Cobb native shares journey from ballerina to rising pastry chef

Contestant Sabrina portrait, as seen on Holiday Baking Championship, Season 8.

caption arrowCaption
Sabrina Coombs is seen on the set of Food Network's "Holiday Baking Championship.” Courtesy of Food Network

Editor’s note: In this series, we chat with metro Atlanta restaurant workers about their jobs, as well as their thoughts on the local dining scene. If there’s someone you’d like to nominate for Restaurant Insider, or you have feedback about the series, send your comments to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

Sabrina Coombs, who grew up in Cobb County, is executive pastry chef at the Epicurean Hotel in Atlanta. Last year, she made it to the finals of Food Network’s “Holiday Baking Championship.” She talked with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about her family’s food influences, why she traded performing arts for culinary school, and how she wowed Food Network judges with more than baking talent.

Q. How did your family influence your interest in food?

A. My mother is from England, and my dad is Jamaican, so I’ve been surrounded by different food and cultures. Every family gathering was always around food, so I guess that’s why the kitchen felt like home to me. Every Sunday, we always had a big family dinner. Thanksgiving was always the biggest event of the year.

ExploreQ&A with Amber McDaniel, pitmaster at Pit Boss BBQ

Q. I gather you were into baking at an early age.

A. It kind of turned into my chore. I wasn’t allowed to touch any of the hot food. That was my dad and my grandmother. So, I got to make the sweet stuff. It was usually a box cake or brownies, but I took a lot of pride in it, and I think my dad noticed the lights go on when I did that. At North Cobb, they have a culinary program, and we had an instructor come in from Le Cordon Bleu and do a demo. I thought, “This is pretty cool,” and I signed up that day.

Q. But you had other interests at that point, didn’t you?

A. I was dancing from about 3 until high school. I was hoping to go pro, and I wanted to go to a college for the performing arts, to continue that. But, I ended up getting stress fractures in both my toes, so here I am, baking. At the time, I thought my world was ending, but I found my next creative outlet, and now I love it.

Q. So, you ended up at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Atlanta. How did that work out?

A. They had a very vigorous course. You were at school Monday through Friday. From there, I joined the competition team, and would be at school for about two or three more hours. Then, I would do an internship at a restaurant, and go to work after that. So, my college days were not like most.

ExploreQ&A with Atlanta Breakfast Club’s maitre d’ and GM, Dionte Dillard
caption arrowCaption
Sabrina Coombs, the Epicurean Hotel's executive pastry chef, recently competed in Food Network's "Holiday Baking Championship.” Courtesy of Food Network

Credit: Rob Pryce

Contestant Sabrina cooking process, as seen on Holiday Baking Championship, Season 8.

Credit: Rob Pryce

caption arrowCaption
Sabrina Coombs, the Epicurean Hotel's executive pastry chef, recently competed in Food Network's "Holiday Baking Championship.” Courtesy of Food Network

Credit: Rob Pryce

Credit: Rob Pryce

Q. What was your first professional job after culinary school?

A. I worked at Atlas, about six months after its opening. I was there for about two to three years. From there, I went to the Four Seasons. I loved it there, and stayed there as long as I could, until COVID happened. And, now, I’m here at the Epicurean.

Q. How is working in a hotel restaurant different than other kinds of restaurants — or is it?

A. What makes hotels difficult is that it’s not just the restaurant; you have the banquets and in-room dining. I love hotels, because I love the fine-dining elements. And, I don’t feel like my day is always the same. There’s always something going on, and that gives me the variety that I need.

Q. Obviously, the pandemic has made it tough for restaurants everywhere. How are you coping?

A. With COVID, I think we’ve realized how important work-life balance is. We always preached it before, but now it’s that we really need to take care of each other and ourselves. That’s one of the good things that’s come out of COVID. Because of COVID, it was the first time I got to spend Mother’s Day with my mother since I’ve had a job in the industry.

Q. How was your experience on Food Network’s “Holiday Baking Championship”?

A. I was in the final three, and I made it all the way to the finale. That experience is still very real and rewarding for me, and I enjoyed every bit of it. It’s really nice to be part of their talent network now. And, it’s very weird to be recognized on the street, or in the store.

Q. I’ve heard that you mixed in some dance moves with your pastry routine during one of the episodes. True?

A. Yes. It’s on a trailer reel, and there’s a whole video of it. Basically, I did a ballerina cake, and the producers asked, “Do you think you could pull out some moves?”

Q. The blurb on the Food Network site reads: “Sabrina is the executive pastry chef at a hotel in Atlanta. She wants to win the competition to make her family proud.” Is that it?

A. The end goal for me is just to leave a legacy for the family that comes behind me. And, also, to do it for the people who supported me and had my back. I want to make them proud.

ExploreOur favorite dishes in Atlanta right now

Sign up for the AJC Food and Dining Newsletter

Read more stories like this by liking Atlanta Restaurant Scene on Facebook, following @ATLDiningNews on Twitter and @ajcdining on Instagram.

About the Author

Editors' Picks