A Middle Tennessee business owner gained greater exposure last winter on a TLC reality television show that sought out the next great baker in America.

Jay Qualls, the owner and lead designer of Maples Wedding Cakes in Murfreesboro, was chosen to compete as one of 10 best bakers in America on Cake Boss: The Next Great Baker. The show debuted on TLC in December 2010. For five weeks and up to 18 hours a day, Qualls and nine other contestants taped the series.

Qualls advanced through six rounds of eliminations before being sent home in a controversial decision. Still, the native of Fairview, Tenn. has much to celebrate. Since 2005, he's been one of the most popular bakers in Middle Tennessee, making wedding cakes for numerous celebrities. Before the television show, Qualls' cakes had been featured in several national wedding magazines.

Here's our Q&A with the culinary expert:

What kind of opportunities have been afforded to you since you were featured on television? What's your biggest takeaway from that experience?

Being on television changed my life in ways I could have never imagined. That experience certainly helped me determine what I was made of. With the exposure of television and good editing I have been able to travel all over North America teaching my method of cake design and educating people through consulting about running a cake business or small business in general. I have also been given the opportunity to design and produce historical cakes for MTSU, The City of Murfreesboro, and HRC just to name a few. I have been invited to be featured on Canadian television and be featured in national magazines. I have auditioned for a movie recently with Cameron Diaz and auditioned for bit parts on national TV ads. I've been asked to endorse products as well as create my own new products such as Fondant Fabric.

What's the greatest joy in creating these wonderful works of art in the kitchen? What's the biggest challenge?

Designing a cake is like painting on a blank canvas. The sky is the limit and your imagination is the only limitation. I found that the biggest challenge for me is making sure that I set myself apart from everyone else. I learned to take inspiration from many different sources and to not look at other designers for inspiration. You will subconsciously mimic their designs in some fashion and not even realize it which prevents you from being unique. The biggest challenge is coming up with a new way of creating something out of sugar as a medium. Trying to do something that has never been done before. That is probably my biggest challenge.

For those who might be a little timid about baking, what 2-3 tips would you give to them? And tell us why your classes are such a great way to get started in the process.

Well, baking and decorating are two very different things. I'm more of a designer/decorator than I am a baker. Don't get me wrong, I can bake a mean cake! But I prefer to design and create to baking. Baking is a science. Follow the directions exactly. Experiment many times to develop your own successes. Again, setting yourself apart. And remember, "A well baked cake, is a well decorated cake." I believe my classes are so successful because I make students feel comfortable in my classroom. I tell them that I don't expect them to achieve perfection on their cakes in the classrooom. It is more important to me that they understand grasp the concept or method that I'm teaching in that class. Think about how long it took us to be able to learn to write with a pencil. You can't expect to pick up a pastry bag and pipe with it perfectly the first time in a 6 to 8 hour class. Many of the methods I teach take many, many hours to practice and to perfect or master. If you truly invest the time into it, you will be successful.

What upcoming projects can you share with us? What are you looking forward to in 2012?

Well, I'm very excited about my Fondant Fabric. It is a great concept. We are working out some of the kinks with packaging etc. I'm working on concepts for a line of tools for the cake designer/decorator. I'm also working on a dessert recipe book, a coffee table book with all my original designs, sketches, inspiration, and finished product. I'm designing my new line of cakes for the 2012 brides. They will be released on my website in late January. I am producing online classes as well. You can register your email at my website www.jayqualls.com and pay a small fee and have access to free demos and full classes forever. You can learn my method of decorating and design from the comfort of your own home and watch it as many times as you want and create your own educational library.

I also have some very good exposure that I can't discuss in the Spring of 2012 and I continue to travel and teach and do business consulting. I'm also working on a few other projects that I can't talk about right now. But, there is a lot more to come from me. I believe 2012 will be a great year for me and I'm excited to see what it holds for me.

Qualls' website is www.jayqualls.com and his store website is www.store.jay.qualls.com. Follow him at Facebook and Twitter.

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