There is no prize for the person who wins the Great American Baking Show. Visibility is a prize in itself. Winning a reality competition that’s broadcast on ABC, one of the nation's largest networks, affords you a certain level of recognition, after all. We’re not just talking about some diddly reality show; this is the American spinoff of The Great British Bake-Off, a show's that's attracted a devoted, borderline-cultish following.
Vallery Lomas won the third and most recent season of The Great American Baking Show, though there's a good chance you've never heard her name or seen her face. In spite of her achievement, Lomas didn’t even get the satisfaction of visibility. ABC pulled her season of the show off the air after two episodes, a decision that came shortly after Mic reported detailed allegations of sexual misconduct against one of the show’s main judges, Johnny Iuzzini.
Lomas, 32, entered the show with high hopes. These expectations, she told me over the phone earlier this week, were coupled with a sense of disbelief that this opportunity was even given to her. The whole experience of filming the show felt surreal. She grew up in the south of Louisiana, with vivid memories attached to eating and cooking, from her grandmother’s fig and grapefruit trees to picking strawberries with her family every summer.
She took on baking roughly seven years ago as a hobby while she was a third-year law student at the University of Southern California. (Lomas now lives in Harlem and works as an attorney.) She then began documenting her culinary undertakings on her blog and Instagram, which caught the attention of the producers of the Great American Baking Show. Lomas auditioned at their urging, got accepted, filmed the show at the end of last summer, and ultimately won. She was contractually obligated to keep quiet about her victory until after the show aired.
The finale didn't air. What the world saw instead was a chopped-and-screwed video, barely over 90 seconds long, posted to the show’s Facebook page last month. It was followed by a 15-minute Facebook Live and occasional snippets from the unaired episodes.
Stories of sexual misconduct in the food industry have been emerging at a distressing pace in recent months, following the multiple allegations against film mogul Harvey Weinstein that went public in October and kickstarted the #MeToo movement. Within this context, Lomas is another example of a woman who's been forced to pay for someone else’s alleged indiscretions—especially as a woman of color who rose to prominence in a domain that skews white and male. Instead, deprived of her moment, Lomas has become collateral damage.
But Lomas was quite clear with me on one front: She is determined to make the best of this situation.
MUNCHIES: Hey, Vallery. First of all, how are you doing in the wake of everything that happened with the show?
Vallery Lomas: I'm just... in a very surprising place right now. After investing the time and energy, it’s all very surprising. What happened is certainly not what I thought was in the realm of possibility of what could happen when I went on the show.
It’s interesting, because as a lawyer, I was initially pessimistic about things! Well, I don’t know if pessimistic is the right word, but I’m always looking to see, what are all the ways a situation could play out? Even when we were filming, I caught myself wondering, is this really going to happen? The whole experience felt very surreal.
In the television industry, of course, people might film pilots with the understanding that they’ll never get picked up. Of all the things I thought could go wrong, though, this was certainly not one of them.
So you filmed in September...
Right, so we were pretty much in the throes of the competition when we learned who the judges and hosts were. I was under the impression that it would be the same hosts as the previous seasons, but when I found the third season would be hosted by Ayesha Curry and Spice Adams, I was really excited! I thought, wow, this show is committed to having a diverse cast, which is going to be great for the audience.
So much of the food world, especially on television, is overwhelmingly white.
Exactly. I was just like, if there was ever a time, this is it.
So what motivated you to go on the show in the first place?
It’s crazy, because I never really considered applying for something like this. I have a blog and I have an Instagram account. It was in July when one of the producers found my Instagram account and said, "I see you bake a lot of different types of things, which is important for this type of show because the challenges are all about an array of [...] things you make." They asked if I'd be interested in applying to the show.
Everything just fell into place from there. Within the next few days, I was on a plane to Los Angeles to audition. Afterwards, I went to the Dominican Republic for a friend’s wedding. When I landed, I checked my voicemail and saw that I had a message from one of the producers telling me I'd been selected. I didn’t even leave the airport; I just got on the next flight back to New York.
You didn’t go to your friend’s wedding?
Nope! And I think that was kind of the beginning of me committing to the process. I wondered if this would all be not something that was real. I guess my instincts were right in that sense. It was a risk I was willing to take, though.
When did you learn that the show would not be airing after the first two episodes?
I learned the night before what were supposed to be episodes three and four. I was at my house when I got a phone call from one of the producers, who just told me that the network had just decided to pull the show.
I went through a range of emotions very quickly. But I’m a solution-oriented person. When I heard, I went into find-a-solution mode. I had a lot of ideas, but I’m not sure if any of them were really heard or considered. I realize now, though, that this was a much bigger thing than I initially understood.
On your blog, you talked about watching the Facebook video that condensed all those unaired episodes into 90 seconds. You described having “an intense emotional reaction” when you first saw that video. Take me back to that moment.
Honestly, even thinking about it still brings out some raw emotions. It’s one thing [for ABC] to say that they don’t want to put this person accused of this behavior on their network. I’m not sure how exactly that was said.
But it was hard for me to watch that video, because everything that we went through was lost. They’ve since come out with a couple of highlight features from some of the unaired episodes. In each episode, we baked three different things. This isn’t your typical "make a pie"[-type thing]. You know you’re going on this televised competition, where the Paul Hollywood is one of the judges—this is a competition where you have to bring your absolute best to the table. And that’s what I did.
The highlights didn’t even show the finished products. The three things we made every episode... I think they showed one of my dishes? That’s eight out of nine things that they didn’t show. I’m just asking myself, where are these things I made? Did all of this even happen?
It's as though you imagined your experience. In your Facebook Live with ABC, you talked about this moment that we’re in in the food and restaurant world—a pivotal moment where many bad actors are being exposed and coming into the public eye. What do you hope comes of this moment?
Well, let me just take a step back and say that I wish I had won in a world where this type of behavior in our society was already deemed unacceptable. That’s what I wish. It’s a hard issue to navigate, because I think what we are realizing from this movement is that sexual harassment is not something that just affects a few people; it’s something that affects most women, probably.
What we have to grapple with as a society, is: Is this something that we are truly going to take a stand on? Are we going to deem it something not to tolerate? If we do, what does taking that stance look like? How much do women’s contributions to society get sacrificed in the process?
The crazy thing about this show is that we started off with four men and six women, but by the time we got to the semi-finals, it was all women. The finalists were all women. There were women producers. Executive producers. Crew members.
How do you feel the food world can be a more navigable space for women, especially for women of color?
You know, I looked into it, and everyone who’d won the American version of the show previously was white. The British show has had people of color win. None were black, though.
That’s a crazy thing to think—that my win happened, only people don’t know that it happened. Even people who know me will still ask me how they can watch the show. They haven't Googled. They’re just going to where they think the show will live, like the network website or Hulu.
I’m trying to stay positive, but I’m thinking to myself, what do I do with all this energy that I haven’t been able to release because I had to hold it in for so long? I realized that I just have to take all that energy and use it as fuel to continue to put myself out there, to continue baking, to continue being creative. I'm writing, too. I’m working on a cookbook. The basis is the different places I’ve lived in my life, because those are my food inspirations.
I’m hopeful about other television opportunities as well. Because this crazy thing happened, you know? We filmed a television show. That’s not something I ever thought I’d do. And I did it. It was crazy hard, but I actually came out of the other side victorious. Going into it, I would’ve never guessed that would be the outcome. But I absolutely am determined to make the most out of this situation and transform all of the energy swirling around into something great.
Thank you for your time, Vallery.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.