Tonight Dallas baker Chad Fitzgerald will get his close-up on Next Great Baker. The show airs on TLC at 8PM. D Magazine intern Arti Sharma interviewed Chad. Get to know him before tonight’s show. He’s a former-teacher-turned-drag-queen-turned-baker. Join him for a debut party at Magnolia Hotel at 7PM.
Chad Fitzgerald claims he and his partner, Edward Navejas, owners of The Cake Guys in Duncanville, are just normal guys. But that is about to change. Since Fitzgerald returned from his appearance on Next Great Baker, the two have opened a second location on Oak Lawn across the street from Pappadeaux. He seems a little anxious when he tells me others have warned him of the potential transformation that could take place once the show airs. He’s nostalgic about the days he baked cakes in his own garage and is excited, and perhaps, a little uneasy about what the future will hold. It is uncertain if he will welcome fame or retreat from it.
That’s the thing about Fitzgerald, a native Texan dubbed as the “nicest guy on the show” by Buddy Valastro, the Cake Boss himself. At first glance, you kind of think you have him figured out. Until he throws you for a loop. He is a great baker but he is a former math teacher—his full-time job until recently. His voice softens as he fondly reminisces about his grandmother who laid the foundation for his love of baking. He briefly mentions his “wild days.” Probed a little further, he says very matter-of-factly that he was referring to his days in drag. He goes on to elaborate, and you realize just exactly who you are speaking to: a former Miss Texas At-Large and a former Miss USA At-Large. And yes, he achieved these titles all while teaching junior high and baking on the side.
In 1996, when Chad added a little wig and makeup to his regiment, he felt pretty. Then it dawned on him—there is power in beauty. Unlike the protagonist in The Picture of Dorian Gray, whose beauty was his ultimate demise, Fitzgerald discovered how beautiful he was. He was humbled by it. “Drag is an attention seeking activity, and I am lucky that I was able to take that attention and make it positive rather than resort to what else it could get me—like drugs,” Fitzgerald says. “It gave me confidence, and it made me like and appreciate Chad more than ever.”
Nearly 15 years later, the Next Great Baker contestant does not need the wig and the makeup to like himself. He does, however, create enchanting beauty in his cakes, many of which are obviously influenced by his past. His confidence has allowed him to conquer other pursuits, such as being a Next Great Baker contestant.
Just like the ingredients in his cake recipes, he did not skimp on his audition videos. The producers for Next Great Baker got the full-throttle Chad Fitzgerald that he is proud to be. Once they fell in love with what they saw, Fitzgerald made certain that he was not going to act like a “flame or a stupid person.” As if reciting a mantra, he says “I am not a gay person who happens to be a baker. I am a baker and a partner, and one part of me is gay.” The producers respected that.
“The cast experience was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Fitzgerald says, “Everything was completely raw. It puts you and all of your knowledge and skills to the test. Every. Single. Day.”
During the taping of the show, Fitzgerald threw up several times a week, lost 18 pounds, and worked 16 hours a day. “But I didn’t give up at the worst times because I would think of everyone who was working hard at home because I am not there,” Fitzgerald said. He wants Dallas to know about the goodness of The Cake Guys, not just Chad Fitzgerald.
The Cake Guys are talented, and can do cakes like those you see on TV, including the 2,000-pound Transformer cake, and the life-size sculpture of Buddy Valastro’s wife. But Fitzgerald understands not everyone can afford those cakes. “Just because you have a low budget doesn’t mean you have to have an ugly cake,” he says. He offers the Sweet Inspiration packages to accommodate brides after the economy tanked.
However, despite the stagnant economy, fancy cakes are in demand. Fitzgerald says shows like Next Great Baker have introduced invigorating cake techniques and contributed to their hype. Now fondant, made popular by the Cake Boss and Martha Stewart (who Fitzgerald calls the Queen of Cake), has never been so in vogue. Fitzgerald, who Buddy calls a “cake superstar” in one of the elimination rounds, can master the art and technique of fondant and fancy cakes like those seen on Next Great Baker.
So what can be expected on this season of Next Great Baker? There will be plenty of contests, challenges, “horrible Jersey brides” who made Fitzgerald miss the “wonderful, friendly, and realistic Texas brides,” famous people, and of course, the Cake Boss himself, who Fitzgerald says taught him skills he could not have learned otherwise. “Buddy is really tough,” he says. “He expected the very best of us, and when we didn’t give our best, he let us know. One day you are on the top of the list and the next day you are crap,” he says after conveying his deep reverence for Valastro.
The show airs tonight, and it is bound to bring in popularity and fame for the Dallas baker. Stop by The Cake Guys from 3-5PM for $2 cake-by-the-slice happy hour at the Duncanville location. Dallas location happy hour details TBA. Next Great Baker debuts tonight at 8PM CST on TLC, and Chad Fitzgerald would like to invite everyone to the debut party at Magnolia Hotel at 7PM.