Have you been watching The American Baking Competition on CBS? Being a home baker myself, I’d been anxiously waiting for this to start since I saw the first mention of it on TV. With Jeff Foxworthy as the host, I just knew it would be fun to watch too. Since the first show aired, I’ve been asked to participate in conference calls with Chef Marcela Valladolid (one of the judges) and two of the eliminated contestants (Carlo Fuda and Whitney Beery). Of course I said yes…what a great opportunity! In case you didn’t know, the show is based on the UK hit, The Great British Bake Off. Paul Hollywood, the UK judge, and Marcela Valladolid serve as the judges for the show. The grand prize? It’s $250,000 and a cookbook deal!
Let me tell you, I’m really enjoying this show! One of my favorite parts is watching Francine. She’s from South Carolina and has some great one-liners. Paul doesn’t know what to make of her and sometimes Jeff has to explain some of her sayings to him. No problem for this southern gal…I understand them all! She also makes some fabulous recipes.
It was so exciting to get the scoop first-hand of happenings behind the scenes. There were other bloggers on the first conference call with Chef Marcela and Carlo while Beth from Role Mommy and I were the only ones on the call with Whitney (Beth set all this up). Even though my hands were working fast taking notes during the calls, I was thankful to receive transcripts of the calls afterwards to summarize and share with you. This post is still long and I tried to cut it down, but there’s so much great stuff here that I didn’t want you to miss it! So…go grab a cup of coffee, sit back and relax! My questions are noted with my name and those marked with “Q” on the calls with Chef Marcela and Carlo are from other bloggers.
Jeff, Marcela & Paul
Chef Marcela’s Interview
Q: Are there any of the contestants that you see a little of yourself in from when you first got started?
Marcela: Absolutely! I see myself a little bit in all of them. Carlo wears the Italian flag on his chest and I’m kind of that way with my Mexican cooking. Effie cannot talk about her family without getting emotional and so much of her cooking is tied in with those family stories. Sometimes I feel like I bore people because the first thing that always comes out of mouth is my mom taught me how to make this or this is my son’s favorite. Whitney reminded me of how innocent I was at the beginning of my career. I would jump into stuff I wasn’t nearly ready for, but I was so passionate about what I do for a living that I didn’t care. I started my career in competitions.
Robin: What type of contests and competitions where you in and how old were you when you started?
Marcela: My very first competition on a national stage was on the Martha Stewart Apprentice and I was 25 years old. It was scary and horrible. I left three days after my son’s 1st birthday and I had to leave him for two months. I was competing against people who were much more experienced than I was and I made enchiladas for a living. It was very intense, but it opened up a lot of doors and I’m very grateful. I’ve also competed on Iron Chef and Chopped on the Food Network.
Q: What did you think of the Chocolate Bacon Peanut Butter Pie?
Marcela: It was awesome! I appreciated that just by looking at it, you knew it was going to be a huge explosion of richness and flavor. There was no misleading in that sense. I love the combination of smoky bacon with rich sweet chocolate and it’s a great combination that’s very much in and happening in the culinary world right now. I maybe would have liked to see it in a more delicate presentation and the size of it, but her flavor combination and the level of sweetness and salt was perfect. Francine absolutely knows what she’s doing.
Q: With all the delicious baked goods made on the show, how do you stay so thin?
Marcela: I’m one of those annoying people who’s going to attribute that a lot to DNA. At the same time, I am a single mom to a child who has more energy than the energizer bunny; so if I’m not working I’m at the park, or I’m hiking or kayaking or I’m very much into physical activity
Q: During the competition, are there moments where you just want to jump in and do it for them? Is that hard as a judge?
Marcela: It is. There were a couple of times where we were held back because this is a very serious competition. There is $250,000 on the line and a book deal. When we would do the walk around before they present the finished dish and they’re telling each of us their inspiration and the process, there were a couple of times I had to stop myself or someone actually had to stop me because I was giving out too much information. The rule was if you bake it, we taste it.
Q: What defines a showstopper bake for you? If all the dishes were all fairly on par with each other, would there be one key factor that put it over the top for you?
Marcela: For me, a showstopper is something that I would want to pay really good money for. That’s honestly the best way to describe this. Is this something you could see in a pastry shop? Unfortunately for these guys I studied in Paris; so I know what a pastry window is supposed to look like.
Q: What would be your signature bake?
Marcela: There’s a few, but it would have to be something Mexican. The most popular recipe I’ve had in my career and the most requests for is called the triple threat flan which is half traditional chocolate cake or sponge and half vanilla flan with caramel on the top. You make traditional chocolate cake batter and pour it into a greased pan; then take traditional flan batter and pour it into the same pan. It appears to marbleize and all mix, but because of the different densities of the batter, when you pop it in the oven they separate. When you pull it out of the oven and flip it, you have a beautiful white flan custard on the top and the bottom half is perfectly baked chocolate cake. In every bite, you get rich creamy light delicate vanilla flan at the same time you get that wonderful sweet chocolate.
Robin: If that’s your favorite thing to make, what is your favorite dessert to eat? (Before asking this question, I told Marcela I’d gained 5 pounds just hearing about that recipe).
Marcela: I think macarons. They’re very difficult to make and difficult to master. A good one melts right in your mouth.
Q: What are the stress levels like while the contestants are racing to finish?
Marcela: So stressful! You’d never think so much drama could come from baking a cupcake or a cookie or whatever they were making. It was incredibly stressful, but I love that it let’s everyone know that these guys are amateurs. When you’re a professional, the first thing you dominate and master is time management because you just have to. If you went to culinary school, that’s what they’re always going to bug you about. That’s what’s ironic about the show. Most people bake to relax or de-stress or bake out of love for their families. Then we put them in this situation where we have fluctuating temperatures, which makes it really difficult for baking, new kitchens, new equipment, they’re on the clock, they’re competing for $250,000 and a book deal. It’s a very high stress situation. You will see in the show that there are many times where they just didn’t make it. T hat’s when you can tell that these guys are home bakers.
Q: What advice would you give to amateur bakers or moms who go on Pinterest and try to replicate those beautiful and impossible cakes for kids’ birthdays?
Marcela: They have to start with a good recipe. If you are not cooking your own recipe and starting on your own from scratch, you need reliable sources to find these recipes because with baking it’s all about ratios and proportions. No matter how precise you are at measuring, if you don’t start off with a good recipe it’s not going to work.
Q: What is your favorite dish that your grandmother ever made?
Marcela: My grandmother didn’t cook. She watched soap operas all day and my grandfather cooked for her!
Q: What is the very best pantry staple that many people don’t already have and use?
Marcela: A good flavored quality sea salt, which could make all the difference in your dishes both sweet and savory.
Q: What is the most surprising thing that you have come away with from the show?
Marcela: I’m very professional in terms of my work and I’ve been a judge on shows before. I’ve always been very good at separating myself from the personal stories and the contestants. I never thought at the end of it I’d be so emotionally invested in what these guys were doing. I genuinely hope all of them either publish books or open bakeries. I wish I could award the prize to all of them. In the last episode, I wanted all of the ones who were standing to win. I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with each and every one of the contestants because each of their personalities are so spectacular.
Interview with Carlos Fuda (first contestant eliminated)
Q: Can you tell us about what the experience was like getting on the show and that first challenge?
Carlo: Getting on the show was a once in a lifetime opportunity, a dream come true, and throughout this entire journey I’m filled with so much gratitude. I wasn’t feeling like myself in the corporate environment I was in. I had such a strong passion for food, for Italy, for cooking and baking, and I never had the confidence or the boldness to take these steps that I’m now taking and pursuing my passion. I’m working a lot on my food blog. I was also living in Connecticut; so this was a launch pad for me to come home to Pennsylvania. I want to open a cafe here and continue my work in social media and blogging. I’m also a singer; so I want to pursue that dream as well. I’ve learned that dreams are not impossible. Dreams should be followed and that’s exactly what I’m doing now.
Q: What is the name of your food blog?
Robin: How long have you had your blog up?
Carlo: I started it in late December 2011. It’s a combination of food and philosophy on life because I’m just a happy person.
Robin: You mentioned lavender was your secret ingredient in your baker backstory. What is your favorite recipe to use that in?
Carlo: My personal favorite recipe is one that I actually have on my blog, Lavender Lemon Ricotta Cookies. My dad went to a farm, got unpasteurized milk, and we literally break off a branch from a fig tree and use it to stir the unpasteurized milk at a medium heat to make homemade ricotta. I just love making ricotta cookies because they’re light, airy and sweet. I think certain combinations of flavor go well together and lemon and lavender is one of those. I also love mixing it in cheesecakes.
Q: What was the most challenging and surprising thing from that experience that in hindsight you play it back in your head and say ugh I should have done this?
Carlo: It’s such an insane experience. I’m a family guy. I’m really close with my parents and my siblings and just the fact that you’re away from that makes it really difficult; so that created its own level of stress for me. You’re also with new people, sound people and crew, and you’re on TV. You’re not used to that and you’re in a kitchen environment that is so comfortable for you, but it’s not like any place you’ve ever cooked before so that was part of it. In watching the first episode, I didn’t think I was going to go home. I knew I was bold and risky, but there’s nothing about that I would take back. That defines me. I take risks in life and anyone who knows me knows that I’m bold and true to my origins and what I believe. The technical bake was very challenging. My oven was smoking and watching that I chuckled myself. When your oven smokes, you kind of got to laugh and keep going and smile and have fun no matter what.
Robin: When you bake, do you always bake from scratch or do you use convenience products?
Carlo: I do a combination of both. It depends on what I’m making. If it’s Italian and it’s something I learned through my family, like bread or pizza or some of the savory things we bake in Italy, I tend to stay with scratch because that’s how we make it and I find that it’s easier to do it that way for me. I’m a nostalgic eater; so everything I make reminds me of something or someone and I want to get as close to that as possible. If I venture out of my Italian comfort zone, I definitely go for some convenience products. I made a limoncello cake recently and used a lemon cake mix and took some shortcuts, because like Marcella said, when you’re in a time crunch, sometimes you just have to reach for those convenience items.
Interview with Whitney Beery (second contestant eliminated)
Robin: What would you say was your most special moment in the competition?
Whitney: Meeting my boyfriend, James (another contestant on the show). We realized we like the same music and all the same books and stuff while we were on the show. Once the show was all said and done, we started to hang out, without the competition involved. Meeting everyone on the show was also amazing and being able to get the insight from the judges helped with learning how to handle the pressure. Also, since we’re amateur bakers, we normally only hear feedback from our family and friends. They don’t critique like the judges; so it was interesting and helpful to hear how professionals see your bakes.
Robin: You mentioned in your backstory online that you like making cheesecakes and cupcakes. What are your favorite flavors to make?
Whitney: I love making cheesecakes and I can really make anything. One of my favorite things to do for my friends is to ask them what their favorite candy bar is. I take all those flavors and recreate it in a cheesecake. One of my brother’s favorite things that I make is my turtle cheesecake. For cupcakes, I like experimenting with a lot of different cupcakes. Last year when I was turning 21, I made made margarita and pina colada flavored cupcakes.
Robin: You studied restaurant management in college. What are your plans now? Are you going to go to graduate school or start a blog?
Whitney: I already have a blog. It’s called Appletondesserts.com. It has all my favorite desserts on it. I’m actually now living in Sonoma, California, and I’m working at a winery.
Role Mommy: Does James live in Sonoma with you or is it still a long-distance relationship?
Whitney: He is here with me. He’s actually in the room with me (laughs). It’s official.
Role Mommy: You’ve obviously impressed all your friends and family with all your different desserts and you made the show, but obviously you had some difficulty in those first few weeks. What was the biggest challenge for you?
Whitney: I think the biggest challenge was having everything so limited. The limited time, the limited resources. At home, you’re so used to baking and if it doesn’t turn out alright then you do it all over again because you have all these resources and all this time. On the show, it’s a lot more pressure than you would think being under that time limit.
Role Mommy: I tweeted you during the show and I remember that the combination of chai and mocha you were using for the macarons seemed like it was destined to be at Starbucks. Can you tell us about that particular bake?
Whitney: I did that because I was inspired by my endless studying days in college. There is actually a Starbucks a block away from where I was living. When I first started drinking coffee, mocha was the only thing I had. Of course, I loved the combination of chocolate and coffee together; two of my favorite things. Chai is also one of my absolute favorite drinks because I usually wake up every morning and have coffee or chai, and I usually eat chocolate at some point throughout the day. So it was kind of inspired by my studying days in college and at Starbucks. I never went to the library to study; I was always at Starbucks. So yes, you read my recipe mind!
Role Mommy: When you first made the show, were you able to tell anyone or did you have to keep it top secret?
Whitney: People had to wait and see. My parents obviously knew what was going on for my safety and well-being, but yeah it was all pretty secret. When I came back there were a bunch of people who asked me “where have you been?” I was like, “oh, you’ll see!”
Role Mommy: I saw your sorority was tweeting during the show. Tell me about that.
Whitney: I’m a sister of Zeta Tau Alpha. I joined when I was a freshman and recruitment was a week before school even started. Throughout the whole show, the sorority has been super supportive and great, retweeting and promoting the show. I’ve gotten a lot of tweets from Zetas from across the country.
Role Mommy: When you were in college, did you study anything in terms of culinary and pastries, or was baking just more of something you loved as a passion?
Whitney: I just loved it as my passion. For hotel restaurant management, we did have some food courses, but we didn’t really dive into practicing any of it. One of those classes got me interested in it because I was reading so much about pastries. I watched Food Network and followed everything on Pinterest; so that all furthered my interest and made me really want to do this on my own. An oreo cheesecake was the first thing I made from scratch and it was really good, and I was like “I’m not that bad so I’m going to keep doing this.”
Role Mommy: When we interviewed Marcela, we asked her if she saw herself in any of the bakers and she said you reminded her of herself when she was first starting out, where she had this natural talent for it and needed to cultivate it and get more training. She said she appreciated your spunk and the creativity in what you were doing. How do you feel about? Do you think the experience on the show is going to propel you to do what you should be doing in life?
Whitney: It definitely gave me real insight on how professional pastry chefs see your actual products, which is very different from how your friends see it. The experience definitely helped me and will continue to help me in the future and propel me to do what I want. Obviously, I will not stop baking. I made cupcakes last night.
Role Mommy: In terms of recipes, are you making them up or adapting them from the Food Network or things that you see?
Whitney: I do a lot of research online and I kind of find recipes and I change them. For example, I looked up a biscuit recipe and I used sour cream and added herbs and spices so that they tasted how I like them to taste..
Role Mommy: In terms of the characters on the show, we’re starting to see people’s personalities develop. Brian seems to me a sinister bad guy, Francine has the best one-liners and is hilarious and Effie seems awesome. Is there anyone besides James that you became really friendly with and continue to talk to after the show?
Whitney: Pretty much everyone is always in touch, but I’ve gotten super close to Effie. She was like my mama for the month and I love her. Carlo and I also got really close while we were there. James, Effie, and Carlo are the three people that I keep in constant contact with.
Role Mommy: What did you think about being critiqued by Marcela and Paul?
Whitney: It was hard being critiqued by them because they were looking for something other than what you like. They’re looking for what they like. It’s really difficult to gauge where you fall, and you kind of have to learn what they’re looking for and tweak what you like to fit what they want.
Role Mommy: What did you think of Jeff Foxworthy?
Whitney: Jeff was great. He was really funny and he was really nice. Some of my favorite times was when he would come over personally to talk to each of us because once he came over there was no pressure. He would give you some encouraging words.
Role Mommy: Are you still going to be watching throughout the show and tweeting?
Whitney: Yes, I’m still going to be watching! I have to root for my man! I also do want to watch because we all have heard tidbits of how everyone has done; so now I want to watch how it all unfolds
Robin: Has James made his apple pie for you?
Whitney: No he hasn’t. I don’t really like apple pie; I said that on the show. I don’t really like pie in general; so that was a really tough competition episode.
That wraps it up. I can’t wait to see what the next episode brings…it’s all about cake this week. Tune in Wednesday nights on CBS at 8:00pm EST (7:00pm CST) to watch the fun! You can be sure I’ll be there watching…and tweeting! The hash tag is #GetYourBakeOn. Join us!
A special thanks to Beth from Role Mommy (and BeyondPR) for coordinating these calls and providing the photos and transcripts.