Tuesday, November 27, 2012

RETURNING: Cake Boss: Next Great Baker

by Amy K. Bredemeyer

We've given you the basics on the contestants for this season's Cake Boss: Next Great Baker, and now it's time to take a look at how they did on the premiere episode. I wasn't overly "wowed" by any single contestant, but quite a few qualify as my early favorites, and I think that everyone has something to offer. Because there's quite a bit to unpack with this baker's dozen of contestants, let's get right down to it.

Cake Boss: Next Great Baker "Game On!" (S03E01):
Baker's Challenge: Bake something to show your culinary point-of-view and deliver it to Buddy in Manhattan via ferry and on-foot. The big change from years past, however, is that Buddy will not be trying all of the items - he'll try the first one to arrive and then the four best looking and/or sounding, but the last one to arrive will be eliminated immediately. [It's a little troubling that sight and sound are preferred to taste for baked goods, in my opinion. I wonder if this will be an ongoing change for the season?]

I anticipated the time crunch to make a big difference, and was surprised when everyone made the same ferry anyway. When it comes to the footrace, however, Peter is the last to arrive, with Melissa beating him by about 90 seconds. Buddy tries Emme's (she arrives first), Ashley's, James', Chad's, and Gretel-Ann's respective dishes, with Chad's Chambord and chocolate ganache torte with pistachio crust winning. [I had a hunch that the winner would be Chad or Ashley, given Buddy's original remarks.] Chad's advantage is that he is able to wait to hear what who the teams are for the Elimination Challenge and then he will be able to choose which team to join. [sensible and predicted prize.]

Ashley made a brown sugar and bourbon pie with a cookie crust. Buddy tried it and found the flavor to be interesting. [good, because a negative review would probably make her even more scared of him!] Emme had a cinnamon roll cake that she chose to make because it's sturdy. But, Buddy found it grainy and dry. James made a bourbon chocolate pecan cake, but Buddy didn't care for the frosting. [what's with all of the bourbon?] Gretel-Ann dished out a refreshing apple-cranberry crostada with cheddar pie dough (which is now available at her shoppe). The other items included Paul's chunk-a-monk cupcakes that "didn't look inviting," Jess's Blueberry Boy Bait (blueberry and cinnamon-flavored), Garrett's peanut butter, bacon, and banana fried pie (I thought it was neat but Buddy passed), Jen's white chocolate brownie with raspberry and almond that was "boring," Chris' triple chocolate brownie, Letty's dark chocolate bark, and Melissa's lemon poundcake with fresh raspberries that "didn't look great." Peter's unseen item was chocolate salted caramel brownies

Elimination Challenge: Design a groom's cake for engaged celebrity clients Mario Lopez and Courtney Mazza. The couple talk about how their wedding in Mexico will be on the beach and that Mario would like the cake to embrace the culture, be festive, and be a bachelor party in itself. [even I had ideas for this one!] Gretel-Ann asks about his other interests, to which he responds his daughter, his dog, and working out. Courtney wants it elegant and classy, so no pinatas! They get 7 hours to do a three-foot-tall cake, and, as an extra incentive, the MVP of the winning team will win a 5-night trip for two to Mexico. [nice!]

Buddy doesn't explain how he decides the teams, but after he sorts the contestants, Chad chooses to join James, Emme, and Jen. [The bottom two cakes being destroyed was interesting to watch.] Now, we'll look at what each group did in the order of best finished product to worst...

Team 1: Paul (the cupcake expert who received his culinary training in the Navy and baked for a submarine of guys), Jess (a runner who gave her backstory as a rap), and Ashley (the model-turned-cake-decorator with a rolling pin tattooed on her bicep). Ashley took charge and suggested a lot of small details for their cake, like a sculpted bulldog, a cactus, antique boxes, tiles, and a pair of boxing gloves. [I didn't hear Mario mention boxing, so that shows a little extra knowledge/research on their part.] Ashley worked on the dog and impressed herself and the other - it turns out the be the best part of the cake and the reason that Mario and Courtney chose this as the winning dessert! AND, for her efforts on the dog, Jess and Paul (and Buddy!) gave her the MVP award. Additionally, Courtney loved the tiles and how the cake really fit the vision. However, Buddy thought that the details being on the base of the cake was not ideal, but it was the cleanest cake of the batch. [I thought the height wasn't great - a tip of a cactus being three feet tall to meet the requirement? weaker in that area than some of the others.] 
Team 2: Melissa (who is accustomed to doing fancy wedding cakes, not tacky, garish ones), Peter (a funny guy who isn't featured much this episode),and Chris (America's choice who learned most of his skills from watching television). Chris wanted to do a tree with a pinata, which Melissa was skeptical about but thought it pulled together in the end. Even Courtney found the pinata classy, though Mario wasn't a fan of the Italian parts of the cake (like the slice of pizza). [yeah, it's a fine line to please both people in a situation like that, but, the cake was really for Mario and I would have listened to him, as most of the teams did.] Buddy thought the cake wasn't polished and the pinata was oversized and should have hung out further, but the colors of the cake went together.

Team 3: Letty (a self-described dictator), Gretel-Ann (a small business owner on the verge of shutting down), and Garrett (the one who wants to show his old HS buddies that he's successful). Because Buddy called Letty's name first for the group, she believed that she was supposed to be the leader. He doesn't check on the teams at any point during the process, so she is not corrected until after it's over. Her idea was to have crates with things falling out, like a Mexican blankets and a pinata. Gretel-Ann didn't want to do a pinata because of Courtney's reactions, so they replace it with a dog that Garrett sculpted. [I thought it was thoughtful that Gretel-Ann spoke up to try to create a cake that both Mario and Courtney would like, but it only seemed to start off her problems with Letty!] Letty struggled with creating the structure for the cake, and when she came back after two hours in the workroom, she hated the "paint job" that Gretel-Ann was doing on the blanket so she covered it in fondant strips, afraid that Courtney would hate the blanket for being "too loud." [this made it hilarious later when Courtney didn't recognize it as a blanket at all! PLUS, calling it "ghetto" was a little much.] The crates don't have enough support and begin to give (apparently Letty is not familiar with stacked cakes), plus the dog falls over. [the dog wasn't great anyway.] None of the judges liked the blanket, and Garrett explained how Letty messed with it after the initial one was finished. Gretel-Ann explained that Letty took charge and didn't listen to ideas, but Letty claims she has standards higher than Gretel-Ann's. [yeah, neither of these ladies are my favorite at the moment!]

Team 4: James (who really just wants to make it past the first round), Emme (self-proclaimed independent woman), Jen (who watches herself because she's used to being the boss), and Chad (who probably has the most impressive resume and runs barefoot through Manhattan when his clogs become problematic). Chad took the lead and suggested that the focus be a guitar and sombrero. Chad made the guitar, James did mosaic tiles, and Emme worked on the sombrero, though she had many questions and kept asking for help. [she certainly didn't seem "independent" to me.] Jen was concerned about Emme's lack of confidence, and James ended up creating the support for the sombrero. Unfortunately, it needed more support than he planned and the hat crushed the edge of the cake. Plus, the strings wouldn't stay on the guitar, though Courtney and Mario thought that was intentional. [ha!] Buddy found the whole thing to be on an amateur level and awarded them last place, especially considering that they had an extra person. Buddy asked the group who the weakest link was, and Jen suggested James should go home because his sombrero support was what failed. Emme agreed with this assessment, but James jumped in to talk about how he bailed out Emme on the sombrero, and Chad added that Emme was weaker than James because she needed so much attention that it took him away from his own responsibilities. With that, Jen changed her mind to agree that Emme was the weakest link, so she's sent home without a fight.
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