UCLA biochemistry instructor and alumnus Dr. Stacie Nakamoto (Ph.D. ’01, Merchant group), aka “The Baking Biochemist”, is a contestant on the latest season of The Great American Baking Show, which started airing on May 5, 2023.
In the show, a spin-off of The Great British Baking Show, nine amateur bakers from around America compete to win the “Star Baker” title and an engraved crystal cake stand. View the promo trailer here. We won’t know if Nakamoto wins until later in the season!
The program was filmed in England under the same tent used for The Great British Baking Show. People familiar with the British version will recognize the same judges: Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith. But the American version features American hosts – actors Ellie Kemper (pictured above with Nakamoto) and Zach Cherry.
“The experience was exciting!” Nakamoto said. “Getting to travel to England and bake in the iconic tent under the watchful eyes of Paul and Prue was a bit intense but being with the other bakers provided a feeling of comfort. Knowing we all shared a passion for baking created an instant bond between us bakers. I’m happy to say I made eight incredible friends with whom I still keep in touch.”
Nakamoto explains how baking and biochemistry are similar. “Many bakers, like myself, culture things (like yeast for sourdough) in their kitchen. In lab, we have the benefit of equipment for optimal growth of our cultures so I often wish I had a lab incubator at home! Also, in lab, we often follow an experimental protocol – for example, you carefully weigh out your chemicals, have incubation times and then analyze your final product. So, in that sense, baking is very similar!
“On the show, we all had to design our own recipes (the protocol) and in the tent, weigh out our ingredients, put them together (have them react with each other) and then the judges analyzed our final product. And then there is chemistry that is often incorporated into baking and cooking that people don’t even realize,” she explained. “One of my favorite examples is the “depression cake” recipe that was developed during the depression when ingredients were hard to come by. Rather than using eggs to help leaven the cake, the recipe uses classic acid-base chemistry! Baking soda and Dutch-processed cocoa are alkaline (bases) while vinegar is acidic – combining these ingredients results in bubbles that will cause your cake to rise. And the best part is you get to eat your experiment!”
Many of past contestants on the show have gone on to write cookbooks or have cooking shows, but Nakamoto’s goal was never to change her career. “I love teaching at UCLA, but my competitive-nature just couldn’t resist trying out for the show.”
Beginning when she was a UCLA graduate student, Nakamoto has often brought her bakes to campus to share with faculty, students and staff. “I bake snacks for journal club and it really helps create a more relaxed atmosphere for the students and during the holidays I try to bring in treats for the staff because we have really great staff who support us here.”
“I hope people will enjoy watching the show,” Nakamoto said. “And if anyone is interested in seeing my bakes, they can follow me on Instagram @baking_biochemist or check out my home-baking podcast, The Bakers’ Notebook.”
This isn’t Dr. Nakamoto’s first game show. She appeared in the TV game show Deal or No Deal a decade ago for a Teacher’s Edition episode.
Nakamoto isn’t the only UCLA Chemistry & Biochemistry instructor to appear on a game show. In 2022, Assistant Adjunct Professor and alumnus Dr. Hung V. Pham (PhD ’15 Houk group) appeared on the TV quiz show Jeopardy! and won second place.
Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, firstname.lastname@example.org.