Daniel Bertram, first encountered his passion at a shelter for homeless youth.
Bertram, a culinary student at Central Oregon Community College, was 13 years old and living on the streets of Seattle. Between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., he was able to find refuge at the Denny Youth Shelter. The shelter was equipped with a kitchen where guests were allowed to cook themselves whatever they would like– it
was in that kitchen that Bertram first discovered his love of cooking.
“One of the counselors showed me the ropes and showed me how to express myself through cooking,” said Bertram.
Bertram had no way of knowing how far his self expression through food would take him.
In 2012, Bertram and his wife, Amber Bertram, put aside their own money to travel to Las Vegas and volunteer for the 2012 World Pastry Championships. At this event, they were surrounded by some of the world’s best pastry chefs, and Bertram said he was thrilled to be around so many professionals who had achieved his own dream. His wife shared in his enthusiasm.
“It was all really exciting,” said Amber Bertram. “We were just hoping something good would happen.”
But neither Daniel or Amber Bertram were expecting what did happen.
After a week and a half of volunteering, some of the people in charge of hosting the Pastry Championship recommended that the reporters from Food Network, who were covering the event, should interview Daniel Bertram.
“I told them my story and they were very intrigued,” said Bertram. “I guess I nailed it.”
Two weeks after the interview, Bertram received a call from Food Network and was asked to participate on a reality cooking show called Sugar Dome.
“My voice was very calm when speaking on the phone,” said Bertram, describing his reaction to the news. “But I was flailing my arms around the whole time, I was so excited.”
Sugar Dome is a competitive reality show, in which teams compete to make the best dessert piece for a $15,000 prize, according to Food Network’s website. After Bertram accepted the chance to appear on the show, he spent a week on set, filming and competing.
“It was a whole week of agonizing stress because I wanted to do my best,” said Bertram.
His experience on Food Network was an exciting one, but Bertram said the real story of triumph is how he got to that point.
Bertram’s experience at Denny’s Youth Shelter sparked his initial interest in cooking, and after that he was eager to learn more. In 2000, when Bertram was in high school, he signed up for a cooking technical school. He was unable to finish due to complications with his living situation, but he always hoped to pursue his cooking career further. He just needed a while to “figure out who he was.”
“It took me a while to find my path again,” said Bertram.
In 2009, Bertram was travelling and working in concessions. It was while working that job that he found himself in a corn dog booth during the Fall Festival in Sisters, Oregon. There he met his wife and decided to stay in Central Oregon.
Bertram enrolled in the culinary program at COCC to hone his skills and further his chances at a career in cooking. Bertram said he enjoyed the program, especially the support he received from his professors.
Michelle Morris, a baking and pastry professor, was especially supportive, according to Bertram. It was Morris who first suggested to Bertram that he would be well suited as a pastry chef.
“He has the passion, drive and the artistic ability, which is something very specific to pastries,” said Morris. “As an instructor, that’s something we look for.”
Morris said that Bertram has always stood out to her in the year and a half she’s known him, because he had “that spark in his eye” when cooking, particularly when working with desserts. When the baking and pastry major was introduced to COCC in 2012, she urged him to make that his focus.
Morris described pastry baking as the place where “art and science collide.”
“It’s very precise,” said Morris. “The artistic side of things really come into play. Daniel is good at that.”
When Bertram told Morris about his appearance on Sugar Dome, she said she was proud but not surprised.
“I expected he’d be one to be picked up by something like that,” said Morris. “He is willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.”
Morris said Bertram’s experience on the Sugar Dome will open doors for him, but what will really help him to succeed is his own drive. She thinks that Bertram can do “whatever he wants” now.
Bertram is also hopeful that his recent experiences will lead to his next big step. Currently, he works as a prep cook, but is hoping to find something that challenges his skills more. After graduating, Bertram plans to move back to Seattle and gain more experience as a pastry chef, but his ultimate goal is to start his own business.
In addition to furthering his career, Bertram hopes to further his involvement in Grandma’s House, a house for pregnant teens in Bend. He wants to teach the girls there about cooking. This desire springs partially from Bertram’s own past.
“I know how hard it is being in a hard situation and I want to give back,” said Bertram.
For those in a situation like the one from his past, Bertram would advise youth to “look for a positive environment” and “find something you’re good at.” He said it was his own ability to do that which allowed him to make it this far.
Bertram’s journey is far from over, and he plans to continue to work hard.
“My motto is ‘creation is what feeds my soul,’” said Bertram. “It keeps me going.”