Food Network's popular Best Baker in America, hosted by celebrity chef Scott Conant, has returned for its third season — and this year, South Florida has some skin in the game.
"Proving to be the best baker in America takes a mixture of skill, imagination, and determination," said Courtney White, president of Food Network. "These tremendously talented bakers have their work cut out for them as they are pushed outside their comfort zone to whip up beautiful and delicious baked goods to impress an all-star lineup of prestigious bakers for the $25,000 prize."
Nine pastry chefs are vying for the coveted title of America's Best Baker, with the contestants facing challenges like creating the perfect flaming baked Alaska and mini princess cakes. Each baker's survival hinges on chef personalities Jason Smith and Marcela Valladolid, who assess each treat based on skill and flavor.
Julie Franceschini is a fierce contender judging by the Instagram page run by Cafe Boulud West Palm, where she serves as executive pastry chef. A recent flick of her gem-colored citrus dome paired with key lime sable, yuzu ganache, and clementine sorbet is edible modern art, epitomizing her skilled ability and novel style. The Corsica native attended culinary school in Nice, France, and later perfected the art of sugar at a Michelin-starred restaurant.
But if it were up to Franceschini, everything would be chocolate. "I love working with chocolate, a simple product with which we can do wonders," she says. "In its liquid state, solid, hot, cold, or iced — everything is possible with chocolate."
Miami resident and Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove executive pastry chef Marian Mulero is also gunning for the title. Mulero is known for elaborate cake design, but treats like macarons and gooey cinnamon rolls are also in her wheelhouse.
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Of all the things she creates, her favorite is a simple loaf of bread. "I love bread and the science of it. The process when the yeast starts eating the sugars from the flour, creating tiny bubbles of gas causing the dough to expand. This is when the bread rises and fermentation occurs. You can shape the bread in different ways and give it different flavors. This is so much fun. Once it's done, you enjoy the spectacular textures of fresh-from-the-oven bread. There is nothing better than the smell and taste of fresh bread."
Shooting a baking competition show is not all sugar and spice, says Mulero. "The days on-set are extremely long. The tests themselves can last from four to six hours. The judging also takes a great deal of time. We are judged on the quality of our work and what we think of the work of other competitors. We need to describe all the steps used in making our desserts."
While it's still unclear who wins, both local contenders are hopeful. "I discovered that I was an architect, designer, [scientist], artist, perfectionist, creative, everything that you need to be a pastry chef. I have loved it since day one, competing with the best bakers in America," says Mulero.
Monday, June 3, the contestants take on French pastries. The season culminates on July 4. Best Baker in America airs on Food Network Mondays at 9 p.m.