by Billy Clouse
Since she can remember, she’s been in the kitchen. She started out counting and decorating cookies for her mother, and since then, her skillset has developed far beyond that. Almost 60 years later, she’s receiving national recognition.
A few weeks before the semester began, Annette Damavandi, Head Baker for SUU Dining Services, won the National Baker of the Year Award for the Chartwells Higher Education sector. Damavandi was selected out of all of the bakers employed by Chartwells, who has contracts on more than 275 college campuses.
“They opened up the Baker of the Year category this year, and we knew it was time that Annette received national recognition for the hard work she puts in,” said Director of Dining Anthony Lazenby in a press release. “We were absolutely thrilled when we heard she won on a national level.”
Damavandi’s mother, Mary May, served as the Head Baker for 15 years, and once she retired, Annette took her spot. She has been in the role now for 34 years.
“My first memories were just helping my mom,” Damavandi said. “I always thought pies were wonderful, and I learned that a decorated cookie is not sprinkles; we used the decorating tips and always did the border. In first grade, I remember my mom coming and helping us all do the press cookies and decorate those.”
Damavandi makes everything from cookies to cakes to seasonal favorites. She said that one of her favorites she ever made at the school was an orange roll, and as a rule, lemon bars and brownies are her most popular treats.
Annette and a team of bakers also create the tarts for the Utah Shakespeare Festival. In the past, they made traditional flavors such as lemon, raspberry, summer berry and apple, and this season the added lemon cream cheese, oreo and s’mores to the list.
Since she was a child, Damavandi remembered eating tarts at the Greenshow.
“It’s just something you’re raised with; you go to the Festival and buy a tart,” she said. “It was fun to be in the audience and watch people buy one and then go buy another one.”
In her early 20s, Damavandi ran her own catering service, where she regularly made wedding cakes for family members and locals. Because candy was popular with her family, she would make everything from toffee to brittles to chocolates.
“I’ve always taken joy in my work, Damavandi said. “A lot of times from afar, I’ve heard compliments. Of course that makes you feel good and want to do more.”
Soon, Damavandi will continue the tradition of making wedding cakes for her family.
“My daughter said ‘Have you ever made a hexagon cake?’ and I said ‘Not a wedding cake, but we have the pans so we can do that,’” she said. “I let them make their own choices.”
Next month, Damavandi will be flown to Orlando, Fla. for the 2017 Compass Group Be-A-Star Recognition Night.