Loganville grad's reality TV win is icing on the cake

Photo: Christopher Fryer/News and Tribune — Pastry chef Ashley Holt won The Learning Channel's reality television show "Next Great Baker" on Monday night. A former model, Holt has been baking for six years and currently works at the Louisville Country Club. She plans to open her own shop in Louisville. She is a graduate of Loganville High School.

Photo: Christopher Fryer/News and Tribune — Pastry chef Ashley Holt won The Learning Channel's reality television show "Next Great Baker" on Monday night. A former model, Holt has been baking for six years and currently works at the Louisville Country Club. She plans to open her own shop in Louisville. She is a graduate of Loganville High School.

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. — Some people might do just about anything for the chance to win a small fortune, but don't count Jeffersonville resident Ashley Holt among them. By staying true to herself and her beliefs, the 25-year-old beat out 13 of the country's most talented pastry chefs and won the title of TLC's "Next Great Baker."

With her Feb. 11 victory, she also earned a $100,000 cash prize, a feature in Redbook magazine and an apprenticeship at host Buddy Valastro's famous New Jersey bakery.

"It's a huge deal winning. I'm just so thankful and grateful for everything and for the opportunity that Buddy has given me. Now I'm finally going to have the resources necessary to open up my new shop," Holt said.

"It's really just a constant reminder for me to never give up and always fight for what you want, because if you fight hard enough, you will get it."

Holt didn't always have a taste for cake decorating. After she graduated from Loganville High School in Georgia, she moved to Manhattan to pursue a career in modeling. There, she worked for numerous designers such as Marc Jacobs and Valentino as well as having made appearances in high fashion magazines like Vogue, Allure and Glamour.

Following a three month stay in Japan, Holt decided that modeling might not be the right fit for her, especially when some in the modeling world criticized her decision to get a tattoo.

"It's a very constricting industry," she said. "After I came back from Asia, I had some work done on my back and they just flipped out. That was just the final nail in the coffin for me. I was like, are you kidding me? Why am I doing this to myself? I'm not happy. I'm starving myself. And now I'm getting yelled at for getting a tattoo on my own body."

Soon after leaving the runway behind, Holt returned to Georgia. Falling for a boy from Clarksville, Ind., would eventually lead her to make the move to the Louisville area. She met her fiancé Bryan when he was touring as a guitar tech with the band Avenged Sevenfold.

In addition to fostering a romance, the transfer to the area also gave Holt the opportunity to attend culinary classes at Sullivan College. Having not made her first cake until the age of 19, the accomplished baker attributed her success to both her childhood love of sculpting and some good old fashioned hard work.

"It's just my own determination and my drive. I have this natural urge to succeed and to be the best at what I can possibly be the best at," she said.

After experiencing some difficulties with financial aid, Holt decided to take a more hands-on approach to her learning and not re-enroll in culinary school, a decision she said she does not regret. Instead, she first began work at several local cupcake shops. One thing lead to another, and she eventually landed her current job as a pastry chef at Louisville Country Club.

As for her first involvement with the "Next Great Baker," the cookie didn't always crumble the way Holt would have liked. Despite applying for the previous two seasons of the reality show, she was not chosen for the final casts. But the third time was a charm, and she received word last August that she had made the cut.

"This time, when I filled out my application, I was much more blunt and more like myself because before I think I was trying too hard to be someone that I thought they wanted," Holt said.

For 10 weeks beginning in August, Holt competed against the other 13 contestants at Valastro's bakery in New Jersey. Although she dominated the individual challenges of the reality show, the contest wasn't always a piece of cake. With little sleep and limited contact with the outside world, filming the show could be stressful. Fellow opponents didn't always help.

One baker, Paul Conti, argued with Holt throughout the competition. During the finale, he even insulted the finalist by asking, "How does a 25-year-old kid have the life experience to become the 'Next Great Baker?'"

Holt's answer almost cost her the title and the money. Having had enough of Conti's attitude, she replied with a few chose expletives and a refusal to answer what she deemed an underhanded dig. Valastro's family, who also were the judges, mentioned during the finale they didn't like the outburst.

"I do admit it was the wrong time and place. But after running on like three hours of sleep, that question just offended me so bad," Holt said. "Talent has no age. I don't understand how you can disrespect someone for going after their dreams just because they are younger than you."

Not one to participate in shenanigans, Holt discovered after the airing of the show that the other finalist for the top spot had been sabotaging the contestants. On several occasions, Gretel-Ann Fisher purposely made mistakes on group projects in an attempt to send a teammate home. She also resorted to turning up the temperature on her competitors' ovens as a means of altering their finished product during the lead up to the finale.

"I'm a very blunt, tell-it-like-it-is person, which gets me in trouble sometimes. But I'd rather be an honest person and have someone have a problem with me speaking my mind then go behind your back and be sneaky," Holt said. "I think everyone in this competition tried their best and she tried to sneak her way to the top. I guess she did not feel confident in herself that she had the talent to succeed. I just find that disgusting behavior."

Despite all the drama, Holt pulled out the victory with an impressive seven of her fellow competitors voting in her favor.

What's up next for the newest "Next Great Baker?" Fans can still follow Holt as she completes her year-long apprenticeship at Carlo's Bake Shop on the TLC reality series "Cake Boss." Between her visits to film in New Jersey, she's also busy establishing her own bakery called Sugar Monster Sweets. While plans are under way for a Frankfort Avenue opening, she continues to offer custom made cakes to clients via her website, sugarmonstersweets.com.

And what about all those additional prizes she won in the smaller challenges? With her upcoming May nuptials, Hunt and her fiancé plan to use the all-inclusive Mexican vacation she received for their honeymoon. All the others will help build her new business.

Even with her recent notoriety and busy schedule, Hunt said she's still the same woman she was before her appearance on "Next Great Baker" and not even $100,000 will change that.

"I'm just a normal person. Just because I was on TV doesn't make me any different," she said. "Modeling never got to my head and neither will this."