Lots of Perks and a Bit of Baking
Welcome to the new season of Next Great Baker! Tonight we met the new contestants: 12 were chosen by Buddy, and then America’s choice, Heather G., made lucky 13. Entering the kitchen, they each look wide-eyed and so excited. It’s such a great feeling that I remember well -- putting on that chef coat for the first time, meeting Buddy, and smiling from ear to ear…all the while trying to size up the competition!
The stakes this season are quite different. The winner of NGB will receive a FOUR PAGE spread in Brides Magazine, AND….wait for it…..$100,000.00. I almost fell of my chair when I heard that one. Both of those prizes are life changers!
For the first bakers’ challenge, the contestants are told to make their signature desserts. We had some cookies, bread pudding, and cupcakes. A few stood out to me. Wes (a Sergeant in the Army from NC) kept true to his momma’s recipe and used a boxed mix for a Rum Cake. Respect for keeping true to the recipe but a mix? On a baking competition? Buddy really ripped into him for that one. But then again, if you don’t want them using a mix, don’t stock it in the pantry! Tony (who refers to himself as an enigma) made some sort of sponge filled with coffee cream and raspberry. I just couldn’t get past the fact that he said the word “ingredientses.” Megan (a paramedic from PA) and Minerva (from Miami) were the unlucky ones this time around in the bottom two.
Megan made a raspberry cupcake with a lemon frosting. I was liking the flavor combo -- Buddy said it tasted like cough medicine -- but it’s always a risk with raspberry. Minerva made a carrot cake that Buddy told her a rabbit wouldn’t eat -- OUCH!!!
As for the top two, Carmelo, aka Mello, (a retired cop from MA) made a “Cuatro Leches” cake. Why make Tres when you can make Cuatro? Our overall winner in this week’s bakers challenge was this adorable little firecracker named Jasmine. I instantly thought she was oozing with charisma! She made a red velvet cupcake that Buddy loved, and she hand-painted a fondant decoration on top (which ironically promoted herself -- hmm, careful there, little J). Jasmine may be barely 20, but I think she’s packin’ some punch!
Moving on to the all-anticipated ELIMINATION CHALLENGE, where the contestants worked in four teams. They chose their team by picking a golden cannoli filled with a piece of paper describing the cake they were making -- LOVE THAT!! I hope the golden cannoli stays, for I am a fan!!
The teams were Fashionista Cake: Heather M, Tony, Sara. Ultimate Man Cake: Ryan, Marissa, Nadine. Under the Sea Cake: Heather G, Wes, Megan. Fairytale Cake: Mello, Minerva, Chad.
Jasmine won the advantage to choose a team to join, and she chose the fairytale cake. (Now, my first side note that I MUST say is that these 13 didn’t even have to bake a tasting cake, no less 100 servings of cake like we had to in Season 1 --just sayin’. They got to do ALL CAKE DECORATING the whole time. Their cakes are gonna look GOOD without using up precious time actually baking for their cake creations!)
Let’s start with our Ultimate Man Cake. We all have men in our lives who do a variety of things, so maybe this theme is open for debate. Marissa suggested that the Ultimate Man would work out, drink beer, and maybe have a dirty magazine. Ummm, not my man, but OK. Ryan was single-focused on making a tool bench. Being the only man on the team, the girls decided to go with it, although I think there was hesitation there. The work from the girls and Ryan was definitely clean though. Buddy wasn’t convinced, and they were in the bottom two. BUT sidebar…Nadine is so joyful!
Chad took the lead on design of the Fairytale cake, and I am liking it!!! Chad had vision in this challenge. Stacking storybooks to meet the 4-foot height requirement was a fast and effective way to get the job done. The aging on the pages of the books was great, too! Mello sculpted a princess on top that was questionable -- she was a fairy on steroids. Can’t hate on it though. Overall, that cake was the winner for me.
Under the Sea started as a huge imbalance of power among the teammates. The cake started off as a hot mess, and the covering work was sloppy. I could not get past the fact that Heather was treating her teammates like children. Heather, I know you’re a mom -- so am I -- but this is a team, not a “Honey-Do list,” if you get my drift. Fortunately for them, THEY WORKED IT OUT! I was so surprised to see how that cake came together. They were detail-focused with textures and lights and sugar work. The landscape on the board was great, and the airbrushing was well done. I think they surprised themselves on that one.
Fashionista Cake: I think shopping bags, shoe boxes, jewelry, couture, all my favorite things (my guilty pleasures other than cake). Heather M took the lead and was thinking luggage. Hmm, I see where she was maybe trying to go, but this one missed the mark. Their time management was not the best, and I think despite Sara’s obvious doubts, she was not able to take a stand against Heather’s drive and strong personality.
Now, we must take a time out because during these cake creations, there was a twist. Yes, a cold and torturous twist!! Buddy stopped the clock and walked the cast into the large freezer and told them that whomever could withstand the -3 degree temperature would not only have immunity (as we all know, a much coveted advantage), they would also get an advantage for their team.
This became a tricky thing. Do you stay for yourself? Or do what you came to do and make some darn CAKE? Many toyed with the option, but the last men standing were Wes and Tony. Wes knew he was in danger for using the mix and as a sergeant this was a cake walk (pun intended!). Tony was doing it for his team -- aww Tony, crazy? Yes. Admirable? Yes.
In the end, the two decided to split the winning after 60+ minutes in there. Wes took the immunity and Tony took the advantage for his team. The advantage was the help of Dana Herbert, winner of Season 1 joining their team for one hour. They were psyched because at that point, they needed all the help they could get!
The teams rushed to finish -- last minute details, airbrushing, the works. I was glued to the TV. After time ended, they were informed that it wasn’t over yet -- they had to deliver the cake to Carlo’s, where the cakes were to be judged by Buddy, his family, and a crowd of Carlo’s Bakery Customers. The cakes headed out of the kitchen, and Fashionista Cake went directly from the sale rack to the triple markdown clearance rack, if you get where I’m going with this! The cake was leaning, and it didn’t look promising. Sure enough, upon arrival, it fell! SO hard to watch -- I know that feeling and it’s devastating. But, WHERE WAS THE STRUCTURE?! Did you not watch our season?!? Structure first!!
The votes are in, and the teams are brought in for elimination. Under the Sea and Fairytale are the top two teams. The overall winning team based on customer voting was the Fairytale Cake. I was thrilled. However, Buddy tells the Under the Sea team that they were HIS top choice -- a sweet victory for both!
Ultimate Man and Fashionista were in the bottom. At elimination, Ultimate Man Team was criticized for missing the mark on the theme. Buddy and Mauro both wanted to see sports and more of a well-rounded man theme than a woodshop cake. However, Ryan is in construction and to him, this was the Ultimate Man Cake. Despite the criticism of the man cake missing the theme, they too are safe.
Fashionista is the losing team. Tony is told he is safe from elimination, so the final two contestants left are Sara and Heather M. This is a rough call -- who goes? The strong one who took charge but couldn’t execute? Or the one who sat back and didn’t speak up even though she had doubts? Buddy decided that Heather M was safe, by the skin of her teeth. Sara acted as a follower who did not step up and use her voice to make changes.
I’ll throw it out to you….what do you think? If Sara stepped up and fought harder to be heard, would she have been criticized to being difficult and not being a team player? Could Heather M have been a little more open-minded to design input? It’s a tough call. The hardest part of this competition is always this tough decision of when to button your lip and when to take initiative & leadership without looking bossy or a difficult, non-team player. Such a fine line to walk -- this won’t be the last of this type of dilemma we see this season I’m sure.
As for this week’s winners, I am thinking both Chad and Mello had a strong start and are the current frontrunners. This week’s losers? Sadly, I am thinking both Minerva and Wes have an uphill battle next week to prove their worth and right to stay in the competition.
This first episode was fun -- looking forward to a great season. Take a look at pictures from last night right here!
The winning Fairytale Cake (Credit: Fatimah Adams/DCL)