The faculty and staff at Springview Elementary have been in the holiday spirit since early November when their very own school psychologist, Naylet La Rochelle, began competing in the Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship, which has been aired every Sunday evening.
From cookie exchanges, to holiday pies, to fruitcakes and gingerbread houses, La Rochelle was one of eight bakers who showed off her holiday dessert traditions and superb baking skills. In order to survive the festive competition, hosted by Bobby Deen, each contestant had to prove their abilities to win a sweet spot in the hearts of judges Duff Goldman (“Ace of Cakes”), Nancy Fuller (“Farmhouse Rules”) and Lorraine Pascale (“Lorraine’s Fast, Fresh and Easy Food”). Only one winner could take home the grand prize of $50,000 and win the title of Holiday Baking Champion.
La Rochelle wowed the judges week after week with her family, friends and, of course, the entire Springview family rooting for her all the way. La Rochelle eventually made her way to the top three bakers and found herself in the finale, which aired this past Sunday evening.
“I am so grateful for the opportunity to have been on Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship,” La Rochelle said. “For me, it has been a dream come true. I still can’t believe it when I see myself on the Food Network! Despite being the only home baker on the show, I enjoyed every minute competing against the other seven pastry professionals. I learned so much from them but also learned so much about myself. I am very happy with how I baked on the show and hope that I inspired other home bakers to get creative in their own kitchen during this Christmas season and share a sweet treat with someone else. For me, baking is a passion. It is both good for the tummy and good for the soul!”
In each of the six hour-long episodes, La Rochelle and the other competitors tackled traditional holiday desserts in challenges that were not as easy as pie. From making over a much-maligned fruitcake to showing their creative talents with a challenge that involved making anything but a pie with a store-bought pie crust challenge, it was all about balancing flavor, being creative and executing their plan before the clock ran out.
Throughout the series, America got to know La Rochelle, who was often seen on camera sharing Christmas memories from in and out of the kitchen about her parents, her husband and her three children. Week after week La Rochelle was able to take the heat as curveballs were thrown her way. Fellow competitors often complemented La Rochelle on camera for her amazing creations and wonderful flavors. What her fellow competitors were just finding out, friends and family of La Rochelle have known for years.
”Naylet has flair and the gift of cooking and baking,” said Olga Siddons, a longtime counselor at Springview, and both a co-worker and dear friend of La Rochelle. “She knows how to blend different flavors and ingredients, which I wouldn't even dream of putting together. Her presentations are phenomenal. I've also had the privilege and honor of being a taster to some of her pies and if I had to be a judge I’d be in a pickle because I’d make them all winners.”
Over her six years at Springview Elementary School, La Rochelle has been known to occasionally bring her pies into the teachers’ lounge for teachers to taste. “Things have gotten rough to get to that pie before it’s gone,” joked Siddons.
This theme of the final competition was Gingerbread Worlds. The final challenge involved classic holiday flavors, taking on gingerbread, and creating gingerbread worlds filled with treats. La Rochelle whipped up her gingerbread world, titled Twas the Night Before Christmas. It was complete with adorable Marzipan Mice, Ginger Walnut Tassies, Ginger Chocolate Cookies, and Ginger Lemon Cupcakes that the judges loved.
While La Rochelle didn’t win the grand prize, you can be sure that there wasn’t a dry eye for any of her family and friends who were watching. La Rochelle won the hearts of America.