Chow Town

Self-taught Kansas City baker competes on ‘The Great American Baking Show’

Bow-tie-wearing JC Gregg of Kansas City spent 28 days in London to compete on ABC’s “The Great American Baking Show,” which premieres at 8 p.m. Thursday.
Bow-tie-wearing JC Gregg of Kansas City spent 28 days in London to compete on ABC’s “The Great American Baking Show,” which premieres at 8 p.m. Thursday.

JC Gregg is the kind of baker who relishes a challenge: He stays up nights hand piping “a million little specks” of frosting so he can customize his own colors.

It’s that meticulous attention to detail and a positive can-do attitude that won the bow-tie-wearing, 50-year-old Costco Wholesale auditor, known by his hashtag #gingerjesuskc, a spot on ABC TV’s “The Great American Baking Show.”

The show’s season premiere double episode starts at 8 p.m. Thursday. The show will continue for four weeks.

This fall Kansas City’s Gregg spent 28 days at London’s Pinewood Studios with nine other contestants from the United States. The contestants were given a series of themed challenges and eliminations while vying for the honor of being crowned “America’s Best Amateur Baker.”

“It was a very diverse crowd,” Gregg says of his fellow contestants, which included a priest, a former contestant whose father had died while she was competing in a previous season, a 60-year-old “yoga mom” and two attorneys.

Gregg decided he wanted to compete following gastric surgery that helped him lose 150 pounds. “I just gained confidence from the surgery and I decided I’m going to be on this show,” he says.

He applied last January. The audition process included phone interviews, a Skype interview and trips to Chicago and New Jersey to compete. “I think it was more my personality than anything,” Gregg says. “It’s where my journey has taken me.”

From May to September, Gregg practiced his recipes in preparation to bake across the pond. It took two days to film each episode: Contestants started at 6:30 a.m. and baked until 10 p.m., and they would take the next day off to prepare for the following day’s challenge.

“We knew what we were baking with the exception of the technical challenges,” he says. And although he can’t reveal how he did before the show begins, he “did really, really well in all my technicals.”

Like Robert Duensing of Best Regards, who competed in the Food Network’s “The Christmas Cookie Challenge” earlier this week, Gregg is self-taught. He started baking after his mother died in 2001 because he missed her signature mayonnaise chocolate cake.

Instead of making it the old-fashioned way, Gregg decided to experiment with spherification, a molecular gastronomy technique that allows him to suspend the fat in a viscous globule to make the cake even more moist.

“I like to see just how far you can push the envelope,” he says.

Almost nightly you can find a post on social media from Gregg, who needs only 4  1/2 hours of sleep a night, that jokingly begins, “Tonight I accidentally made …”

This week he’s made baklava with homemade pistachio butter and passion fruit macarons with chocolate Pop Rocks. His favorite dessert? “Anything with peanut butter and chocolate.”

To keep the weight off, Gregg is careful about how much of his own baking he taste tests. “I sample less because I know what my base recipes taste like,” he says.

Gregg has continued to keep in touch with several of the baking show contestants. Although it was hard to be away from home for a month, he says the experience of baking with others who are as passionate as he is was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“I really had fun with it,” says Gregg.

To read a Halloween story featuring JC Gregg’s recipes and photos, click here.