I love to learn new recipes. Yes, cookbooks are great, but for me the best way to learn is to observe others. I swear I’m not just saying that as an excuse to watch more TV (I’ve recently developed an addiction for The Voice). But I have to admit: I’ve learned so much about what to do in my own kitchen from The Great American Baking Show.
A spinoff of the The Great British Bake Off, which aired in the US as The Great British Baking Show, this American version of the popular baking competition series showcases both professionals and home cooks, who compete against one another by creating delicious treats with specific ingredients in a (very) limited amount of time. As if that weren’t enough pressure, James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Sherry Yard and best-selling cookbook author Paul Hollywood taste-test (and judge) the contestants’ baked goods. It’s not for the culinary faint of heart.
One of the bakers on the show that I’ve learned a lot from is Andrea Maranville of Sherrill, NY (about two hours west of Saratoga, just past Utica). Maranville stood out from the very first episode when she became the first competitor to win the show’s coveted “Star Baker” slot by whipping up a chocolate cake recipe from her great grandmother. A home-baker and mother of four, Maranville has had years of experience making meals for friends and family, and runs a baking and food blog called the Sweet Life of a Baker. Maranville’s hard work brought her all the way to the season finale (December 20). The Upstate baker made it to the top three, the finals round, of The Great American Baking Show, but didn’t win the top spot. “I feel like I did win by just being there in the top 10 to begin with,” said Maranville, whom I recently got the chance to talk with about her time on the show and her love of Saratoga restaurants.
How did you get into cooking?
I’ve always loved good food and dining at restaurants. If there was lobster and crème brûlée on the menu, it was what I ordered. I always said I should’ve been a restaurant critic. [Laughs] After my husband and I got married, I would try to recreate our favorite meals from restaurants, so I started teaching myself how to cook and bake. I’m truly a foodie at heart and love working with fresh, local and seasonal ingredients. My baking and cooking has been an evolution through trial and error. When you teach yourself it can be challenging at times, and a recipe doesn’t always work out, but I remind myself it’s just food. If I get it wrong, I just keep trying until I’m happy with it.
Saratoga is only a couple of hours away from you in Sherrill. Are you a fan?
I love Saratoga. My husband and I have strong roots in Bolton Landing on Lake George, and we lived there for 13 years with our children before moving to central NY. We still spend most of our summers at the lake with the kids. We love shopping, going to SPAC, attending the track and dining at many of the restaurants in Saratoga.
Speaking of which, what do you think of the restaurant scene here?
Before moving to central NY, I worked in sales for a specialty seafood and produce company for a couple of years. My territory covered Saratoga, so I was in the city daily and loved being close to the restaurant industry. I’ve been inside many of the kitchens in Saratoga’s amazing restaurants and love the city’s culinary scene. I won’t say which restaurant is my favorite, though.
What was it like being the first “Star Baker” on Season 4 of The Great American Baking?
When I entered the tent on that first day, I was so overwhelmed with emotions of just standing in the tent and being one of the top ten amateur bakers in the country. Winning Star Baker in the first episode was an amazing feeling. I proved to myself that I was good enough to be there and to have Paul Hollywood and Sherry Yard be the ones to decide this was the icing on the cake. [It’s a] moment I’ll treasure forever.
Besides winning, what are you hoping comes from competing in The Great American Baking Show?
I simply love sharing my love for food with people. Being able to share tips and recipes with others so they can make it for their families is a dream of mine. Whether it’s through a show or cookbook, or better yet, both, I’m absolutely meant to share my passion for food with others and hope I’m able to do much more in the future.