When Next Great Baker returns for its fourth season Tuesday night on TLC, Cake Boss star Buddy Valastro will have an additional pair of professional perspectives to help him choose a winner. World-renowned chocolatier Jacques Torres and Magnolia Bakery chief Bobbie Lloyd have signed on as the series’ first permanent judges.
“Jacques and Bobbie are the definitions of business skill and culinary creativity,” said Valastro in a TLC press release announcing the additions. “I’m thrilled to have their unique perspectives and expertise help me monitor the teams’ progress and ensure they have what it takes to successfully run a baking business, which is the end goal for all the competitors. This season showcases the most talented bakers we have had on the show, and the new team format promises double the skill and double the bakery drama.”
Torres says Valastro’s respect for his and Lloyd’s professional abilities, combined with their like-minded personalities and enthusiasm for all things sweetly indulgent, made for a productive — and outright fun — judging panel.
“I had never worked with Buddy before,” says Torres. “He has that energy that is very positive, that childlike way of being and I love that. I think I am a bit like that too, so I love to interact with him. He is a very good professional and a very good business owner, but he is a child at heart, and in what I do — pastries, cake making, chocolate — I love to see people like that. I like to see people stay true to who they are.”
In another new twist to the season, the competitors will work in teams of two to earn the $100,000 grand prize and an opportunity to work for Valastro at the new Carlo’s Bakery in Las Vegas’ Venetian/Palazzo. Because teamwork is essential in professional food prep environments, Torres says the update adds a realistic, and seldom problematic, element to the competition.
“Most of the time you always have a leader in the team and that’s what they came with — they came with one of them being the leader, and the other person knew they had to work well together,” he explains “And they usually did work well together. It was rare we had any conflict in the team.”
A final change to the show’s format entails the lowest-scoring teams in the Cake Challenge duking, er, cooking it out in an Elimination Challenge that tests not only their cake-making skills, but their ability to craft other sweet treats, as well.
In Tuesday night’s season premiere, the teams must introduce themselves via a dessert that represents their hometown, followed by a field trip to New York City, after which they’ll make Big-Apple-inspired cakes. Upcoming episodes feature a candy-themed challenge judged by Dylan’s Candy Bar owner Dylan Lauren; a wedding cake throwdown judged by Sean and Catherine Lowe from ABC’s The Bachelor; a life-sized cake recreation of Long Island Medium‘s Theresa Caputo judged by Caputo herself; a deliciously nightmarish challenge judged by Freddie Krueger himself, Robert Englund, and many more creative confrontations.
Asked to choose a favorite, Torres says, “I loved the picnic challenge — doing a hot dog or hamburger, but, like, 4-feet big. That was really a cool challenge!”
Torres adds that his own biggest challenge entailed having to send talented people home after mentoring them over the course of the season.
“You get used to the people who are working in front of you and you give them advice — and you get involved with their evolution in a way because you do give them advice,” he says. “So you feel a bit responsible for the next challenge they are going to have and what they are going to do. Because you guide them, it is a little bit difficult to say, ‘You have to go home.’”
Here’s what else Torres told us about TLC’s Next Great Baker Season 4.
Channel Guide Magazine: What surprised you most about the talent and capabilities of this group of competitors?
Jacques Torres: They all had different specialties. Some were good with buttercream. Some were good with fondant. Some were good with airbrushing or painting. They all had different capabilities. and they really challenged us to judge them. Sometimes it was very tight, and the result was very, very close.
CGM: The show really seeks to point out that being a great baker or pastry chef does not always equate with being a great business owner. Are there some people who are just simply better off working for someone else rather than opening a business of their own?
JT: Yes. I want to talk about this, because I am a business owner, and it is not that someone does not work well with someone in the kitchen, it is that they don’t have the mathematic mind or business mind. You can be working well with someone or following a chef and the person can be on the other side running the business side. One doesn’t go with the other all the time.
CGM: Was being able to give advice and share your expertise with up-and-coming confectionery talent one of the most enjoyable things for you in doing Next Great Baker!
JT: That is something I have done my whole career is helping other professionals. I am a teacher. I am the dean of the International Culinary Center, so I give advice and direction to younger pastry chefs and have all my life. It is something I enjoy and feel good doing.
CGM: As you watched the competitors work, did you find yourself “playing along” — thinking, “This is what I would do with this particular challenge?
JT: Exactly! You always compare it to how you would do it with your expertise and your knowledge and which way you would approach it. Then you look what the teams have done and you say, “Wow — they went in another unexpected direction and did something I would not have the guts to do!” or “Why would they do that when it was so simple to do it another direction?” We always involve ourselves in the middle of it and think, “What would I do if I was them?”
CGM: As they progressed in the competition, did you notice the teams learning from each other, as well?
JT: They definitely did. They learned from each other. And they were all better at the end then they were at the beginning.
CGM: What did you personally hope was the biggest takeaway for the teams that didn’t win?
JT: I want all the contestants to say maybe Jacque was a hard judge but a fair judge. For me fairness was the most important part of the competition. I wanted them to see that the remarks I made to them were very fair — true and very fair. [It is] always very important to me to be fair to what I know and what I do!
Next Great Baker Season 4 airs Tuesdays at 9/8CT beginning June 24 on TLC.
Below is the list of competitors.
Roxanne Bodell and Kaiulani Delgado — an aunt and niece team from Salt Lake City, UT
Julie Voudrie and Danielle Voudrie — a mother/daughter duo from Gray, TN
Fred Isla and Barry Ackerman — bakery buddies and former colleagues from Las Vegas, NV David Duran and Elaine Duran — a husband and wife pairing from Kissimmee, FL
Don Donneruno and Meredith Gulfman — co-workers from Long Island, NY
Brandy Smith and Ginger Soave — a bakery student and teacher team from Virginia Beach, VA
Bethany Berend and Jennifer Livermore — best friends from Tomball, TX
Al Watson and Lia Weber — co-workers from St. Louis, MI
Manny Agigian and Al DiBartolo — friends and co-workers from Woolwich, NJ
Jose Barajas and Aimee Anderson — a pair of unconventional pals from Chula Vista, CA