerdoodle. The trick is to under-bake just a little. Not enough to be doughy, but just enough to be cake-like.”
Mister French’s Gourmet Bakery: 832-368-8018, misterfrenchs.com