By Morgan Bryce
A little more than a year ago, Ashlyn Morgan was a mere fan of The Great American Baking Show, but the 24-year old Opelika native was one of 10 bakers that competed in the show’s second season to become “America’s Best Amateur Baker.”
Morgan said she remembers the night that a dream of being on the show became a tangible reality.
“I watched the first season of the Great American Baking Show, which came out last winter, and thought, ‘wow, this is amazing!’ Then I told my mom about it, and she found the casting information for the next season,” Morgan said. “She kept pestering me and pestering me to apply … so of course I was telling myself, ‘you’re not good enough’ or ‘there’s no way you could do that’, but my mom has always been wonderful about encouraging me just to try things – try them once. So I did.”
After turning in her application in late February, she went through an extensive interview process, and received the call in late summer that she had been selected as one of the 10 bakers to be on the show’s second season.
“It was surreal, I never thought that the show I had been a fan of, that I would get to be a part of it,” Morgan said.
Throughout the next few weeks, she and fellow contestants underwent a grueling filming process on location at a studio in England, an experience she said she will never forget.
“I definitely miss it, and working alongside the other bakers … going through all that and coming back home to a normal life and then watching yourself on TV and reliving that whole experience, it’s so crazy,” Morgan said.
The Great American Baking Show, created by legendary British food writer and television show host Mary Berry, is an eight-part series which features 10 amateur bakers from all demographics.
Each episode, bakers are assigned baking projects like cakes or cookies to create, and to try to wow the judges with their talent. There are three rounds in each episode: the first is the signature challenge, which allows bakers to use and replicate their own recipes for the judges, the second is the technical challenge, in which the judges surprise the bakers with a recipe and task them to duplicate it, making it as similarly as they can to the original, and the third is the showstopper challenge, where bakers have four to six hours to bake and assemble a showcase product for the judges.
Judges for the show include Berry, award-winning chef James Iuzzini, and husband-and-wife team Ian Gomez and Nia Vardalos.
Because of stipulations in contracts signed by the show’s contestants, Morgan was unable to disclose many of the behind-the-scenes details, but said that Berry, judges and fellow bakers helped make being a part of the show an amazing journey and experience for her.
“I love being immersed in an experience … being on the show for several weeks and months, I was eating and breathing and sleeping the entire process. I was transported to this other world, and I accomplished more in that short window of time than I would have in years, because I was pushed to do my best and learn all that I could,” Morgan said. “When I first started baking, it was cakes and a few French pastries but yeasts for example, they scared me to death. It took being on this show to help me get more comfortable in all parts of baking.”
Morgan’s Opelika roots run deep; she was born and raised in Opelika, and graduated from Opelika High School in 2010, before pursuing degrees in horticulture and landscape architecture at Auburn University, which she completed in 2013.
She began baking nearly two years ago, and said she enjoys incorporating fresh, homegrown products from the farm into what she bakes.
“Something I think that makes me a unique baker is my horticultural background, and using things that people might not think would go in a bake, much less in a kitchen. I’m always scouring old botanical books for things that people have forgotten, and that you can use for medicine or for eating to include in what I make,” Morgan said.
She said her future plans are to continue honing her baking skills, as well as develop a web series in which she can educate viewers on both baking and gardening.
Morgan was eliminated from competition at the end of last Thursday’s episode, finishing in the show’s top seven contestants.
The Great American Baking Show airs every Thursday on ABC at 8 p.m. To keep up with Morgan and her latest ventures, visit http://www.arcadianash.com.