MANCHESTER, NH – Earlier this year, pastry chef Jon Buatti received a call on his cell phone from Los Angeles. Thinking it was one of many sales pitches, he ignored it.
The caller, however, left a voicemail. The Food Network was looking for male bakers and pastry chefs to compete on this year’s Holiday Baking Championship. Would Buatti like to audition?
Competitive in nature – he played both volleyball and basketball in high school and is a volleyball coach for both Londonderry’s High and Middle schools – the 27-year-old chef absolutely wanted a chance to be on the nationally-televised show.
It wasn’t an easy path to being selected, however. He underwent multiple Skype interviews from various people connected to the show just to be considered.
Once considered, there was another round of Skype interviews. The final audition involved two-hour timed bakings of holiday treats, which he had to document via Skype. He baked up a holiday cake and decorated cookies.
“I had to physically show them that over Skype – so they could see the work right on the spot,” he said during an interview at his family’s bakery, Bearded Baking Co. on Union Street.
Then it was a waiting game. Weeks passed, weeks that seemed like months, he said.
“I didn’t think I got it,” Buatti said. Then the call came. “We’ll see you in two weeks.”
This past summer he flew out to Los Angeles – in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic – where he met the other 11 cast members. The network had lined up a couple of alternate bakers, in the event someone tested positive for the virus.
Given the pandemic, the Food Network took extra precautions to keep cast and crew safe. Everybody on the cast was isolated for a week.
“We were in our own wing of the hotel and we were pretty much told if you are not on set you are at your hotel,” he said.
Contestants included executive chefs, some who own their own bakeries and businesses and home bakers as well.
Buatti earned his associate’s degree in baking and pastry arts and his bachelor’s degree in culinary management from Southern New Hampshire University, graduating in 2016. For three years after graduation, he and his fiancée, Jillian Simpson, lived with his parents, Mark and Tammy Buatti, in Salem. He worked at Sugar & Spice Bake Shoppe in Windham – his one and only job— for three years, saving everything he could to buy the bakery. He and Simpson now live in Auburn.
Last December, the family purchased Michelle’s Bakery on Union Street and in April renamed it the Bearded Baking Co., a nod to Buatti’s beard.
Despite the pandemic, business is brisk, he said. “We are very fortunate,” he said, of the bakery where he, Simpson and his parents all work.
Making it to the Holiday Baking Championship was a once in a lifetime experience, he said. The cast and judges – Nancy Fuller, host of “Farmhouse Rules,” Duff Goldman, owner of Charm City Cakes in Baltimore and Los Angeles, and Carla Hall, chef, host and cookbook author – as well as host Jesse Palmer, former New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers quarterback — were all friendly, he said.
As a male baker, Goldman is one of Buatti’s idols.
“He now follows me on Instagram,” he laughed.
Buatti said the cast became friends but when the competition was taking place, everyone got right down to business and focused on their pastry creams, cupcakes, pies and every other imaginable treat. After all, the top baker wins $25,000 and will be featured on the new Food Network Kitchen app.
Buatti said he would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Holiday Baking Championship Season 7 starts Monday, Nov. 2, at 9 p.m. on the Food Network.
Finally, after weeks of baking holiday wreaths, Hanukkah jelly doughnuts, pies, cookies, cakes and everything in between, the champion will be crowned during the two-hour finale on Monday, Dec. 21.
So, who won? You will have to wait until the finale because contractually Buatti is barred from revealing the winner.
Tune in next Monday because you just may see a legend in the baking.
Pat Grossmith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org