Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Next Great Baker: My Thoughts So Far

by Amy K. Bredemeyer

The time has come... I'm going to start weighing in on what I think about each of the contestants. Three episodes have aired to date, so I think that sufficient time has passed for each person to have some solid screen time and really display their personalities, abilities, and work styles. I'm not known to pick the true winners (you may recall I was pretty fair-weather toward Marissa, last season's winner), so take my opinions with a grain of salt. Of course, feel free to weigh-in below! We also have a poll going on to the right, which we'll update weekly (four people did vote before I had a chance to take off Melissa, so technically Letty and Gretel-Ann have two votes each already).

Also, a disclosure. You may have noticed that I've been doing a series of articles on Jen for Examiner, which has caused some confusion over why I'm focusing on her over there. In a nutshell, a local entrepreneur on a television show is exactly the type of thing that I should cover as the San Jose TV Examiner, so that's the push there. You'll notice that I stay pretty objective on Examiner but critique as much as I want here, so that's also the reason for my "different stances" on her work. NOW, on to the show!
Letty: From going through her website, I can't say that I'm extremely impressed with her designs. She has some interesting pieces, but a lot are very simple. I would have guessed her strength was in the actual baking, as she doesn't seem to be familiar with building structures or stacking cakes. But, resorting to bark twice in three episodes doesn't really say "I'm awesome at baking." I don't despise self-described dictators the way some people do, but the way she treated Gretel-Ann's work on the Mexican blanket was terrible. I hope she goes home sooner than later.

Paul: I find his personality a little off, and he doesn't seem to be anyone's favorite coworker on the show, even before the sad way he was treated when Melissa was bumped. His cupcake designs aren't overly original, but I am rooting for him in a friend-of-a-friend way. His training is Navy-based, possibly the reason he's "a workhorse." I question his leadership at the moment, but I think time will tell us more. I'd like to see him stick around another couple of rounds, but I'm not sure he's the Next Great Baker. 

Chad: I've been meaning to try and find some of his previous television appearances on Food Network, as he is rather well-known in some pastry chef circles. I really like his designs, though many are a bit over-the-top. He is also always calling Buddy "chef," so between that and his fancy Chambord-and-chocolate ganache torte with pistachio crust, he seems to know how to handle himself in the kitchen. I was surprised that he'd run barefoot in Manhattan, but thought his leadership skills were pretty good with the first group cake. His teammates seem to admire him, even when his ambitious plans fail, which also says something about the way he impresses others. I mentioned before that he seems to pull his "I can do whatever you need me to" card, and I generally love that about someone. I hope to see him in the Top 3.

Gretel-Ann: I think she has talent in some areas of decorating and baking, but I'm not in love with her attitude. I'm also not clear on whether Cupp's is her second failing bakery or what exactly happened with Fischer's Fancies. I was glad that she wanted to nix the pinata, and her apple-cranberry crostada with cheddar pie dough sounded amazing. Her piping is not her strong skill, which I noticed on her personal version of the Groovy Girl as well. I liked how she stood by her team's dessert in the ingredients challenge, but I don't think she has what it takes to win this competition.

Peter: For some reason, the series isn't focusing too much on him, though I really like his personality. I also appreciate that he's more active on Twitter than some of the others and that he has a culinary background - as great as natural talent is, I'm an academic and appreciate the art of formal education. Furthermore, I think he's skilled in flavors and in decoration, especially for being one of the younger competitors. He has a thing or two to learn, but I'd like to see him in the Top 3.

Ashley: She's another contestant who hasn't had a ton of screentime. Her designs are not the most original, but they're very well-executed and I think she has a good eye for detail. Anyone with a rolling pin tattoo must be hardcore, and I was impressed with her suggestions for the Groom's Cake. I noticed that she was given the MVP award for her sculpted dog, but my excitement for her ability waned after she was the one who pushed for that rats-all-over-the-cake idea the following episode. I did like that she figured out the sculpted figures without prior experience, which made me wonder if that's why her piping wasn't the best - perhaps that's another area she hasn't done much? She's the candidate I'm most ambivalent about, but I see her doing well against her competitors.

Jen: She talks of loving a clean, precise cake, and her personal cakes show exquisite work... I, too, may have mistaken her buttercream for fondant in the photos. Her on-camera interview mentioning that she has made most of her staff cry and she's competitive aren't my favorite things about her, and I was disappointed that she "blanked" on an idea for the Superhero cake. The internet really seemed to bash her for "giving up" on the mechanics of that cake, but, honestly, if she had tried everything she could think of, I think letting someone else make a last-ditch effort was the right thing to do. I think she needs to be a team captain so that I can more solidly form an opinion, but for now I'd like to see her in the Top 3.

Chris: Part of me wonders if his one card to play is his airbrushing skills. If you only needed to be great at one part of cake decorating, even I could be a competitor. He claimed to be good at engineering, but not having your superhero move was a mistake. His eye for detail became apparent when he figured out the color scheme of the Groovy Girl cake, but it doesn't seem that his teammates give him a whole lot to do on the group cakes. Hopefully he'll get a chance to prove himself a little more, but otherwise I see him going home sooner than later. 

Jess: I was initially skeptical of her, as she seemed a bit meek and had very little internet presence. I've only seen a few of her designs, and while I find them lovely, I wonder about her smaller body of work in comparison to some of these other bakers. When she rapped her intro, it was interesting but too cutesy, which I don't know was her intent. In a nutshell, I just haven't been impressed with her yet, so I'm not really rooting for her.

Garrett: I like his personality and have been very impressed with his fondant work, up until that dog, anyway. [though, really, his first version of the monster wasn't awesome, either.] My problem with Garrett is how much he wants to prove to old peers that he's successful... pointing that out once was awkward, but bringing it up again while referencing Ralphie and his tormentors was a bit odd. While I would not have tried the peanut-butter-bacon-banana fried pie (pesto and amaretto are about the only nut-products I can handle), I was sad that Buddy dismissed it - such an original idea. I think he could handle himself throughout a few more rounds, but doubt he'll go to the top.
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Letty said...

Thanks for your candid review.
I appreciate your honest critic.

Sweet Regards,

Jen Kwapinski said...

I really appreciate this review. I have to tell you that the audition video was talking about the past. They do edit it really good. :-) It made me look like such a mean girl. I haven't made my staff cry in a very long time. I promise, I'm much more relaxed now. I am competitive in nature in the sense that I want to do things well and when I don't do things well, I'm very disappointed in myself. The way you see me on the show is how I really am. That online interview was every bad thing I said in an 90 minute interview put into a 30 second clip. Like I said, I just look mean. Thank you Amy!!

Bill A. said...

Great write ups. Fischers Fancies was the name Gretel-Ann ran her business by before they opened the cafe. It is now the parent company and remains the brand for many of their baked goods.

Bill A. said...

Great and fair write ups. Fischers Fancies is the business name Gretel-Ann was known by before she and her husband Brian expanded by opening Cupp's in Winooski, VT.

They still produce many baked goods sold in local markets under the brand name Fischers Fancies. Cupp's is their first brink and mortar space.