VERO BEACH — For one year, five months and three days, Paul Conti and his wife, Cassandra, have been operating their cake shop, Casereccio, on Miracle Mile in Vero Beach – and now he’s ready for a new challenge – TV.
Conti is one of five finalists vying for a 13th slot in Season 2 of TLC’s “Next Great Baker” competition reality show. Voting began Aug. 1 and continues for the next several days – a cutoff for voting hasn’t been released.
So Conti is spreading the word, using Twitter, Facebook and other methods to let people know they need to vote for him to be on the show.
“If Facebook were like Twitter, it would’ve been shut down,” Conti said of the immediate response his Facebook page received from friends, family and complete strangers notifying him they would be voting.
The other finalists are from around the country – and only one other is from Florida, Danielle – from Wesley Chapel.
Six months ago, Conti found out TLC was taking applications for the upcoming series, so he filled out an application.
“I’ve got to be honest with you, I forgot about it,” he said in a thick New York accent.
A month ago, he got a call that the show liked his application and he needed to make a YouTube video as part of the next step.
“I sat around and waited and waited,” he said – finally the call came.
He was a semi-finalist and had to go do an in-person interview and take part in a cake decorating challenge.
“I’m sweating,” he said, recalling the challenge of baking in unfamiliar surroundings under hot studio lights. The butter cream frosting was melting and then one of the brothers-in-law of Cake Boss Buddy Valastro walked on set and threw a monkey wrench into the competition.
“I was ‘Dude – wow, they’re really in front of me,'” Conti remembered thinking when he saw the cast of the show and admitting he was a bit star-struck by the encounter.
Conti found out later that while he didn’t make the cut for the originally planned 12 positions, he was selected to be one of the five to compete and make the show a “Baker’s Dozen” of contestants.
The winner from the first season won $50,000, a new Chevy car and an apprenticeship with Buddy Valastro.
Conti wants to win – if for no other reason than to get the apprenticeship.
“You can’t buy that knowledge,” Conti said of what Valastro could offer. “It’s priceless.”
Conti is a regular watcher and re-watcher of Cake Boss, paying more attention to what the bakers’ are doing than saying.
“I learn from him,” he said of Valastro, watching him over and over again to pick up techniques and ideas.
Like Valastro, Conti’s shop is a family affair.
“It’s not just me,” he said. “My wife is my right-hand man.”
The couple and their two sons, Paulie, 4, and Carmine, 2, make up the business. He jokes that Paulie is the fondant roller and Carmine is the taste-tester. Paulie plays with scraps of fondant like any other child would with play dough.
Conti hopes that Indian River County residents will support him in his bid to make it to TV and take a shot at the title of “Next Great Baker” by visiting TLC’s website for the voting.
He said he has already received notes from friends claiming carpal tunnel syndrome from the voting.
Visitors to the site are allowed to vote as many times and however often as they wish until voting ends.
Even if he doesn’t make it onto the show, Conti hopes that local business investors might take an interest in Casereccio and offer to financially back the cake shop.
He’d like to be able to relocate the store to its own storefront. Casereccio, which means “homemade” in Italian, takes up space inside Elizabeth D. Kennedy & Company Inc. Entertaining, at 486 21st Street.
“Miss Kennedy gave us our break,” Conti said.
Now he’s looking to voters for his next break.
To learn more about the show, Conti and to vote, visit http://tlc.discovery.com/tv/next-great-baker/view-and-vote/next-great-baker-contest.html