Dave Okapal wants his cookies to make everyone proud.
Temple University’s pastry chef, known as “Baker Dave,” prepares about 2,500 cookies and 1,500 pastries every day for Temple’s Culinary Services, he said. Okapal also has a cooking show called “Baker Dave Presents…” on TUTV.
“I’ll meet students and say, ‘I’m Baker Dave,’ and they’ll be like, ‘Oh, you’re a real person? I’ve heard about you, but I thought you were like Aunt Jemimah. I didn’t think you were real,’” he said.
Okapal used his talents to compete against other bakers on an episode of Food Network’s “Christmas Cookie Challenge,” which will air on Monday at 10 p.m. Contestants on the show have limited time to complete the show’s two baking challenges.
“Your only preparation is memorizing the recipes that you’re hoping to use and trying to figure out how you’re going to come up with something with the type of scenarios they might throw at you,” Okapal said. “You have no idea.”
In the episode, Okapal and four other bakers made cookies on sticks that are supposed to represent the best part of Christmas for kids and grown-ups, according to TV Guide.
The jury panel critiques the cookies each round and decides which contestant out of the final three to dub the winner, who will receive a $10,000 prize.
“Everybody’s looking forward to Monday…to see what happens,” said Shawn Martin, a chef manager who’s worked with Okapal for about a year. “Aramark, Temple campus and students are really lucky to have him. He’s a highly skilled pastry chef.”
Crys Pikarski, a junior advertising major, is looking forward to seeing someone they know from campus appear on “Food Network.”
“The fact that he actually made a name for himself as a chef for the college, rather than being just some guy who makes pastries for the college, is really cool,” Pikarski said.
Okapal said he hoped his previous “Food Network” experience would increase his chances of winning.
In 2009, Okapal and his brother-in-law Frank Urso won a silver medal on the Extreme Wedding Cakes episode of the “Food Network Challenge,” a competitive cooking show that aired on the network until 2011. “Christmas Cookie Challenge” is another opportunity for Okapal to meet and connect with other amazing bakers, Okapal said.
“My goal and what I’m looking forward to in this competition is to make my friends and family, which includes Temple University, proud,” he added.
Okapal said his favorite thing about working at Temple is the opportunity to introduce students to new foods.
“I love the idea of being able to bring new experiences to people that want the experiences and actually appreciate it,” he added.
Okapal’s recent pastries include Temple-themed holiday cookies, multi-colored cupcakes for Temple’s National Coming Out Week in October and green velvet cupcakes for SuperBowl LII when the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New England Patriots.
Okapal also bakes pastries for Temple’s Cherry & White Catering, the Student Center and Johnson and Hardwick and Morgan dining halls.
One of Okapal’s best-known creations is his annual “TU Big Cake” for homecoming. A culinary team cuts the gigantic cake into thousands of pieces and serves them to students, faculty and alumni at the Homecoming Tailgate Village before the football team’s homecoming game at Lincoln Financial Field.
Students helped Okapal bake, serve and cut the “TU Big Cake” at the tailgate village every year since 2011 and can feed thousands of people.
“I don’t want to make a cake that only I can make,” he added. “I want to make a cake that people can help me make.”