Photo by Miguel Morales

The rise of Madame Donut and her community-driven culinary creations.

With her rainbow-colored hair, dangling donut-shaped earrings and vibrant personality, one may find it difficult to envision Madame Donut growing up in a small Filipino village without electricity. “I had to make fire three times a day to make meals,” she recalled of her childhood.

Madame Donut, who legally changed her name to reflect her passion for donuts and a circular economy, has been a Maui resident and small business owner for over 10 years. Recently, she competed on the reality cooking show MasterChef, which is currently airing on FOX.

All of this success started with humble beginnings on her family’s farm, where she was put in charge of the kitchen.

“I was about 9 years old by the time I was in charge of cooking for the whole family,” said the self-taught chef and baker, who never envisioned herself having a culinary career.

When she was a teenager, Madame Donut started her first paid job at Dunkin’ Donuts. “I worked the front; I didn’t make donuts. So it’s not like I thought I would make donuts one day, but I’m sure it planted the seed,” she joked.

She left the Philippines at 18 years old, originally to join a band as its vocalist. Her journey away from home took her all over the United States, where she has since lived in Los Angeles, New York, Denver and San Francisco.

Courtesy MasterChef

It was during her pursuit of a kinesiology degree at San Francisco State University that Madame Donut fell back in love with cooking. Her college roommate was a private chef and, one summer, she borrowed his copy of a “Baking With Julia” cookbook.

After confidently announcing she was going to make croissants, her roommate tried convincing her to start with a less complex dough, such as cookies, but she strived to challenge herself.

When her roommate tried that first batch, he quite literally ate his words and said it was one of the best croissants he’d ever had. From there, she bought her own copy of the cookbook and started spending more time in the kitchen, which naturally evolved into her current full-time job.

“I said to myself that, if I worked in the industry, I would want to do pastries or desserts because of the way people look when they’re about to have desserts,” she explained, noting that diners order sweet treats purely for pleasure. “… It’s not about survival, it’s about adding joy.”

To further hone her skills, she attended the Culinary Institute of America, where she learned the traditional techniques for baking and pastry making. Her first job in the culinary industry was at AQUA, a fine dining restaurant in San Francisco.

Her experience in fine dining inspired her to create something high quality yet approachable.

“Donuts have always been the underdog of desserts,” she said. “… Brioche, in the industry, is basically regarded as the rich man’s bread and I thought donuts are like the poor man’s snack.” That’s when she decided to bridge the gap and create artisanal brioche donuts with locally sourced seasonal ingredients.

Madame Donut’s innate creativity and passion for this work propelled her to participate in the culinary competition Master Chef, an opportunity she took with the intention of using the platform to share a message about sustainability, inclusivity and the importance of community.

“[When] we come together and eat together — that’s breaking bread or kalo or cassava in front of other people — that, to me, is what makes it magical and how to become a true community,” she shared.

Her business, Donut Dynamite, currently runs as a pop-up shop with pick-up available on Saturdays at Tails Up Maui in Wailuku. (Though the restaurant is temporarily closed, vendors like Donut Dynamite and Fresh Fish Maui still operate out of the building.)

Looking to the future, Madame Donut hopes to do more savory cooking, which includes a collaboration with Brian Etheredge and his private chef company. She’s also “pursuing some projects to work alongside local nonprofits to further promote local food sustainability and improve school food programs.”

She will also soon travel to Japan to run an international pop-up shop before returning to her beloved home base on Maui. (@themadamedonut | @donutdynamite)