The welcoming aroma of a grandmother’s baking lingers long after those of us with that memory grow up and make our own oven magic. Grandmothers Willie Mae and Leona made a lasting impression on Vallery Lomas, a New York baker, food blogger and privacy attorney. “When you’re baking for friends and family, so much of baking is about love and sharing that love with others. The love flavors the dish,” Lomas says.
After winning the coveted title of America's Best Amateur Baker in Season 3 of ABC’s “The Great American Baking Show,” Lomas looks back with even more appreciation for the amazing desserts that came out of the kitchens of her grandmothers and mother. “They were by no means bakers by trade. They baked, and people loved it.”
Law School Baker
Lomas embraced her baking heritage while attending law school. She started a blog during her third year because she was hungry for something to do to take care of herself. “When I started the blog in law school, I decided to bake something new every day, and I did. I blogged about it and brought it to class the next day,” says the baking champ.
Her friends and anyone who was around got a taste of her favorite dishes to make with apple pie, pecan pie and red velvet cake being among them. After graduating from law school and moving to New York City, Lomas spent what little free time she had perfecting her blog, Foodie in New York, and sharing her creations. “For me, it’s not just the baking. It’s the baking and having something special to share with others that is cool,” Lomas says.
Her blog’s Instagram account got the attention of a casting director who thought the Louisiana-raised baker could nab a contestant’s spot on “The Great American Baking Show.” The ABC-TV version is based on a hugely popular “The Great British Bake Off.” Lomas auditioned and took five weeks unpaid leave from her job as a privacy attorney to enter her first cooking competition. She saw it as an incredible opportunity to showcase her talents as a home baker going up against nine other exceptional bakers. “It wasn’t just who is going to do the best. It was who is going to meet these challenges.”
Lemon Curd from Life’s Lemons
Challenges might be an understatement. The grueling hours shooting the show at Pinewood Studios outside of London, England the extreme time limits on preparing dishes and being judged by some of the world’s best professional bakers pushed Lomas to her limits.
She never expected to win the competition which awards a trophy and a title but no cash prize. Her victory in the finale made her proud and excited about the media exposure that would come with it. “It’s not just about the winner or the loser. It’s about watching the journey,” says Lomas. “It was about visibility and representation, and that was all taken away.”
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Viewers never got to see all the trials and triumphs of Lomas and the other contestants on Season 3 of the show. After the first episode premiered in December of 2017, ABC pulled the remaining episodes out of its broadcast line up. Several women who had worked with celebrity pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini at Jean-Georges restaurant in New York City several years earlier accused him of sexual harassment and abuse.
ABC network cut ties with the “Great American Baking Show” judge and reduced Season 3 episodes and finale to a few video clips available on Facebook and YouTube.
With little advance notice of the cancellation and nothing more than an ABC Facebook announcement about her win, it was time for Lomas to make lemon curd out of life’s lemons. She relied on the articles published by Forbes, Chicago Tribune, BuzzFeed and other media outlets to give visibility to an African American female who took home the best home baker title. “I’ve met a lot of awesome people in food media, particularly, who have definitely done a pretty great job with helping me share my story.”
The talented baker could never have imagined a passion that brought such positivity into her life would be linked to accusations of sexual harassment, which Iuzzini said were inaccurate. Lomas views the allegations about “men behaving badly” as one that unfortunately caused collateral damage for her, the contestants and the staff on the show, including African American hosts restauranteur and celebrity chef Ayesha Curry and former NFL player Anthony Adams.
“They were bargaining to have something that they created out in the world. There was a lot of collateral damage associated with everything.”
Lomas looked forward to people seeing African Americans succeeding on “The Great American Baking Show.” Just from one episode airing, she had heard from the mother of a little girl who loved the baker’s natural hair. “When I was growing up, I was always rooting for the Black person. That visibility is important, having that representation of someone who looks like you out there winning. That is huge,” adds Lomas.
It is one of the reasons she continues to work for Blacks, women and other people of color to get more recognition for their contributions to the culinary professions. Lomas addressed the diversity issue when she presented the Outstanding Baker medal at the 2018 James Beard Awards in Chicago, Illinois.
“I think about all of the amazing creators, Black women who have come before me. I think about my grandmothers and all the work they did, and how so few of them got recognition for it,” says Lomas. “It’s important to break that cycle so that the future in how we are represented is remarkably different from the past.”
Rising in Baking Ranks
The New York City attorney put her law career on hold in the summer of 2018 to focus on her goal of earning a living as a home baker and cook. She now serves on the board of The International Association of Culinary Professionals, where she hopes to broaden the food industry’s recognition of frequently overlooked minorities, farmers, back-of-the-house restaurant employees and food bloggers.
Lomas welcomes more opportunities to work in front of the camera. She appeared in a segment of Kat Kinsman’s “No Pressure, Extra Crispy” on the YouTube Channel and a segment of the Hallmark Channel’s “Home & Family.”
She imagines a future that combines baking, cooking and being on television overusing her skills to work in a restaurant or open a bakery. Lomas wants people around the world to tune in and see what she has learned in her travels: the necessity of food tasting good from Louisiana, the importance of food looking beautiful from France, the value of using seasonal and fresh food from Los Angeles, California and the drive to do more than one great thing from NYC’s relentless hustle. “I think I’m on the right path, and I’m not done. I’m still out here working hard and trying to create opportunities.”
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Senior food editor Grace Elkus calls Lomas someone who is “poised to take the baking world by storm” in The Kitchn’s “10 People We Have Eyes on in 2019.” And together with publisher Clarkson Potter, she is writing a cookbook on baking that is scheduled to be released in 2021.
You can see clips of Lomas in the finale of “The Great American Baking Show” on YouTube or watch the announcement of her win on Facebook. For recipes from a baking champion, visit Lomas’ blog Foodie in New York or follow her on Instagram.