Is there a better way to start a Monday than with Jen Barney, winner of 2 Food Network’s National Bake Off competitions, and her Meringue Bakery pastries at the Main Library celebrating National Library Week?
I shouldn’t think so even if you don’t have a sweet tooth.
One knew from the limited parking spaces this was going to be a popular library program. I felt so grateful friend Colleen had saved me a seat up front. We had a nice half an hour to chat and also grab a pastry after the long line dissipated right before the program. We each just truly ‘sampled’ just a taste of the yummy chocolatey caramel sea salt cookie and blueberry muffin. (Their remainders went home for Natureman) Besides cookies and muffins there were also scones and croissants.
So what brought this baker to La Crosse? Well, it just so happens her roommate was moving back home to La Crosse 9 years ago and needed a roommate. Bingo.
Move forward a couple years and Jen’s aspirations once married and with a couple small children were 2 cakes/ weekend out of her Stoddard home. Then, one day the phone rang and on the other end of the line was the Food Network asking her if she ‘d like to audition for the 2018 Holiday Bakeoff. 2,ooo other bakers were also interested. Accomplished young women bakers were a dime a dozen but Jen corrected the show’s selection committee on their misconception re: her midwestern nice. Once they discovered she was a correctional officer in all men’s facility, this cinched her spot with 8 other contestants on the show.
Unbeknownst to Jen the show was being filmed in New Orleans, not Hollywood, in a huge warehouse where the 9 contestants each had a stocked kitchen with appliances and enough space in between each studio kitchen to be surrounded by 10 cameramen per baker. She arrived well prepped and a bit too arrogant with her wall of ideas filed into a notebook. After the first challenge and playing it simple with a cupcake she realized there was real competition, real accomplished and prestigious bakers some even from huge chain hotels. Yet, one of the uppity chefs was sent packing after the first day. Jen maintained a steady performance on all of the challenges and fortunately the finale was her favorite a cake. Each of the remaining contestants picked a line from the 12 days of Christmas. Jen picked ‘6 geese a laying’ and proved her high school title of ‘Most Artistic’ as she won the competition and took home a $50,000 prize. She had to sign a contract to not reveal the Bakeoff’s outcome. Mum was the word until the finale aired.
I remember reading about Jen’s folks renting their small town’s theater and inviting friends and family to join in watching the finale. Her father would provide pizza from his restaurant for the evening. We were privy to a secret as the Milwaukee Journal wrote it up that the entire town was invited . Oops, but fortunately there was a school concert that evening and not everybody came to the showing. BUT what a surprise ending for her childhood hometown that evening!
Since then business is booming with Meringue’s notoriety but business plans for a new storefront are taking longer than anticipated. Hopefully the greatest lessons from the 2 competitions of asking for help, meeting new folks especially neighbors, gaining confidence and delegating will serve this baker well in her aspirations and inspirations.
Best wishes for continued sweet success!