Several bakers will go head to head in two spring-themed baking competitions that are returning to Food Network next week.
Hosted by Molly Yeh, “Spring Baking Championship” puts bakers to the test in challenges that put all of their skills to use in the kitchen as they race against the clock to elevate classic springtime desserts. In this new season, 12 bakers are competing for the title of Spring Baking Champion as well as $25,000.
This season, two locals to the NYC area are competing: Tom Smallwood, who is the Head of Culinary Development at Magnolia Bakery, and Jaleesa Mason, the owner of Mo & Jay’s Bakery in New Jersey. Though Mason is living and working in New Jersey, she grew up in Spanish Harlem and feels New York close to her soul.
“While I may live in New Jersey, I’m not repping New Jersey — I was born and raised in Spanish Harlem,” said Mason. “You never see anyone on the show from areas like that on these shows. People from tough places do great things, and I wanted to represent that on the show.”
Both Smallwood and Mason have tons of baking experience, with Smallwood running RBI Treats before joining the Magnolia Bakery team and Mason running an independent custom cake business before starting up Mo & Jay’s with her husband. Both competitors have wanted to take a stab at competing in a Food Network show.
“I’ve always wanted to be on Food Network,” said Smallwood. “I wanted to compete or have my own show or just get to share stuff I make with people. It was always a large goal of mine in some way shape or form.”
“I’ve always wanted to compete, but it was always the wrong timing. I was approached by ‘Spring Baking Championship’ on Instagram. I had just had my daughter and was still on maternity leave, and I thought it was a scam,” Mason recalled. “I ignored it at first, but they kept emailing and calling. My husband came to me and asked how I felt, and I said it was the wrong time — he said that I’m always saying that, and said, ‘Let me ask you a question, do you even want to do it?’ I said yes, and he said, ‘Okay, then we’ll figure it out.'”
For both Smallwood and Mason, the clock was particularly daunting, while Mason noted that coming up with ideas on the spot adds an extra level of difficulty.
“The time clock, you blink and two hours have gone by and you haven’t built your cake yet,” said Smallwood. “I’m not the most experienced in terms of decorating, but I can compile flavors well. Executing a vision is a difficult task, especially when you’re working alongside all the competitors. Everyone is insanely talented, it’s hard to focus on your own work.”
“Hands down the hardest thing is thinking on the spot. When I take orders for cakes, I require a lot of planning and thinking. To just go on the spot, that was absolutely the hardest thing,” said Mason. “I changed my mind midway on a lot of things, for me it was a hard struggle to get into that creative mode.”
Even though they were competing against each other, Mason and Smallwood agree that the other contestants are very talented and they all got very close over the course of filming “Spring Baking Championship.”
“The contestants are amazing. Everyone is so different, no two people were the same,” said Mason. “Seeing 12 different people with different strengths go head to head and see how their brains work creatively was so cool.”
“I hope that [the audience gets] that we all got very close and were all rooting for each other. Everyone had such different talents, we were all rooting for each other the whole time,” said Smallwood. “There’s no bad blood. I hope they see how much fun we had. It was like the pastry Olympics, we get to be creative for creative’s sake.”
Competing to create Easter treats
Also returning next week is “Spring Baking Championship: Easter,” hosted by Sunny Anderson. Like the traditional “Spring Baking Championship,” eight bakers go head to head in a series of challenges, but this time the one thing every challenge has in common is the theme: Easter. The winner goes home with $25,000.
Representing New York are three contestants: Brittany Lombardi, owner of Little Cake Baker in the Bronx; Sydney Perry, owner of Sydney’s Sweets in West Hempstead, Long Island; and Brandon Ting, an employee at a Queens fine dining establishment. The opportunity to compete on “Spring Baking Championship: Easter” was very exciting for all three contestants.
“If you’re in the food industry, being on Food Network is like the Super Bowl,” said Perry. “It was always a goal of mine to be featured on a show and cake competition shows are perfect for me, that’s where I thrive.”
“I always like to compete. Part of it is because I’m competitive but I tried to see it as a platform and opportunity to learn something quickly and constantly pushing myself,” Ting said.
However, Lombardi had a leg up on the competition: she has previously competed in the show “Halloween Baking Championship,” which follows a similar competition style as “Spring Baking Championship: Easter” but with a different theme.
“Coming from a huge Italian family, Easter is one of the most important holidays, so I got very excited. I knew what to expect because I was on ‘Halloween Baking Championship,’ so I knew I had an advantage,” said Lombardi. “It was a totally different vibe. For Halloween, it’s blood and gore, but Easter is just happiness and colors, pastels and fluffy bunnies. It was an amazing experience.”
Lombardi, Perry and Ting all agree that the competition has its challenges to overcome. For Perry and Lombardi, being in front of the camera changes everything, especially when competing alongside some incredible bakers while going up against the clock.
“There is a built-in anxiety around it. I was really trying to show the best work, but at the same time, there are time limits and a new environment,” said Perry. “There’s a lot of stress and anxiety. I walked in there and held my head high and did what I’m good at.”
“One of the most challenging things was seeing the competition. Everyone has their own amazing talents,” said Lombardi. “They come from all over the nation, it can be intimidating. You have cameras on everything and you hope your products stand out.”
For Ting, who grew up in Singapore before coming to culinary school in New York, the Easter theme presented its own set of challenges in addition to not having much experience creating show-stopping culinary pieces.
“It’s definitely more challenging to me because Easter is not a big thing in Asia. It was definitely more challenging to know what people eat and do during Easter,” said Ting. “But I would say the most challenging aspect is creating structure for the showpieces. I worked in restaurants my entire life, we don’t do a lot of showpieces, it’s mostly just dessert.”
All three competitors were able to learn about themselves and their fellow contestants throughout the new season of “Spring Baking Championship: Easter” and are excited for viewers to see what they have learned along the way.
“When I started making cakes, I wasn’t doing custom designs, I was doing stuff that tastes good. When all of the custom cake shows started on Food Network, it started me down this path. It was full circle for me to be on one of the shows,” said Perry. “The audience should get excited about the bakers that are on it. Everyone in the competition is super talented and really good at what they do. We all have a different niche and a different style.”
“We were constantly sharing knowledge and ideas. The competitors had solid ideas of what they wanted to do, I think that this is what makes me push myself and join the competition,” said Ting. “With this new season, they should be more excited about the different aspects when it comes to dessert. This season I would say it’s more diverse when it comes to people with different backgrounds.”
“I think people can get excited because we’re going to display the whimsical world of Easter treats,” said Lombardi. “Anything I’ve seen out that displays extravagant Easter desserts shows innovative skills and techiniques. It’s like modern-day Instagram reels brought to life.”
“Spring Baking Championship” premieres on Food Network on Feb. 28 at 8 p.m. ET/PT, followed later by “Spring Baking Championship: Easter” at 10 p.m. ET/PT.