“Here’s what I say to that “cheating” thing…,” reads the message tweeted by Winooski, Vermont resident, and owner of Cupp’s Bakery, Gretel-Ann Fischer on February 11, 2013 at 6:16 PST. Earlier, she took second place in the Season 3 finale of The Next Great Baker (TLC) TV show.
Attached to the tweet, a photograph of Fischer holding a hand-written sign, “It’s not cheating… It’s Culinary 101 – What you learn when you go to culinary school.”
But, was it cheating? Did Gretel-Ann Fischer cheat her way to the top in a nationally-broadcast baking competition? According to a flood of hate messages from angry show fans, that is precisely what Fischer did, and they’re not putting up with it. In fact, Fischer told NECN.com on Wednesday that she has received death threats. The authorities are monitoring her social networks, however no actual evidence of death threats has surfaced.
With a $100,000 prize, a spread in Redbook Magazine, and a job at Carlo’s Bake Shop at stake, Fischer pulled out all the stops with the intent to take home the title, The Next Great Baker.
Gretel-Ann Fischer claims that life has been difficult for her and her family. Struggling to make ends meet, and facing a failing bakery, Fischer threw her hat into the ring to save her business, the livelihood of her employees, and her family’s well-being. A $100,000 prize would do just that.
Her failing business comes with a reputation, though – a long laundry list of poor service, sub-par quality, and over-priced goods. As of February 13, 2013, nearly 70% of Yelp! reviews for Cupp’s, Fischer’s bakery, rated it 1-2 out of 5 stars for an average 2.5 star rating.
Since early 2011, customers at Cupp’s have complained, calling it a “sub-par bakery that isn’t much better than grocery store fare,”
“the place that provides service with a SNARL,”
“mediocre at best with greasy hole-less pastry bagels,”
“save your money and go to one of the great bakeries in the area.”
Prior to opening Cupp’s, Fischer owned and operated Fischer’s Fancies, a wedding cake business. She moved the modest wedding cake operation into the Cupp’s location when she opened the business. Clearly, Gretel-Ann Fischer faced a long, uphill battle, if she were to get close to winning that $100,000 prize.
Throughout the season’s competition, Fischer continually stated that she wasn’t on the show to make friends and the other contestants didn’t realize that they were in a competition, because they developed a comrardarie among each other; they were too friendly with one another. But, Gretel-Ann Fischer was there to win, and in her own statements, said she was willing to do anything to get to the top. On at least three occasions, Fischer admitted to sabotaging her competitors in order to gain a competitive edge, and stated that she deserved the title more than anyone else.
Needless to say, Gretel-Ann didn’t make many friends on this season’s The Next Great Baker, or many fans for that matter.
Then there was the tweet; Fischer, on her own Twitter account, holding a sign written in her own handwriting, claiming the tactics she used were taught to her in culinary school.
The show, in its third season, is hosted by Buddy Valastro, owner of Carlo’s Bake Shop in Hoboken, New Jersey and host of Cake Boss on TLC. The Next Great Baker is a competitive baking show that offers a cash prize, a job at Carlo’s, and appearances on Cake Boss.
Fischer plays by a different set of rules. Rules she claims, according to her tweeted message, she learned while attending culinary school. According to Fischer’s LinkedIn profile, she attended Paul Smith’s College, in Paul Smiths, New York from 1995 until 1997. Paul Smith’s College is a New York State school offering two and four year degrees in culinary, hotel and restaurant hospitality, natural resources, outdoor recreation, and ecology.
Competitive cooking is part of the culinary arts curriculum at Paul Smith’s College. On January 23, 2013, current Paul Smith’s culinary arts student, Linnea Shumway won a position in the regional competition of the S.Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition over eight other culinary students from all over the northeast United States. Shumway will be moving on to compete in the Nationals in Napa Valley, California.
In March, the institution’s Hospitality, Resort, and Culinary Management Division will host its 16th Annual Culinary Arts Competition where students compete for scholarship funds, culinary tools, and cookbooks. The competition includes Culinary Arts and Baking contests with more than $24,000 in scholarships and prizes awarded.
Fischer’s statement has raised the question as to whether Paul Smith’s College encourages sabotage and cheating to gain a competitive edge. Fans of The Next Great Baker have voiced outrage and concern over the photo statement, prompting Fischer’s interview with WCAX 3 in Vermont on February 12, just one day after she discovered that she lost the competition and tweeted the message.
“The track records of our hospitality and culinary arts students speak for themselves. [For example], Wally Ganzi, class of 1963 is a co-owner of The Palm Restaurants, Jon Luther, class of 1967 is chairman of Dunkin’ Brands, the parent of Dunkin’ Donuts, [and] this semester, one of our current students will head to California to participate in the finals of a cooking competition sponsored by S. Pellegrino, the mineral-water company,” said Ken Aaron, Director of Communications and Marketing at Paul Smith’s College. “With regards to Gretel-Ann’s tweet, I’ll leave it to her to explain what she meant by it.”
While she does admit to hiding baking sheets from her competitors, during the WCAX 3 interview, Fischer first explains that she followed culinary school protocol. She set the oven temperature, and gathered the necessities for making eclairs. She said that she set the oven to 450 degrees, then removed the eclairs when they were finished. Hiding the trays – “that’s strategy,” according to Fischer.
During the airing of the finale episode, Ashley Holt, winner of the competition, tweeted, “I was wondering where those damn sheet pans were going!!!! Evil @cuppsvt #ashleyngb,”
Fischer stated that Jen Kwapinski failed to check the oven temperature, prior to use, however the episode clearly portrayed Kwapinski setting the temperature to 350 degrees for cupcakes, and Fischer laughing as she told show producers that she raised the oven temperatures, and “didn’t tell anyone.” She went on to state that she “just knocked out ten-percent of their profits.”
Later in the same interview with WCAX 3, Fischer claimed that she “never touched any of the ovens at all,” and that assistants were responsible for setting the oven temperatures and gathering all of the necessary items for baking. However, the episode tape clearly portrays Fischer herself setting the oven temperature to 450 degrees.
At no time during her interview with WCAX 3 did Fischer state that she had received death threats, and she composed herself positively with confidence. She even stated that business is booming, and she’s very comfortable with everything that she did.
Within hours of the taped interview being uploaded to the WCAX 3 website on February 12, angry fans fired disapproving comments to the webpage. One Fischer supporter wrote, “Stop being so mean! She has ben getting death threats, that is ridiculous!”
The calm and confident Gretel-Ann Fischer didn’t suggest she had been threatened during the interview, however. This has led to additional backlash from show fans who suspect that Fischer has now stooped to telling tall tales in order to gain sympathy, much like she did during the season when she faced the axe.
Within 24 hours of the positive, upbeat, forward-looking interview with WCAX 3, Fischer notified authorities and TLC of the alleged death threats, and appeared on NECN. She immediately posted a link to the interview and story on the NECN website to her Facebook and Twitter pages, only again to be faced with a flurry of disapproval.
This isn’t the first time that Fischer has met with disapproving and disappointed fans during Season 3. In a challenge during episode seven, Fischer won immunity from elimination. During the subsequent elimination round, she plotted to sink her own cake in order to send home one of her teammates, Jen Kwapinski or Chris Luna.
During the challenge, Kwapinski said, “Knowing that Gretel-Ann is a friend and I know her well; being that she has the immunity, I’m not worried. I think that she’s gonna put out her best effort and she’s gonna do a good cake with us.” The team was challenged to make an Italian-themed cake. “She trusts me too much,” Fischer said.
Fischer then stated during segment interviews that she would leave certain details out. Her work became sloppy, and she intentionally left the border of the cake unfinished. “I’m hoping she doesn’t notice,” Fischer said, pointing out that the unfinished border could send Kwapinski packing. Ultimately, the team actually won, and Letty Alvarez from the opposing team was sent home.
Fischer was pleased with the outcome; she and Alvarez had previously met with fiery debate during the season. Fans were outraged, and confidence in Fischer’s integrity cracked within her hometown in Winooski and across the nation.
Fischer contends that the reality TV show’s producer, High Noon Entertainment deliberately edited the tape to make it appear as if she were sabotaging the competition. She now claims that the tape was edited so the show would be more interesting and dramatic. “If it were just 13 cake decorators putting butter cream on a cake, who’s going to watch that?” she told Burlington Free Press.
While it is true, and almost common knowledge, that reality TV is “hyped,” the content is derived from actual events and actual footage. Taped interviews, supporting the clips of the bakers in the kitchen were not fabricated. Fischer claims that she is contractually bound to High Noon Entertainment and TLC not to divulge actual events that occurred during the taping of the show.
During the finale competition, Fischer told producers, “I’m putting up the oven temps, and not telling everybody.” Then she continued by mocking Jen Kwapinski, “What the hell? Who turned up this oven? Why is this so high? And I was like, mmm hmm!”
Meanwhile, in multiple interviews with the press since losing the competition, Fischer paints a different story. She’s claimed that it wouldn’t have been in her best interest to win, and that Valastro knew this. Despite the Valastro’s desire to work with her, and award her the $100,000 prize, the family felt it was in the best interest of her business for Fischer to stay in Vermont.
According to Fischer, it was the best thing that could have happened. Business is now booming, thanks to the publicity the show has given her, and she hopes it keeps going. She’s become something of a local celebrity, and according to her Cupp’s Bakery Facebook page yesterday, life couldn’t be better. The following was posted on the Cupp’s Bakery Facebook page
“I have been trying to post for 3 days but we have had a line out the door sense [sic] then! Whew what an amazing couple of days!! I will post pics soon of our yummy Valentines [sic] treats here in a bit Happy Valentines [sic] Day!!!!!!!!”
The question remains, did Gretel-Ann Fischer cheat her way to the top, or was the entire season of The Next Great Baker a hoax? There is no question that Fischer’s tweet was posted after the segments portraying her cheating aired. And, she did not deny sabotaging a cake, increasing oven temperatures or hiding baking trays. There is no denying that during the WCAX 3 interview, she stated that she set the ovens herself, then in the same interview said that she never touched any of the ovens. Was this a publicity stunt to gain show ratings and benefit a failing business? Or, as thousands of show fans suggest, was it a simple case of greed and cheating?