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How Sweet It Is for STLCC Graduate Weber and Teammate Watson; Win “The Next Great Baker” Competition

August 20, 2014

Lia Weber  
STLCC graduate Lia Weber and teammate Al Watson won
"The Next Great Baker" Season 4 competition on TLC.

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Well not this time.

Last night the Blue Team comprised of St. Louis Community College graduate Lia Weber and teammate Al Watson were crowned "The Next Great Bakers" on the TLC network series.

More than 500 of Weber’s family and friends, and area residents were on hand to celebrate her triumph in Las Vegas as the finale show was aired at an outdoor block party at Hendel’s Market Cafe in Florissant.

Weber is a 2011 graduate of the Baking and Pastry Arts program at St. Louis Community College-Forest Park. She and Watson, who also took classes at Forest Park, are coworkers at the Wedding Wonderland Cake Shop in Florissant. The two joined forces to form Team Blue for the competition.

Ten teams vied for the $100,000 grand prize and a chance to work for Buddy Valastro, TLC’s “Cake Boss,” at Carlo’s Bakery  at the Venetian Hotel and Resort in Las Vegas.

Contestants competed in 10 episodes with challenges ranging from designing cakes for kids, to a hamburger and hot dog cake, to horror-themed cakes. The different cakes brought twists and turns with head-to-head competition between the teams as well as teams collaborating on projects together.

The top two teams competed in the finale at the Venetian Hotel and Resort in Las Vegas. The theme was Vegas Showstoppers. Teams were instructed to make the cake of their lives in 12 hours, in front of hundreds of onlookers at the hotel. Their cakes subsequently were displayed for the opening of Carlo’s Bakery.

Winning cake entry  
Al Watson hugs teammate Lia Weber as the judges critique
their cake in the finale of "The Next Great Baker" Aug. 19.

Weber and Watson created a four-foot-tall Japanese pagoda cake and cherry blossom crème flowers. Team Black, Al DiBartolo Jr. and Manny Agigian, failed in a first attempt at an Italian fountain, and the second attempt did not cut it either.

Watson noted during the episode that teamwork was the real key to success throughout the competition. Judges praised them for producing “some of the cleanest work on the Next Great Baker.”

“We manage the clock well, and we quickly assess how to divide the labor between us,” Watson said.

The network prohibited contestants from revealing the outcome of the competition, which was filmed in February, so the ending was extra sweet as Weber’s family and friends finally learned the results. Each team was given a key to the bakery, and the winning team’s key opened the door. The crowd erupted when Watson’s and Weber’s key unlocked the door.

“I am bawling like a little baby,” said Weber, who had not seen the final episode. “This has been such a surreal, amazing experience. I have grown as a baker, decorator, pastry chef and individual. It has been so much fun. I can’t wait to see what this leads to.”

Weber is the second baker to emerge onto the national spotlight from the Baking and Pastry Arts program. Casey Shiller, program coordinator, is the two-time winner of the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars.” Shiller taught Weber for two semesters, and views her success as a reflection of the quality of STLCC’s program.

“Casey has given me so much advice on how to handle the press, the fame, everything,” Weber said. “His having won Cupcake Wars is a huge advantage for me because it’s really helped me a lot.”

After receiving her associate degree from STLCC, Weber continued her education at Fontbonne University in St. Louis where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration. After graduation, she traveled to Italy to study at the Culinary Institute of Florence for a summer. Working at a pasticceria (bakery) there opened her eyes further in deciding her future. She always knew she wanted to do something creative, but no one from my family was in the cooking profession.

Weber has been the head pastry chef at Hendel’s since 2013, where she had worked as a server while in college. Weber grew up in Bellefontaine Neighbors and attended Trinity Catholic High School.

Weber’s long-term goal is to open her own bakery, called “Made. by Lia.”  She already has started it on a small scale, as Shiller has let her use the kitchen at Forest Park as sort of a research and development center to perfect her recipes.

“I make specialty sweets – anything involving something with sugar, I do,” Weber said. “My business is starting to boom. I already have 1,500 Facebook followers. My goal is to open a bakery, and hopefully that will happen sometime in the future.”

Weber said she has not yet begun discussions with Valastro about the job in Las Vegas.

If you missed the finale, the show will be rebroadcast at 8 and 10 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 26.