You’ll forgive Jeff Gray if pies don’t have a place in his kitchen.
It’s a pear bourbon slab pie that burned – figuratively, of course – the 56-year-old home baker from Midtown after he nabbed a spot among 12 contestants on the Food Network’s “Holiday Baking Championship.”
Cakes, after all, are the specialty of the man known on the show as Santa from Atlanta. But three episodes into Season 7 of the show, it was pie that proved to be his undoing. A chess pie in the preheat came across as “lipstick on a pig.” His slab pie in the main challenge was mocked as pizza – and not that delicious artisan kind – by judges Duff Goldman and Carla Hall.
“I had made one slab pie in my life before,” Gray said in a new episode of Podcast Q. “Two pies in a row. I’m a cake guy. And you know, all through that whole competition, I made one cake. So it was very, very challenging.”
Scouts for the show recruited Gray after coming across the Instagram account for Papa Bear Bakery, the home-based business he launched in 2018. It started as a creative outlet as he wound down the advertising and marketing company he founded. Now, the second business he’s started has blossomed into a two- or three- cake-a-day habit.
“I want this to be fun,” he said. “If you don’t enjoy it, why do it? So right now, I’m having a lot of fun, and I can only do so many cakes a day by myself or so many in a week. I can do that, and I can keep it fun.”
During the Podcast Q interview, Gray also discussed his motivation for baking, his holiday menu, why he named the business Papa Bear Bakery and granting honorary bear status to Goldman and host Jesse Palmer.
“Obviously to win – that was my dream goal. To be honest with you, the reality was as a brand new baker, self-taught, going up against trained bakers and other home bakers, my main goal was not to be the first one off. After that, everything was more and more icing on the cake,” Gray said.
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