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June 18, 2014

Will Lia Weber, a St. Louis Community College-Forest Park graduate of the baking and pastry arts program, take the cake on TLC’s “Next Great Baker,” which begins its fourth season Tuesday, June 24?

You’ll have to tune in at 8 p.m. to see how she and teammate Al Watson, also from St. Louis, fare making a gooey butter cake in the Baker’s Challenge, which required creating a dessert representing their hometown.

The duo, who became friends while working together the past four years at Wedding Wonderland Cake Shop in Florissant, are the “Blue” team. They compete against nine other color-coordinated pairs that include family members, a married couple and co-workers from across the country.

The reality competition series runs for 10 weeks, with one pair being eliminated until the last team wins. The ultimate prize is a chance to work for Buddy at the new Carlo’s Bakery at The Venetian in Las Vegas, as well as a grand prize of $100,000.

The show features two challenges, and Buddy Valastro, aka “The Cake Boss,” is joined by two judges to evaluate competitors on their baking skills and execution -- famous chocolatier Jacques Torres and Magnolia Bakery’s founder Bobbie Lloyd.

The filming in Buddy’s warehouse in New Jersey is completed, and she can’t go into details about the show because of confidentiality clauses.
“It was a great experience. It is weird having a camera in your face,” she said.

Lia, 24, graduated from STLCC in 2011, and Al, 31, also took classes here.

“Your culinary program is the best of the best,” she said. “I learned so much from going here.”

She singled out Casey Shiller, the baking and pastry arts coordinator who won Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” two out of three times.

“He has worked really hard, and he sets goals and achieves them. He taught me to follow my dreams, and I’m doing everything I can to make them come true.”

Shiller is overjoyed about student successes. “It’s extremely humbling to see one of my students go on to achieve excellence, and Lia is no exception. I could tell from Day One that great things were in her future,” he said. “Because she had goals, and worked to master her skills to achieve them.”

Weber earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Fontbonne University, with the goal of opening up her own bakery one day. She also studied in Italy, at the Culinary Institute of Florence.

Now known for her French macaroons, lemon meringue tart, cheesecake and assorted pastries, Weber is the pastry chef at Hendel's Restaurant in Old Town Florissant and also the proprietor of Made.by Lia, in addition to her work at the wedding cake shop. She also serves on the advisory board of North County Tech-Culinary Program.

She is hoping to partner with STLCC on her entrepreneurial venture, Made.by Lia, and Shiller is working with her on the project. “We’ll be her incubator,” he said.

“This is what I’m passionate about,” she said. “My bakery concept is specialty sweets for any occasion, like your mom used to make, but I put a more inventive spin on it. I like doing dessert bars, a lot of special touches.”

Hopefully the TV show will help move her forward, too.

To be selected for the show, Weber said she first filled out a written application with 40 questions, in addition to sending a resume and a video about the duo. After a long waiting period, they were flown to New Jersey to be interviewed in person, and an audition included a 20-minute cake challenge.

The final 10 teams to make the cut were whittled from about 30, she said.

Viewers are invited to gather at Hendel’s, 599 St. Denis St., Florissant, on Tuesday nights to watch the show. Phone: 314-837-2304. Website: www. hendelsrestaurant.com.

To see a video about Al and Lia, check out this link: http://www.tlc.com/tv-shows/next-great-baker/videos/al-and-lia.html

For more information about STLCC’s Hospitality Studies program, visit www.stlcc.edu or call 314-644-9784 or email hospitality@stlcc.edu.


Al Watson and Lia Weber Next Great Baker

Photo Caption: St. Louisans Al Watson and Lia Weber, graduate of STLCC baking and pastry arts program, compete as a team on TLC’s “Next Great Baker,” which begins Tuesday.