TV

Unjust Desserts: A Chef’s Misdeeds Spoil a TV Baker’s Win

A recipe for disaster

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Vallery Lomas had never been on television before she appeared this month as a contestant on the third season of ABC’s The Great American Baking Show, an adaptation of the hugely popular U.K. series The Great British Bake Off. The 32-year-old attorney had been an avid baker since she started a cooking blog in 2009, during her final year of law school. She couldn’t say anything publicly, but by the end of the shoot, which took place in September at Pinewood Studios just outside of London, she had emerged the winner. The season was to run as six hour-long episodes, scheduled to air two at a time over three weeks. The results would be announced during the season finale, which was supposed to air on Thursday, December 21.

Then, on December 13, Lomas got a phone call from a producer. After airing only two episodes, The Great American Baking Show was being pulled from ABC’s schedule after Mic reported on allegations of sexual assault against Johnny Iuzzini, a high-profile chef and one of the show’s judges. The outlet had published its initial report, in which four former employees of Jean-Georges restaurant in New York described an atmosphere “rampant with incidents of sexual harassment,” just after Thanksgiving; on December 12, Mic followed up with another story based on interviews with four additional former employees.

The next day, despite having earned high ratings in its first two hours, the show was canceled, with its remaining four episodes never to air. “In light of allegations that recently came to our attention, ABC has ended its relationship with Johnny Iuzzini and will not be airing the remainder of The Great American Baking Show episodes,” a network spokesperson said in a statement. “ABC takes matters such as those described in the allegations very seriously and has come to the conclusion that they violate our standards of conduct.”

“I was in shock,” Lomas tells the Voice. “I was in shock.”

Instead of in a crowning season finale, Lomas’s win was announced via the show’s Facebook page on Thursday. Later that day, she appeared in a Facebook Live video, taped in the New York offices of ABC, in which she gave a short statement and answered questions moderated by a network publicist.

It was an anticlimactic end to what Lomas thought might be the start of a new career path. Lomas grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and moved to New York for work in 2011, after living in France for a year upon graduating law school. Her blog, Foodie in New York, was a passion project. “I put a lot of work and time and love into that website,” she says. “It was just an outlet for me to express myself creatively. I think that it’s kind of evolved and grown, and the more I do it, the more I want to do it.”

A fan of the British version, Lomas was intrigued by the possibility of appearing on The Great American Baking Show. “One of the hardest parts of being a creative person is having a platform,” she says. After auditioning successfully, she was flown to England along with the other nine contestants for a shoot that lasted a little under a month. “It was a very intense competition,” she recalls, but she learned a lot. In the two-hour premiere, Lomas won the second challenge with a blackberry-lemon king cake and a batch of orange-chocolate glazed donuts; her final, winning concoction was a “tower of treats” featuring cheesecake with a pecan-candy crust, choux rings with lemon cream, and mille-feuilles with eggnog pastry cream.

“Getting feedback from these world-class, amazing bakers and pastry chefs, that was incredible,” Lomas says. “When you’re at home baking or blogging, people might like a picture you’ve taken, but that doesn’t mean what you’re making actually tastes good or that your technique is right. Just getting feedback from the judges and the other contestants, as well — I learned so much from them. Everyone kind of had something that they were good at.”

Baking had long been a hobby for Lomas, but after winning The Great American Baking Show, she was starting to think it could be more. “I think anyone who goes through something like that, that’s something that crosses your mind,” she says. “I knew how much work I put into it, and that work continued when I got back.” She began writing a proposal for a cookbook, which her book agent had planned to shop around after the finale aired. “I devoted significant time to writing this proposal that was based on a show that didn’t air,” she says.

The allegations surrounding Iuzzini — some of which date back to 2004 — have had a ripple effect on the show and its contestants, even though the behavior described in Mic’s articles did not take place on the set of The Great American Baking Show. An ABC spokesperson couldn’t confirm whether or not the show will return in some other form in the future, without Iuzzini. Meanwhile, Lomas’s story highlights a troubling aspect of the recent wave of workplace sexual harassment allegations, and the mounting pressure on companies to act quickly when a man is accused of assault. “It was clear that we were kind of in uncharted territory,” Lomas says. “And obviously I’m in uncharted territory, because I’ve never been on TV before.”

Of course, there’s a chance this kerfuffle could end up attracting even more attention to Lomas than the show’s finale would. But for now, that’s little consolation. “The reality is, we all signed up to make a television show that was gonna be broadcast in prime time, over six hours,” she says. Instead, she got a fifteen-minute Facebook Live video viewed by a little over 7,000 people. (In contrast, the show’s first two hours drew more than 3.7 million viewers.) “So I think that kind of speaks for itself.”

There is one faction that has benefited from this whole episode: Lomas’s family, who are eagerly anticipating some holiday treats. “My family has requested donuts,” she says. “Everyone saw the first episode, so everybody wants donuts now.”

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