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Arab American Tariq Hanna Wins TLC’s ‘Ultimate Cake Off'

posted on: Aug 5, 2009

Arab American Tariq Hanna Wins TLC’s ‘Ultimate Cake Off'
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BY: Ameera David/Contributing Writer

This past Monday night, former Detroiter Tariq Hanna unquestionably made his mark in the baking world when he took the grand prize on TLC’s new reality challenge, ‘Ultimate Cake Off’. In each of the series’ eight episodes, three bakers compete against each other as they race to construct elaborate cakes in hopes of winning $10,000 and having their creations featured at a marquee event. Despite a terribly hectic schedule the day after his big win, Hanna squeezed some time in to talk to Arab Detroit about how he fell into the culinary industry and what this victory means for his future.

Hanna, of Iraqi and Palestinian descent, was raised both in Nigeria, where his family had immigrated, and England, where he attended boarding school. Graduating at the young age of 15, Hanna was clueless as to what he wanted out of life. However, watching his uncles and brothers relocate to America for job prospects, Hanna eventually decided to follow them to the “land of opportunity”.

The first thing Hanna revealed to Arab Detroit is how he accidentally fell into the Culinary Arts, “I was all set to study Architecture at Lawrence Tech University, but before attending, my brother forced me to sit down with a counselor at Oakland Community College.” He continues, “I was rummaging through the OCC course guide and saw a program called Hotel and Restaurant Management….I had no idea what it was!” Being intrigued with the unknown, Hanna withdrew his admission to Lawrence Tech and took a leap of faith towards uncertainty. Through his studies, he was obliged to take one Culinary Arts course. Although the idea of cooking sounded ludicrous at the time, it was from that course that he says “Something really grabbed me and I was just hooked!” The rest he claims, was history.

Later, Arab Detroit inquired about how he was chosen to join a major network television show. Hanna revealed that the executive producer of ‘Ultimate Cake Off’ called him one day and offered him a last minute spot on the show. By that point, the baker’s work had been featured numerous times on the Food Network’s Challenge Series, and the producers were confident in his ability to create pastry masterpieces. On the show, Tariq and his two competitors were asked to make a centerpiece cake for a shark exhibit opening at a California aquarium. Normally, it would take weeks to construct cakes of this magnitude, yet they were given just nine hours to both design and build the cake, a challenge Hanna gladly rose to.

Despite his diverse cooking influences over the years, with exposure to food in Nigeria, England, and America, Hanna will never deny his utmost source of inspiration, saying “The greatest cook that ever lived was my Mom.” As we started to talk about what Arabic dishes he likes to make, he says “I don’t cook it all that much but let’s be honest, I’m still an Arab!” Both in his childhood and today, he admits to his favorites being mulukhiya (mallow leaves) and dolma (grape vine leaves). For dessert, he always goes for Arabic novelties like kunafa (cheese pastry) and the baklava lady fingers.

So what’s next for this rising star? Arab Detroit has the scoop. In addition to being featured in a second episode for ‘Ultimate Cake Off’ which is set to air on September 28th, Hanna has countless plans in the works. He is currently Executive Pastry Chef and co-owner of Sucré, a bakery based in New Orleans. Within a year, he will open two more Sucré shops—with hopes of one day expanding nationally. What’s more, he is in negotiations with different networks about possibly having his own show. If anything was made clear through our conversation, it’s that Hanna is driving full force towards success. He confidently declared, “I want to be a household name, and I will not rest or take a break until I get there.”