Lexington’s James Brown of Brown’s Bakery still cast a long shadow on Episode 3 of Season 3 of The Next Great Baker, even though he withdrew from the competition in last week’s episode. Spoiler alert: stop reading right now if you don’t want to know the outcome of Episodes 1, 2, or 3.
Episode 3 began with a voiceover from contestant Peter Gray saying, “I miss James, and he’s only been gone for such a short period of time. It’s definitely difficult, but I think he should go home to be with his family.”
Host Buddy Velastro echoed those sentiments when he said, “I know that it was tough to see James go home last week. It’s a hard challenge, an emotional night for all of us,” adding, “Honestly, one of you is lucky, because you’d be in his place right now.” (Brown fell on his sword in last week’s episode, voluntarily exiting the competition, as he acknowledged his heart and focus just weren’t in the game after his diagnosis of a benign brain tumor.)
Kentucky still has a contender on the show. Louisville’s Ashley Holt was paired with Tennessee’s Garrett Wallace on Episode 3’s Christmas-themed challenges.
For the baker’s challenge, Danny Claus’s elves gave each team a mix of unlikely ingredients to be combined for a Christmas dessert (all conveniently incorporating heavily-branded Hershey’s and Reese’s candy, in a page straight out of GladWare’s Top Chef). Easy combos were introduced, like fennel and bacon. But Team Chad, the strongest contender of the season so far, immediately drew the toughest assignment: Reese’s pieces, pink peppercorns, and…condensed tomato soup. The Philly baker acknowledged, “I definitely have an advantage over everybody. I’m very good at improvisational-ing desserts,” (possibly not as strong at improvising grammar).
Team Four, Ashley and Garrett, drew the relatively simple challenge of combining Hershey’s kisses with cardamom and butternut squash — which became “a cardamom chocolate cake with a butternut spice filling with a cardamom-toasted meringue and candied butternut squash” (infused with a bucket or two of Garrett’s sweat, prompting Ashley to instruct him to wipe his face, and observe in her to-the-camera interview, “Dude, you gotta calm down.”) For the second time in the season, Ashley Holt won the Baker’s Challenge. The prize? A bright and shiny product placement …gift card to Hershey’s Chocolate World in Times Square, and an advantage in the Elimination Challenge.
For the Elimination Challenge, producer/actor Peter Billingsley (Ralphie in A Christmas Story) shows up in the kitchen to order a four-feet-tall “inspired by” holiday cake for the cast and crew of the Broadway version of A Christmas Story: The Musical.
For Team 4’s advantage, Ashley gets to assign golden-boy Chad the wearing of a replica of the pink fur bunny suit from the movie. Go time, indeed. For the remainder of the challenge, Chad sculpts an absurdly plus-size cake of the movie’s iconic leg lamp (“cankles for miles” is how contestant Paul Conti describes it, but it looks more like a bad case of edema), that ultimately has to be scrapped.
As Ashley saws a panel for the black box theatre for Team 4’s stage-inspired cake, she saws right through her thumb, “about a quarter of an inch deep” (following in the grand tradition of Louisville’s Chef Edward Lee on Top Chef and playing through the pain).
Her trouper-dom is almost to no avail, however, as Team Jen/ Letty/ and Peter take the victory, and Team Four lands as one of the bottom two teams. Billingsley said “the end result felt sort of small in scope or scale,” while Velastro said it seemed almost like “a kid’s science project.” Still, Garrett and Ashley are spared because of the more epic failure of Team Chad’s fallen edema-leg cake. Although it’s obvious where the responsibility for the cake wreck lies (Velastro even says so, “neither one of you wants to pin it on Chad — it was Chad’s friggin’ fault!”), Melissa is ignominiously sent home in the box truck for her second “weak day.”
Next week: where’s Garrett?