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St. Albans Culinary Instructor Wins Food Network's Holiday Baking Championship

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Adam Monette - COURTESY OF FOOD NETWORK
  • Courtesy of Food Network
  • Adam Monette
Earlier this fall, during the second episode of Food Network's "Holiday Baking Championship," two contestants were discussing fellow competitor Adam Monette, a culinary arts chef-instructor at Northwest Career & Technical Center in St. Albans. "Our biggest competition is definitely Adam," the two agreed.

Turns out, they were spot on. Last night, in the finale of the show's eighth season, Monette reigned supreme among the finalist trio, down from 12 original contestants, and took home the $25,000 championship prize.

Monette, 35, had been sworn to secrecy about the show's outcome since he competed in front of the cameras in Knoxville, Tenn., in July. The eight-episode show was filmed over two and a half intense weeks, he recounted in a 7 a.m. phone interview this morning before heading to school for a final pre-holiday baking push with his students.



His final two challenges were deemed near perfect by the judges. A dessert "charcuterie" board featured fleur de sel meringue sablé cookies, almond horns and caramel-nut shortbread bars with cranberry chutney, passion fruit curd and cherry-sage jam dipping sauces.

On the show, Monette noted that he had learned the almond horn recipe from "the chef who inspired me to get into this profession." That was Ralf Labelle, chef and co-owner of the now-closed Edelweiss Bakery in Johnson, where Monette worked for four years as a teenager, he said during the phone call.

For the ultimate challenge, a holiday party-themed showstopper cake, Monette had to bring a gift-wrapping party to edible life. His effort stacked three artfully decorated, fondant-enrobed devil's food-peanut butter cakes, crowned with a gum paste ribbon and tissue paper made of edible wafer paper.
Adam Monette's final baking challenge - COURTESY OF FOOD NETWORK
  • Courtesy of Food Network
  • Adam Monette's final baking challenge

After all the hours of whisking, whipping, frosting and decorating cakes, tarts and other confections, the celebration was remarkably brief. On camera, Monette said, “I’ve never won anything in my life” — and the show was over.

Off camera, there wasn't much more to it, Monette said. The contestants said goodbye to each other and chatted briefly with the judges. "I went upstairs and signed some papers. They drove me back to the hotel. That was it. I was on a plane back to Vermont," Monette said with a laugh. "It was just like, 'Here's your hat.'"

Monette watched the final episode Monday night with family and friends at the St. Albans Hard'ack Recreation Area lodge. He said he has nothing major planned for his prize money other than sharing some with family. "I just want to give back to my parents, everybody else who helped me get here," he said.

"I've been sitting on this secret for a while," Monette said, noting that he was only allowed to tell his wife. At the technical center, his students have been constantly begging him to divulge the result. "Like, 'Wink at me if you won,'" he said with a chuckle. "I'm sure they'll be very excited."

While Monette enjoys teaching and appreciates the fact that it gives him time to spend with his two young daughters, he said his dream is to have his own brick-and-mortar someday. "The place that I imagine could absolutely happen right there in St. Albans," Monette said. "It's just the question of timing."

The chef attributes his success on "Holiday Baking Championship" to his ability to stay calm and focused while under pressure. A graduate of the now-closed New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Monette had previously competed in several culinary competitions but never on television or focused on baking, he said.
"Being able to think on your feet and be creative … it's just something that I feel I'm pretty good at," Monette said. "To me, that's very enjoyable. I had fun doing it."

He also gave credit to his secret weapon: vanilla beans. At the start of each baking challenge, contestants would literally run to the ingredients pantry.  "It wasn't for theatricality," Monette said. "It was solely based upon the necessity of getting ingredients."

Monette would head straight for the vanilla every time, he said. No matter what flavors he was working with, "Everything I made had copious amounts of vanilla beans in it," he said . "It was always something that I knew I had to have because it's a magnifier of flavor. It's like the salt of the pastry kitchen."

On Tuesday morning, Monette was headed back to bake with his students. On deck for the next two days were a version of a Paris-Brest with lemon curd, salted caramel and vanilla-brandy crémeux he made on the show; several dozen tourtières, Monette's own family favorite holiday baked good; and 40 dozen dinner rolls.
Monette has not watched the show with his students, he said, though many have been following along at home and have come to class with questions about the recipes they've seen on the show. He said he has received many emails of support from former students and parents of current students.
Culinary arts students cheer on their instructor - COURTESY OF NORTHWEST CAREER & TECHNICAL CENTER
  • Courtesy of Northwest Career & Technical Center
  • Culinary arts students cheer on their instructor
The chef-instructor hopes that students will see, "If I can do it, they can do it ... It's just a question of taking the opportunity."

Monette added that he and his students might watch the finale together this week, "If we have time and the orders are complete."
Chef Monette will teach some baking classes for the general public through Vermont Adult Career & Technical Education Association at Northwest Career & Technical Center in St. Albans in 2022. He also plans to do some demonstrations at Smuggler's Notch.