A Bradford West Gwillimbury woman is $10,000 richer after competing on a Food Network TV show about baking and decorating elaborate Christmas cookies.
Mary Valentino, who operates Emma’s Sweets, was finally able to confirm her victory on Christmas Cookie Challenge, which was filmed five months ago in California.
“The whole experience was fun. I loved the whole thing,” she said after the episode aired Monday. “It wasn’t my personal best. It was a highly stressful event, (but) I wouldn’t change a thing about it.”
Among the five contestants, Valentino was the only Canadian baker participating in the episode.
Their first challenge was to use Halloween cookie cutters to create Christmas cookies, all within 90 minutes.
Valentino turned pumpkin and ghost cookie cutters into Mrs. Claus and a holiday elf, respectively.
Two people were eliminated after that round, but Valentino made the cut.
In the second challenge, contestants each had 2 ½ hours to create a 3D advent calendar with a cookie surprise under each door.
“Round two was really, really hard. It was so hard to do,” she said. “When that clock is counting down, all the talent … goes out the window. My cookies are not baking — they’re spreading, they’re burning. I had a little bit of a meltdown.”
But, in the end, “flavour prevailed” over her opponents’ cookies, and Valentino took home the top prize.
She held a viewing party of the episode Monday evening and was cheered as she was announced winner:
Valentino said her phone “blew up” with messages all evening long, and she got 1,500 more Instagram followers within one hour of the episode airing.
She said she does not have any specific plans for her winnings, other than putting it aside for a rainy day.
“To me, I’m just so overwhelmed from everything. I feel blessed,” she said, adding even just going to the competition makes her proud.
In fact, Valentino said, she nearly decided not to go after being contacted by the show about competing in the first place.
“I didn’t think I could do it. I was very critical,” she said. “It wasn’t about winning the $10,000. It was a personal challenge. I’ve come back a different person.”
Plus, she added, she now has four new friendships with the other contestants from bonding over the week they spent together.
All the baking was filmed on one day, and interviews with contestants took a few other days, she said.
“Hopefully I’ll go back as a guest judge or have my own show,” she said.
While Valentino is busy running her business named after her eight-year-old daughter, Emma, she said she is hoping to focus more on instructional work, including through her YouTube channel.
Valentino started baking and decorating sugar cookies five years ago.
She said she had taken a cake decorating class at Michael’s, only to discover she did not work too well with fondant.
Her daughter often watched cookie-decorating videos, and Valentino decided to give it a shot. For months, she watched tutorials on YouTube and read blogs before starting her own Instagram page and YouTube channel, the latter which now has about 28,000 subscribers and gets hundreds of thousands of views.
“I started getting followers. People started requesting orders. It really snowballed,” she said.
Valentino, a former bank employee, wound up working seven days a week between the bank and baking before focusing on cookies full time.
“My passion has become a reality. It was life changing,” she said. “The support from all over the world is humbling. I’m just a girl from Bradford doing something for fun.”