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Sweet! St. Louisans win 'Next Great Baker'

Sweet! St. Louisans win 'Next Great Baker'


St. Louisans Al Watson and Lia Weber won TLC's "The Next Great Baker" Tuesday night after being at the top through most of the competition. The prize: a shared $100,000 and a chance to run "Cake Boss" Buddy Valastro's new Las Vegas bakery.

Both were all smiles at viewing parties in Florissant, where Weber is pastry chef at Hendel's Market Cafe and Watson works at cake shop Wedding Wonderland.

In a dress patterned with cupcakes, Weber navigated a big crowd inside and outside Hendel's. "I'm so happy everyone is here to watch with me."

That's everyone except Watson, with whom she crafted the winning cake, a Japanese pagoda and cherry tree with blossoms. The cake (baked in Las Vegas) was perfect in every way, except that it failed to fit an Italian bakery theme. 

Watson was at Yacovelli's restaurant in Florissant, wearing his Team Blue chef's coat. The Wedding Wonderland party was held there to accommodate a crowd of almost 600.

Neither Weber nor Watson gave away the results before the finale, but the disc jockey at Watson's party somehow had "Celebration" queued up to play immediately after the episode ended.

Addressing a jubilant crowd, Watson said support from St. Louis and his colleagues at Wedding Wonderland was the only reason Team Blue was able to compete and win.

Weber, reflecting on the experience beforehand, said, "It's surreal. We were so happy to be able to represent Florissant, and St. Louis, and the whole Midwest, and show that we have talented bakers here, too."

Watson and Weber were at or near the top in almost every challenge, crafting dazzling cakes that moved, if required, or soared. (Their gravity-defying cake, unfortunately, soared a little too high and toppled over in one of their most painful losses.)

Working with other teams, as they did on the gravity-defying task, was one of the bigger challenges, Weber said.

"I'm a perfectionist. I can't stand sloppy work. When we had to work with others, I always had to wonder if they were going to mess up. We were excited the last two challenges to get to work alone."

The team with whom they worked on the gravity-defying challenge, "Jersey boys" Al DiBartolo Jr. and Manny Agigian, were the team they bested in the finale. That team might have won with their concept, but an attempt at an Italian fountain failed miserably, and the replacement cake looked like a grade school science fair volcano.

There's no word yet on who or when Weber or Watson might take Valastro up on his Las Vegas job offer. • • (314) 837-5015

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Gail Pennington is the television critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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