Joliet Junior College chef Andy Chlebana knows a secret or two about competing. So, when an opportunity arose to participate in Food Network’s “Best Baker in America,” he knew he had to be ready to whip up the goods for success.
“It was great to bake in the kitchen working on a new TV show,” Chlebana said. “It reminded me of all the good times and hard work when I was on Spring Baking Championship. There is a certain level of comfort when I am in the competition kitchen, and I am at home there. Then, there are the long days and interviews, that is more of the ‘work’ part but you cannot have one without the other. I would not give up this experience for anything.”
At 9 p.m. Sept. 27 on the Food Network, Chlebana will compete against eight people for the title, ‘Best Baker in America.’ In the first of six episodes, the bakers are tasked with creating mini-upside down cakes in the skills challenge and either a double barrel or three-tier wedding cake in the master challenge. Time varies based on the challenge, as well.
Each week, a participant will face elimination until one person earns the right to be named “Best Baker in America.”
Though Chlebana cannot reveal the outcome of the contest, he said he thinks he did good, and is happy with everything he made.
“It made me realize that I love what I do, and I can always learn more,” Chlebana said. “That is what this is about, making myself a better chef.”
A casting producer who expressed interest in having him on the show contacted Chlebana over the summer. He went through the casting process, they selected him and he went.
Chlebana graduated from Joliet Junior College with an Associate in Applied Science degree in Culinary Arts. He went on to attend the Culinary Institute of America to earn a certificate in baking and pastry. Since that time, he has taken professional development courses in specialty pastry.
Reflecting on the competition, Chlebana said, there was one major takeaway.
“The thing I learned from this competition is to not be afraid and push yourself to try something new,” he said. “I do that a lot on the show.”
Chlebana added, “The judges really surprised me, they were tough. Anything wrong and you heard about it.”
Moving forward, Chlebana said he is not sure where his craft will take him next, but that does not serve as a reason to fret.
“I think I have everything I could ask for,” he said. “I have a great job teaching at the college and working with the next generation of chefs and pastry chefs, I have a textbook coming out in the next couple of weeks, ‘The Advanced Art of Baking and Pastry,’ and I've been on TV three times. I don't know what else I could want. … I feel that it is time for me to give back and share what I have learned.”