Lerome Campbell may be surrounded by endless pounds of sugar, chocolate and candy as the executive pastry chef at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, but he says the sweetest part of his day is when he spends time with his two daughters. The confectionery conductor behind the resort’s showstopping, megasized holiday gingerbread house, winner of Food Network’s competition Holiday Baking Championship Sweet Revenge and finalist on the network’s Holiday Baking Championship, Lerome shares essential life skills with his 6- and 10-year-old daughters, and the entire community. We conversed with Lerome about fatherhood and creating family traditions—all centered around sweets, of course.
On layering the multigenerational experience
“During Christmastime, my mom bakes her rum cake. It’s the most delicious thing. When I bake, I have to use recipes and measure things out perfectly. But she doesn’t—she just throws a little of this and a little of that in a bowl, and it comes out perfect every time. A couple of years ago, while making the rum cake, I decided to write everything down as the girls measured and my mom poured the ingredients. The girls were so happy—after all, my mom is their favorite person in the world. One day, I want to open a bake shop. I was raised in the kitchen with my mom, who had her own bakery. I was there every day and have so many memories in the kitchen with her. That’s a tradition I want to 100 percent continue with my kids.”
On the importance of preparation
“Working in this industry, it helps if you plan ahead to stay organized, and I am passing that skill along to my daughters. Even though they’re young, they’ve become very organized and keep the space clean. But it wasn’t always this way. When they used to come home, they would throw their backpacks on the ground and toss their shoes around. But now, they’ve learned to plan before they do anything else, so life is not chaotic. This is what I do at work—I have a system. Now and then, my oldest will say, ‘Let’s bake something.’ We’ll figure out what ingredients we need, and we say that we’ll do it in three days. She’ll ensure that we go to the store two days before we bake, line up our ingredients and mentally prepare for the work. When baking day comes around, she’s prepared for action.”
On passing the torch
“Once, my oldest daughter came to me, and she said, ‘Daddy, what do you think about coming to my school one day and doing some decorating?’ I said that sounds like fun. Then she smiled and walked away. I was confused. The next day, I got an email from the teacher thanking me for coming in and doing a decorating class. At that point, I was committed. Plus, it gave me the opportunity to spend time with her at school and perhaps inspire a new generation of pastry chefs. I created this whole setup with her class and we decorated cupcakes. Thankfully, everyone at the school said it was the best cupcake they ever ate.”