Baking show winner turns lemons into lemon curd

Joseph Hernandez
Chicago Tribune

“The Great American Baking Show,” our side of the pond’s answer to the “The Great British Baking Show,” is once again searching for the next great baking star. Thing is, the show has a star it has all but ignored: Vallery Lomas, winner of its most recent cycle.

In the third season that never was, “The Great American Baking Show” was canceled one week after its premiere as a result of the multiple sexual and harassment allegations against judge Johnny Iuzzini that had come to light.

The show, at that point, had been produced: Lomas was declared the winner, and then — nothing. ABC pulled the show and acted as if it had never happened. The only nod to Lomas’ victory was a hastily cut recap video clocking in at a minute and a half that barely featured her work or that of her fellow contestants.

“It’s crazy people don’t get to see what we went through,” Lomas said. “We had truly been through something — months of auditioning, preparation, shooting and challenges — it was amazing and really special. I was looking forward to sharing the journey, but it’s unfortunate that in 2018, we’re still paying the price for men’s bad behavior across the board, paying it on every level — not just me, but the other contestants, the show’s crew.”

For Lomas, the show — not just her win, but also her experience — was to be her springboard into baking professionally. She was proud of showing off her prowess — dazzling the judges with an inverted puff pastry, or little accomplishments like a butterscotch pie with artful chocolate swirls — even as she doubted herself during the challenges. “I really struggled — it was humbling — but I learned to trust my instincts and confidence in my abilities,” said Lomas. “It took getting feedback from Paul Hollywood to realize I was on the right track.

“But when I was growing up, it wasn’t often I’d see people like me on TV winning prizes. Then, within a week of the show premiere, I was hearing from people, ‘My little girl with natural hair loves you because you’re rocking curly hair.’ Now, even though I won, no one knows I did. I was denied that platform.”

But as Lomas will tell you, she’s made life’s lemons into lemon curd. Though her “The Great American Baking Show” season remains unaired, with little chance of seeing the light of day, Lomas continues to build her brand of approachable home baking, on her own terms. These days, the lawyer-by-trade is working on a book project while keeping up with her blog, Foodie in New York, and social media feeds of rustic hand pies, colorful macarons and drool-worthy ice cream sandwiches. She has also made appearances on TV around the country, including the now-canceled “The Chew.” (Co-host Mario Batali was removed from that show after allegations of his own sexual misconduct were revealed.)

“I can still inspire people just by being out here, hustling and staying resilient,” she said.

In May, Lomas was tapped by the James Beard Foundation to present an award for, what else, outstanding baker, at the foundation’s annual awards gala. The JBA theme, “I Rise,” directly mirrored Lomas’ own philosophy (“Even when you’re in the muck, it’s fertilizer for growth”), and her presentation was a galvanizing moment in the ceremony — she used her momentum to try to change the conversation around food, particularly with regards to representation and giving marginalized people a platform.

“Anything is possible with passion and determination,” she said at the ceremony. “I was a full-time practicing attorney when I fulfilled my baking dreams and won ‘The Great American Baking Show.’ And while there a few things more important to me than a really flaky puff pastry, one is ensuring that diversity in our food community is represented in the media.

“I want the next generation of curly-haired, melanin-rich, thick-accented, queer and straight immigrant little girls and boys to see that there’s a place for them at the table, too.”

The show was a good start, says Lomas, “but the work is just beginning.”