‘Best Baker in America’ winner embraces local roots, heads Graduate Oxford Hotel kitchen

Posted on Nov 16 2017 - 7:58am by special contributor Natalie Suk

Chef Dwayne Ingraham took home the title of Food Network’s “Best Baker in America” earlier this month, but this national success hasn’t distracted him from his local passion.

Though he has worked all over the world and his resume consists of places such as the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota, Florida, and the Encore Switch Steak in Las Vegas, the pastry chef and director of food and beverages at Graduate Oxford seems to always come back here.

“I love the culture here in Oxford,” Ingraham said. “It’s nice to be able to work at a place where you can perfect your craft but also have great quality of life, that’s hard to find in a big city.”

Ingraham moved to Oxford in June 2010 to become an executive pastry chef at the City Grocery restaurant.

“Working at the City Grocery restaurants for six years was a wonderful experience,” he said. “I grew so much as a person and a pastry chef, a lot of creative freedom to push my boundaries, and chef John really nourished that, considering the name and the prestige the group and his name came with gave me a chance to put myself in front of different great chefs.”

Even though Ingraham’s career has found lots of success, opening up his own restaurant in Oxford was a minor letdown.

“Opening up Sinfully Southern Bakery & Cafe was a dream come true, but, unfortunately, we only made it for seven months, due to finances and location,” Ingraham said. “It was at a great location, considering it was up and running, but a little bit too much on the early side of that growth in order for the amount of money that we put in order to be able to sustain.”

Gerald Peralta, assistant manager at Graduate Oxford, said he thought Ingraham would be a great fit for the hotel.

“I came to know Mr. Ingraham in the past and was aware of his reputation and work ethic,” Peralta said. “When I heard there was an opportunity to bring Mr. Ingraham onboard as a member of the Graduate Oxford, we jumped at the opportunity.”

Ingraham has been working as the new director of food and beverages at Graduate Oxford for several months now, overseeing all the food and beverage outlets in the hotel — Cabin 82, The Coop and the lobby bar. Even though Ingraham has only been with Graduate Oxford for a short time, the partnership has already been a success.

“Things are progressing as planned,” Peralta said. “We knew what we were getting with Dwayne, and he has not disappointed with his leadership and guidance.”

Though the new position represents a slight shift for Ingraham, he is embracing the opportunity.

“I thought it would be a great step in my career, it would be more on the corporate side of things. Immediately I was on board, and here I am,”  Ingraham said.

Ingraham’s main goal is to have the food complement the hotel’s brand and aesthetic.

“Keep the food matching and elevated so that it matches the awesomeness that the Graduate has become,” Ingraham said.

Graduate Oxford’s customers enjoy Ingraham’s joyful personality as well as his food expertise.

Dina Kriscunas, who has recently stayed at Graduate Oxford, has already recognized differences in its menu.

“The Graduate is one of my favorite places to stay at, and with Ingraham’s expertise, the Graduate will even improve their accommodations,” Kriscunas said.

In addition to working all over the world, Ingraham has competed on numerous cooking shows, including winning Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen” in 2015 and then the “Best Baker in America” competition in early November.

The competition lasted for nearly six weeks, featuring challenges such as crafting the perfect sweet tart and macarons. Ingraham took home the $25,000 cash prize. He plans to use a part of it to take a food tour of Europe.

His famous Funky Monkey Banana Pudding won him a spot on the “World Food Championship,” an experience he described as insane.

“Typically, they separate home cook/amateur and professional chefs, but this show had everyone put into a mix, trying to do crepes and whatnot under a tent in the incredible humidity in the middle of Orange, Alabama,” he said.

In the end, he did not make it to the finals. Though he has enjoyed competing on television and running his own restaurant, he’s looking forward to this new role.

“I don’t know what the future holds,” Ingraham said. “I definitely plan to give the Graduate my undivided attention. As of right now, this is my main focus, and we’ll see what life throws at me next.”