Find out how this gluten free baker and four time winner of Cupcake Wars is impacting her community.
Welcome to another installment of the Community Over Competition Series. I am extra excited to introduce you to Kyra Bussanich. Kyra is the owner of the dedicated gluten free facility Kyra’s Bake Shop. She is also the only four time winner of The Food Network’s popular T.V. show “Cupcake Wars“!
I was honored that Kyra (pronounced Keira, like Keira Knightley) agreed to be a part of this series. We have collaborated to tell you about a special partnership between the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and Kyra’s Bake Shop. She was kind enough to meet us in person and she is absolutely delightful. I hope that Kyra’s story will inspire you and that you will join Kyra’s Bake Shop in the fight against Leukemia and Lymphoma. This is not a sponsored post.
I was really sick through my teen years, and was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at age 20. I started taking all sorts of meds (Asacol, Azathiaprine, Remicade, etc) but didn’t feel any better. Each medication had its own challenges and side effects. I spent 8 years on/off of steroids and in and out of the hospital.
Eventually, my gastroenterologist wanted to take out the most inflamed portions of my intestines. When asked if it would cure my symptoms and he said he wasn’t sure, and that it was experimental.
I began looking for other options, and my mom (who has Hashimotos Thyroid Disease) was encouraging me to go gluten-free to reduce the inflammation in my system. I was hoping that the change would mean that I would be responsive to the medications I was taking.
What happened was even better than I could have hoped. I started having more energy and less pain. My blood tests finally showed normal levels of iron, white blood cell counts, and sedimentation rate. Plus, I weaned myself off all the drugs.
How did you get started in gluten free baking?
I have always been a baker, enjoying sweets, creating desserts, playing with flavors and feeding people. After I went gluten free, I attended Le Cordon Bleu in Portland to learn the fundamentals of traditional french baking. My plan was to use the knowledge to effectively break the rules by baking gluten-free, just to satisfy my own needs. I had no idea there would be such demand!
You have won cupcake wars 4 times, what do you think lead to your success and what advice to you have for other aspiring bakers?
The knowledge gained in pastry school helped immensely. I learned about ingredient function, and the protein content of the different wheat-based flours that pastry chefs used. This knowledge helped me to create my own flour blends and flavor profiles in my pastries.
One thing I’ve always been really good at is thinking on my feet and being resilient when something I’m experimenting with doesn’t work out. This is crucial in a competition like Cupcake Wars.
Another thing that is really important is presenting your creations in a delectable-sounding way. I don’t just say, “this is a cinnamon apple cupcake;” I describe the cake from the bottom up. For example, “This is a cinnamon-infused vanilla bean cake, filled with salted caramel and apple compote, topped with cinnamon Italian meringue buttercream, and a drizzle of more salted caramel sauce.”
Kyra’s Bake Shop really has a community feel to it. Can you tell us about your most recent community project, Cupcakes for Anna.
Oh my goodness. I recently got involved with fundraising for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society this spring. I heard about Anna Seely, a 13-year old 8th grader in the community who is an AML (acute myeloid leukemia) survivor. When she was 11, she was diagnosed with Leukemia and spent the better part of 5 months at Randall Children’s Hospital getting chemo treatments. She watched Cupcake Wars and Chopped to keep her spirits up.
When I heard about her, I reached out to her mom to see if Anna would like to collaborate on a cupcake. We would donate the profits to LLS. Anna was thrilled. Read more about Anna’s perspective and the ‘Anna’s Cure’ cupcake.
Why is this project special to you personally?
The whole reason I said yes to fundraising for LLS in the first place is because a friend from high school lost his 3 year old son Henry to leukemia. Lucas and his wife Marla were pretty open about their ordeal in Henry’s treatment, and then co-infections and it was both touching and heart-rending. Henry was actually cancer-free when he died, but the treatments are so hard on the system—especially teeny bodies— and he just had no immune system.
One thing that I’m excited about is that they’re starting to fund and delve into immunotherapies to target the exact type of blood cancer, and develop specialized treatments for that specific cancer. I think this will greatly improve treatments in the future.
I find it fascinating that nearly half of all cancer treatments that have been developed in the past 17 years were first developed for blood cancers. It just means that LLS has been doing a great job of raising money and funding research! My overall hope is to raise more than $150,000 and name a research grant in memory of Henry Friedler.
How can people get involved?
There are 3 main ways people can get involved:
1) Make a donation of whatever amount they’re comfortable with.
I think a lot of times people think, “Oh, I only have $20 to give; that won’t do much.” But honestly, EVERY BIT HELPS. For example, $20 can help researchers grow cells in a lab for 2 weeks to understand how the cancer works. That’s a HUGE difference for a relatively small donation. And the dollars add up quickly!
2) Place an order for the Anna’s Cure cupcake through our website for local pickup.
Order for a party or social gathering. Convince their office to order cupcakes for Cake Friday (yes, that’s a thing). Get their church groups to order. They can place pre-orders now, and pick up the cupcakes any day in April. We’ll only have this special Anna’s Cure cupcake for the month of April.
3) Spread the word to their networks.
If everyone I knew, and everyone they knew, gave $1 (yes, just a dollar!), we would be able to collect more than a half a million dollars for cancer research. I know people with vast networks, and I really do believe everyone can afford to give a dollar.
It is encouraging to know that we can all play a role in Cancer research. Like Kyra said, “EVERY BIT HELPS.”
I really appreciate Kyra’s willingness to share with us. There are two ways that her personal story really resonates with me.
First, my husband almost died in 2015. He experienced two major surgeries and countless hospital visits. We were told that he had Crohn’s disease and would need to take medication for the rest of his life. Rather than start the medications, my husband decided to change his diet by cutting out gluten and dairy. I am happy to say that he has made a full recovery. His doctors believed he did not need to start medications.
Second, in October of 2014 my dad passed away from brain cancer. While my dad did not have leukemia or lymphoma, cancer is cancer. No matter what kind of cancer it is it sucks! Everyone you know has been effected by cancer or knows of someone that has experienced cancer first hand. We are not fighting alone! Do not give up hope!
Has Kyra’s story touched or inspired you in some way? Please share in the comments below.