If Chillicothe native Jess (Kornbrust) Reyling can create a masterpiece of a cake as easily as she laughs about reality television, then her competition on TLC’s Next Great Baker should be a piece of cake.
“I’ve always loved to bake but it’s just more for fun,” said the 31-year-old of Peoria.
That was until she applied for the third season of the competition show with Cake Boss Buddy Valastro. The winner receives $100,000, a feature in Redbook magazine and possibly working with Valastro and his team at Carlo’s Bakery.
She watched the first and second seasons of Next Great Baker, and met a couple of the contestants while at a cake convention in North Carolina with friend Barb Evans of the Wedding Cake Connection. Evans, coincidentally, also competed on TLC’s Ultimate Cake Off.
After talking with other contestants, and knowing the third season was approaching, Reyling said it “lit a fire within me.”
She filled out the eight-page application, which she said she filled out with her normal “funny, quirky sense of humor” answers. The 1999 Illinois Valley Central High School grad looked at her husband, Scott, and together they hit the send button. She figured it was something to check off the bucket list.
A day or two later, she received a call asking for a video audition with a deadline of two days. She answered more questions, taped herself doing a challenge and had to find someone to compete with her on video.
She went to Emo’s and challenged a female Emo employee to an ice-cream eating contest. Her friend taped them eating as much ice cream as fast as they could without spoons.
“I had a brain freeze for like a week,” said Reyling with a chuckle.
She wanted something, though, that showed her competitive spirit.
“I’m a competitive person, but not a cutthroat person. I’m fun,” she said. She is quick to laugh at herself as she said when she is working she tends to look mad when she is concentrating.
With thousands of applicants and hundreds of videos, she received a call for the semifinals at the end of July. She took the flight out to New Jersey, where producers interviewed her (now seen on TLC’s website), gave her two different cake challenges and a group challenge.
Out of 36 semifinalists, she was one of the 12 contestants making the show. A 13th contestant was added through Americans voting to make it a baker’s dozen.
When she got the call, her response was one of someone pulling a joke on her.
Page 2 of 3 - “I thought they were joking. I think I said, ‘Shut the front door,’” said Reyling with a laugh.
Once she made it to the show, she looked at her fellow contestants. Some had been on other TLC shows and many were culinary artists.
“Here they are next to me. I know you,” she said she thought to herself.
Don’t think that intimidated the quirky Illinois woman.
“I feel like that gives them a disadvantage because I use tools in a way that they weren’t intended,” said Reyling.
For example, time is of the essence while competing. One time she needed a cup for water but could not find one.
“I don’t know what that is but I’m using it,” Reyling said of a flower shaper used for drying flowers. To her, the Styrofoam with a dip in it held the water she needed.
The show, which airs at 8 p.m. Mondays, is comprised of a baker’s challenge, usually baking something or a skill, and an elimination challenge, which was a group effort.
All the cakes had a minimum requirement of being 4 feet tall, along with a base that was 3 or 4 feet.
“It’s the next great carpenter,” she said of a running joke among contestants of also building the important bases to hold their creations. “That’s how we felt sometimes.”
Due to her contract, Reyling cannot disclose details about her stay in Hoboken, N.J., or how far she made it on the show. Residents will just have to watch and see.
She did learn a few things from the show that can be used in everyday life.
“One of the most important things I learned from the show is not to judge a book by its cover,” said Reyling. She said she thought some people she would click with initially she found that she did not, and vice versa. “Have an open heart and open mind.”
She also gained more self confidence after being pushed to the max and out of her element.
“I came home a lot more confident, but not in cake decorating … in my life,” said Reyling.
Being without her support system and missing her family was part of the experience.
Contestants were allowed to use their phones from time to time, but she found that her children’s voices made her cry, so she did more texting so she could hold her composure while taping.
Her husband and mother-in-law watched her three boys ages 4 and under — Gavin, Owen and Ian — and is glad her children had extra time with their grandmother.
Page 3 of 3 - “She was such a blessing during the time I was gone,” said Reyling, who added that she was close to her grandma while growing up.
“I feel like my kids kinda have that with her because of the time spent with them. I feel like she got to know their personalities better.”
With three boys, she jokes her house is like smackdown wrestling, and while it was hard leaving her family, she managed to put her experience into perspective.
“But I knew in the grand scheme of things it was such a small period of time,” she said.
She taped a couple of videos of her reading stories and recorded a story book before she left. She also wrapped little presents for them to be pulled out as needed.
She also acknowledges her husband’s role in the experience.
They met through a mutual friend, and his service as a Marine still influences the family as they requested residents coming to Monday’s premiere party at Gracie’s Sports Grill and Pizza in Washington bring a toy for Toys for Tots.
“He’s such a great person. I’m a very lucky person,” she said with a smile of genuineness.
Residents will have to tune in to Next Great Baker on Monday nights to see how far Reyling’s luck will take her.