Apronomics: Deva Williamson

Deva Williamson knows a thing or two about the sweet life. The St. Louis native lives in Webster Groves with her family and operates Big Laugh Kitchen, a space where she creates and styles buttercream masterpieces. She shares her skills with the community through her blog and website, which offers tips and tutorials on baking, cake decorating and food photography. In 2020, she put her confectionary skills to the test by participating in the Food Network baking competition Candy Land, where she and her teammates took home first place and the grand prize of $25,000.

Williamson had culinary aspirations from a young age. “I just wanted the opportunity to get my hands on some food, so I worked in restaurants as a cook, manager and bartender,” she says. While she started primarily on the savory side of things, the switch to sweet came when her mother-in-law gifted her a set of decorating tips with a specific task. “She challenged me to do better at decorating a cake than she had managed,” Williamson recalls. “I had baked before, but I wasn’t good in the beginning. It took a couple of years for me to start taking it seriously.”

As her baking prowess grew, Williamson wanted a way to remember her creations. “I loved my cakes, but as soon as a client would pick one up, it was gone, and all I had left was a memory,” she says. She taught herself how to use a camera and moved into the world of food photography. While she doesn’t sell cakes to the public, she shares her photos and sweet creations with others through Big Laugh Kitchen. “I’m most known for my laugh, so that’s where the name came from,” she explains. “It’s my space to teach people how to express their own creativity through food and photography.”

When it comes to designing her baked treats, Williamson starts with colors, considering common associations and feelings evoked by different hues. Rarely working from a recipe, she then determines what flavors will work best with that inspiration. “To me, it’s not just about tasting something sweet; it’s an experience,” she says. “When I design a cake, I want to bring a dream to life. Once, I made a lavender raspberry cake. I asked people to come over and share it. One woman took a bite, and she started crying because it reminded her of her grandmother who had a lavender patch in her yard. Interactions like that really inspire me.”

A baking competition is not something Williamson envisioned herself entering. “I usually like lots of planning and take a good deal of time to put everything together—the complete opposite of what you do when competing,” she says. “When I got the call about Candy Land, I was hesitant, but my husband told me to go for it.” She also had to adapt to working as part of a team on the show. Ultimately, she appreciated the support in areas that weren’t her expertise. “It took me out of my comfort zone, but it was nice to know I didn’t have to do everything on my own,” she notes. “I was able to trust my team.”

Candy Land was filmed before the pandemic, so Williamson had to keep mum on her team’s victory until the finale aired in December. However, she didn’t find keeping the secret too difficult. “It was actually fun,” she says. “Not a soul knew, but I enjoyed sharing in the anticipation of what was going to happen next. I got to be excited and shocked with everybody else. I even watched the finale with my hands over my face. I knew what the results were, but I was still scared.”

Currently, Williamson is working on a cookbook. While she plans to cover a wide spectrum of food, she says to expect a lot of great desserts. And if the opportunity to appear on another baking competition arises? “I wouldn’t be as afraid to say yes,” she notes. “I learned so much about myself and other people that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I built relationships, developed skills and left with so many memories. You really do gain something by going on a competition show. It may be a cliche, but everyone is a winner.”

Photo: Deva Williamson

smitten strawberry smoothie bowl

1 frozen banana
½ c frozen strawberries
¼ c frozen raspberries
½ c unsweetened almond milk or
your choice of milk
½ c plain greek yogurt
1/8 c spinach
1/8 c deseeded cucumber
Splash of orange juice to taste

If there ever is an ingredient that I always have in my kitchen, it’s strawberries. Although I’m a baker and work around sweets often, I lean more toward natural sweets to satisfy my cravings. When I arrived in Candy Land and had the opportunity to look around at all of the ingredients incorporated into the set design, I was overjoyed to see strawberries—a taste of home. I was reminded of the scent of a slow-cooking strawberry basil compote, strawberry rhubarb ice cream and, most notably, a strawberry smoothie bowl because it gives me the fuel I need when I’m in creative overdrive.

Strawberries pair well with many things due to their sweet caramel taste and floral notes. The smallest splash of vanilla can really draw out their flavor, however, I prefer adding spinach and cucumber to my strawberry smoothie bowls … shhh, those are my secret ingredients. For extra heartiness, consider adding ¼ cup of oats or a scoop of protein or collagen.

Photo at top courtesy of Food Network