By Amanda Stoll / Photography by Craig Stocks
Jess Reyling has made it big in the world of cakes, but prefers keeping her baking close to her home and her heart. After competing in the third season of The Next Great Baker on TLC, she’s right back to baking just for the love of it.
Jess grew up in Chillicothe, and now lives in Peoria with her husband and three children, boys all under the age of five. She has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Midstate College and a master’s degree in business management from Kaplan University.
Baking is something she has always done. She remembers baking with her mother and her grandmother, but it was never something she was interested in until she had kids of her own. She wanted to learn to do the same things for her kids that her grandmother and mother had done for her: making Halloween costumes and baking birthday cakes.
She spent an entire night working on a cake for her first son’s baptism, only to end up buying one at Kroger the following day. Following the cake disaster, she decided to take some cake decorating classes through Wilton® at Michael’s.
“I discovered I loved it and couldn’t stop,” Jess said. “I couldn’t wait to make more cakes, and I wound up making [my son’s] first birthday cake.”
After getting the hang of it all, she realized the fun and challenge of it isn’t in the technique itself, it’s in stretching your creativity to make something unique.
“It’s not necessarily hard… if you know what kind of tools you need and how to use those tools you can do just about anything,” she said. “Once you’re taught how to do it, [the possibilities] are pretty endless, which makes it really fun.”
Of all the things she could do with her creativity, she chooses to make consumable art. While some people find it odd that she would spend so much time on something that won’t last long after being put on the table, it makes it all the more fun for her.
“It’s so cool to me. It’s one of the few forms of art that actually uses most of your senses to consume. You see it, you taste it, and you can smell it,” Jess said. “When a cake is set there, the focus is placed on the cake because people can’t wait to have a slice of it.”
The science of baking also intrigues Jess, who likes to change up recipes, trying new things and making them her own. While this can end up with results anywhere along the spectrum—either amazing, inedible, or somewhere in the middle—understanding the science is key to making successful new concoctions. “Its like a little science experiment in your kitchen every time you cook,” she said. “Maybe I should have been a chemist!”
Her sense of humor and general joyful character quite possibly secured her a spot on the third season of The Next Great Baker. After coming across the casting call online one night, she decided to send in an application and see what happened, never expecting to hear from them. She got a phone call the next day.
For her audition, she was required to make a few short videos showing her decorating skill and her competitive nature. She chose to make a garden gnome out of Rice Krispies treats and fondant in only five minutes time. The other part of her video audition included an ice cream eating competition with an Emo’s employee, where they ate ice cream with their faces.
Eventually, after another round of preliminary competitions in New York, she was chosen to compete on the show. She surprised even herself with how comfortable she was with the cameras.
“Being in a house where I have three little kids running around, making noise, screaming, and there’s constantly something going on, the chaotic nature of being on television didn’t phase me like it did to some of the other people,” she said. “There’s always noise going on, it’s sticky, and you’re expected to multitask. I was like ‘Well I don’t do anything different than this at home.’”
While she kept her cool and remained true to her character on the show, it’s not the kind of life she wants to have, preferring to spend time with her boys.
“My favorite part of baking is whenever I get my mixer down from the cabinets, the kids come running,” Jess said. “Nothing is cuter than being in the kitchen with your back to our kitchen table and you hear that chair raking across the floor. You turn around and see the cutest little cherub face with a smile like ‘I’m gonna help you.’”
While she has done so in the past, Jess is not currently doing any commercial baking. For now she’s keeping it personal and just baking for the one’s she loves.