Meet the Philly Home Baker Competing on The Great American Baking Show

Plus: A look at Aqimero’s boozy tea party menu, the Red Owl Tavern introduces Bridgerton-themed cocktails, and sous-chefs from Lacroix and Laurel take over for an unforgettable collaboration dinner.

Victoria Walters is a Philadelphia-based home baker competing in season two of The Great American Baking Show. / Photograph courtesy of The Great American Baking Show

Howdy, buckaroos! And welcome back to the Foobooz food news round-up. It’s kind of a weird week this week. There’s no huge news, but there are a lot of little things happening all over town — everything from tea at Aqimero and coffee in Brewerytown to a couple cool collaboration dinners and the history of Swedish Fish. So let’s get you up to speed on all the Philly food news that matters. And we’ll start this week with …

Philly Shows Up For The New Season of The Great American Baking Show

Born and raised in Harrisburg but educated and currently living in Philadelphia, local amateur baker Victoria Walters is in the tent for the new season of The Great American Baking Show on the Roku Channel.

Full disclosure: I have watched pretty much every episode of The Great British Baking Show that’s available (legally) in the United States. It is second on my list of “Favorite Obsessively-British TV Shows to Leave On While I’m Trying to Fall Asleep,” right behind The Repair Shop, which, if you haven’t watched it, is like high-dose Valium applied directly to the eyeballs.

But GBBS is almost as good, and making fun of it is so easy because British home bakers always have weird day jobs like assistant municipal flagpole counter or mink polisher and are incapable of baking anything that doesn’t have chocolate, orange, or passionfruit in it. And usually all three at the same time.

The Great American Baking Show, on the other hand, is like its British counterpart. The judges are stern British baking experts Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith. Unlike the British version, The Great American Baking Show won’t have Noel Fielding as one of its hosts. It has Zach Cherry (the angry dude with the glasses from Severance) and Casey Wilson (from SNL and that show Happy Endings that was on like a hundred years ago), and while I like both of them, neither has the weird louche vampire energy of Fielding. But whatever. Maybe they’re great.

The second season premieres on Friday, May 24th, with Philly’s own Victoria Walters among the contestants. She’s a Temple grad with an Italian mother and a Panamanian father, both of whom influence her baking. According to the bio that the show sent to me, Walters is also an amateur photographer, a knitter, a maker of terrariums, and a member of a local a cappella group, but baking is really her thing.

She did all the baking for her own wedding (10 cakes, including a four-tier wedding cake) and says that her style is “traditional American classic bakes” — something which, hilariously, Hollywood and Leith always seem confused by on the original Baking Show. Like, they will be entirely unfazed by someone making a dirt pie with raisins and live hornets in it, but if someone uses peanut butter in a bake, they will just stand there, staring blankly, like two dogs trying to do long division.

Anyway, Walters will be up against seven other amateur bakers from all over the country, trying to outlast them all and make it to the finals of the six-episode series. Here’s hoping she comes out of the gate swinging and does Philly (and Harrisburg) proud. You can watch the trailer for the new season right here.

Now what else is going on this week…

A “Boozy Tea Experience” at Aqimero

Aqimero tablescape / Photograph by Richard Sandoval Hospitality

Know why this one caught my eye? Because I can’t even remember the last time I wrote anything about Aqimero — Richard Sandoval’s Latin-inspired fusion restaurant in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Philadelphia. This is the place that took over when the Eric Ripert/Jennifer Carroll spot, 10 Arts, gave up its real estate at the Ritz. I slaughtered it in a review shortly after, declared the place entirely forgettable, then promptly forgot all about it myself. That was eight years ago.

And now, here we are.

Aqimero is gearing up for summer with a whole boozy tea experience that they’re describing as “a modern twist on traditional teatime, where classic tea is transformed into artfully crafted cocktails.”

Sounds nice, right? And what it comes down to is one large-format (meaning teapot-sized), tea-inspired cocktail, followed by a tasting menu and a bunch of desserts. The cocktails include coconut-infused rum with coconut water, lime and agave (which sounds pretty good, provided you really like coconut); a hibiscus Paloma Punch with hibiscus-flavored mezcal; and a jasmine tea margarita with tequila, lime, and edible flowers. The tasting menu is a lightweight spring/summer spread with tuna ceviche in lychee-citrus broth, shrimp empanadas, guacamole with grilled peaches, and then homemade macarons, churros, truffles, and sorbets for dessert.

Tickets for this particular tea party will run you $125 a head, and they’re only for certain dates: from noon to 2 p.m. on May 18th and 19th, June 15th and 16th, July 20th and 21st, August 24th and 25th, and September 21st and 22nd. Also, reservations are required, so get yours right here if you’re down.

Aqimero is also rolling out an updated menu for the season, leaning into wagyu tenderloins, Italian burrata and heirloom tomato salads with grilled watermelon, and roasted lamb shank with green salsa cruda. So if you’ve got guests coming into the city over the summer, check the place out. And if you like it, be sure to let me know. I’m really wondering if the place might be worth revisiting after all these years.

And Speaking of Tea …

The Bee Sting cocktail at Red Owl Tavern. / Photograph by Katie Reporto

I know that some of you out there are big fans of Bridgerton — the lush regency romance about to roll into the first half of its third season on Netflix, with the first four episodes dropping on May 16th. Unlike the Bake Off, this is not really my thing, but that’s cool. I’m sure there are more than a few of you out there already laying out your corsets and croquet mallets for the big day.

But do you know where there are some other big fans of the show? At Red Owl Tavern, apparently, where they don’t want to specifically say that they’re doing a Bridgerton-inspired “Spill the Tea” cocktail menu in celebration of the premiere … but they’re totally doing a Bridgerton-inspired “Spill the Tea” cocktail menu in celebration of the premiere.

Running from May 16th through June 30th, there are new, Bridgerton-inspired cocktails to keep you amused. Drinks like the Bee Sting with its Kinsey four-year bourbon, lemon verbena honey syrup, lemon juice and Canton ginger. Or the Duel at Dawn, featuring chai tea, Diplomatico Mantuano dark rum, Mr. Black and espresso. Or the Pink Lady, which is mint-tea-infused Bombay Sapphire, Lillet Rouge, pomegranate and lemon juice, which sounds incredible.

According to the Red Owl, each cocktail will be accompanied by a pre-written “Gossip Card, sure to stir up scandalous conversations at the table.” I have no idea exactly what that means, but the bar crew at the Red Owl are really getting into it. So go! Check it out! Maybe meet some other Bridgerton fans, get loose on gin and dark rum, and maybe challenge someone to a duel. It’s summer in Philly. Anything is possible.

Now, how about some leftovers?

The Leftovers

The chefs of Lacroix’s upcoming “Sous-Chef” collaboration dinner with Laurel happening on Sunday, May 26th. / Photographs by Mike Prince

At Lacroix, executive chef Eric Leveillee is turning things over to the sous-chefs for a night, letting his own team (Jeff Davidson and Mike Heck) and the sous-chefs from Laurel (Maximilian Lukens, Duane Lê, and Sam Feinberg) design and prepare the entire menu for a one-night-only collaboration dinner.

Honestly, I love this idea. The multi-course, fully collaborative dinner is happening on Sunday, May 26th. There’ll be two seatings (5:30 and 7:30). Tickets are $110 per person, and reservations are live right now. So five years from now, if you want to be able to say that you knew these chefs (and had them cook for you) before they made it big, you know what to do.

Brewerytown has a new place to start the day. Last week, Rival Bros. Coffee opened a new cafe at 3145 West Jefferson Street, on the ground floor of the Poth Brewery Lofts. They’re doing a coffee bar menu with their fresh-roasted beans, breakfast sandwiches, toasts, and pastries from Mighty Bread Co. In the future, they’re going to be adding more lunch-y fare — made-to-order sandwiches, salads, stuff like that — but for now, they’re just getting their legs under them, so they’re keeping things easy. Hours are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.

You guys know how I never miss an update from the American Swedish Historical Museum, right? Well, if you ever wondered where Swedish Fish come from, that is the place to go and find the answer because they’ve currently got a pop-up exhibit on Swedish candy and confections featuring, among other things, the history of Marabou chocolate, why Swedes like salted licorice, and the origins of Swedish Fish.

Sound cool? Then you can go and see it all for yourself from now until September 15th. Admission is included with a general admission ticket to the museum, and I hear that the gift shop is well stocked with Swedish candies. Everything you need to know about the ASHM can be found right here.

The Spruce Street Harbor Park is getting ready to reopen for the season. From what I hear, the whole place has been completely revamped since last year. There’s a new corner store called “The Trading Post” that will be stocked with pints of ice cream from some of Philly’s best ice cream makers, local snacks, and merch from Philly makers and artists. The Lazy Hammock is a new public space featuring a covered bar and performance space, including a 16-foot video wall for watch parties and movie nights. The new food and beverage menus are still being finalized, but everything should be in place for the big opening on May 24th — just in time for Memorial Day weekend.

Good news for all you xiao long bao freaks out there in the suburbs. Nan Xiang Soup Dumplings (a.k.a. Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao) is opening up a new shop at the King of Prussia Mall. And they’re doing it soon.

The grand opening is tomorrow, May 15th, and this new location will have — in addition to its legitimately famous crab and pork soup dumplings — a full bar, a covered patio for outdoor seating, and what looks like a killer menu. I mean, Shanghai-style dim sum, pan-fried pork buns, char siu, and soup dumplings all in the same place? Yes, please.

Until Wednesday, the closest place to get Nan Xiang soup dumplings was in Cherry Hill. But this new KOP location appears to just be the start because the mini-chain is already planning for multiple new locations in the region opening throughout 2024.

Jezabel’s is kicking out the jams next week with a special live-fire Fuego Dinner on the rooftop bar at the Bok on Tuesday, May 21st. For $250 a ticket, Jezabel Careaga and her team are putting together a full-on, multi-course, family-style meal inspired by the cuisine of the Andes Mountains, paired with party juice from Porvenir Wines, and culminating with a show-stopping seven-day flan for dessert.

Reservations are required. Get yours here.