His mom had been a cake decorator before he was born so maybe it was in his blood, but for Chula Vista baker and cake decorator Jose Barajas, making cakes is about the art. With early aspirations of being an artist, he discovered that edible art was a viable career option and that’s when he followed in his mother’s footsteps.
Now he has hit the big time as a contestant on the reality competition show “Next Great Baker,” which airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. on TLC. The show, hosted by celebrity baker Buddy Valastro, pits bakers against each other to test their skills for a chance at a $100,000 prize.
“I never really watched the show, but one of my cousins kept on telling me, ‘You should apply, you should apply,’” said Barajas. “I was like nah, whatever.”
Then a friend who owns a wholesale bakery in La Mesa received an email from the “Next Great Baker” team that asked if there were any local bakers who had the chops to make it on the show. Barajas finally applied, mostly to put the idea behind him, with no real expectation of making the show.
“When you think that there are thousands of people who apply, it’s kind of like playing the lottery.” Jose said. “You never would think that it would happen.”
With years of experience making custom cakes for parties and quinceañeras and working at Standlee’s Cake, Candy and Cookie Supply in Chula Vista for several years and La Concha bakery before that, Barajas is no ordinary cake maker.
“He went to culinary school so he’s really good at the baking part too,” said his partner on the show, Chula Vista hobby-baker Aimee Anderson. “But he is extraordinarily good at a decorating a cake.”
Anderson was so impressed, she said she literally bowed to him the first time she saw Barajas’ work, which usually incorporates cartoonish style with Disney characters and wild visuals.
“I like to let my imagination run wild,” Barajas said.
“My cake style is clean and simple,” Anderson said.
It seems opposites do attract as the pair representing Chula Vista are as different from each other outside the kitchen as they are in the kitchen.
Anderson, 50, is a pastor’s wife and avid churchgoer at Eastlake Church. Barajas, 27, is a tattooed partier. But both have big personalities and both have a love for making cakes.
They met about four years ago when Aimee went into Standlee’s to shop.
“I don’t know if there is a typical cake maker,” Anderson said, “but he didn’t look like a typical cake maker with all of his tattoos.”
People often jump to the same conclusion Anderson did, Barajas said, but he enjoys being able to take people by surprise and maybe challenge their preconceptions about him.
“Now they have to stop and think maybe I shouldn’t be like that,” he said.
His personal style and flair for making whimsical cakes caught the eye of TLC and the two unlikely friends from Chula Vista went to New York to compete against some of the top baking talent in the country.
Barajas hopes the exposure will help him open his own bakery in Chula Vista, where he has lived since he came from Tijuana at age 7.
As for the “Next Great Baker,” all the episodes have been filmed but neither Anderson nor Barajas are saying who the ultimate victor will be.
“You’ll just have to watch and see,” Jose said. Episode four will air Tuesday, July 15.