BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ- Armed with a love of baking and desire to open her own business, Governor Livingston High School’s culinary teacher Amy Wartel is participating in the first-ever “The Greatest Baker” virtual baking competition.
Wartel, who currently teaches Everyday Gourmet, Gourmet Cuisine, and International Cuisine at the high school, got her start in her own kitchen during her middle school years.
“I started baking when I was really young, like typical kids with my parents and my grandparents. Probably around middle school I kind of started thinking like ‘I think it'd be really fun to work in a bakery’,” Wartel said,
At the age of 16, she began working at the Lyndhurst Pastry Shop in Lyndhurst New Jersey. Reflecting on her first experience in a pastry shop, Wartel said, “I have worked places that might have been a little less comfortable and a little more strict, but the Lyndhurst shop was a really comfortable environment for me. It was very family-oriented.”
At the bakery, Wartel was mentored by Jerry Lanzerotti, whose family has owned the bake shop since 1948..
“His ears were always open for any question I had. If I wanted to try making something new, he would always let me, he would teach me. He's still so warm and welcoming and it's well over 10 years later,” she said.
Lanzerotti said the qualities he looks for in an employee are conscientiousness and passion. Of Wartel, he said, “She had that passion early on.”
After first attending Johnson and Wales for baking, pastry and food service management, Wartel transferred to Montclair State University where she graduated with a degree in both nutrition and food science. She then went on to attend the International University for French Baking and Pastry.
Discussing the switch between majors from strictly culinary to a focus on the science of baking Wartel said, “I always kind of enjoyed both sides of baking. I'm very hands-on so I always enjoyed that it is very creative, but it's also backed by science.”
Wartel, who has no plans of leaving her teaching career, said she got into teaching because she wants to help students grow up to be educated consumers about their health and wellbeing saying,
“If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything else. I think it's more of a drive to help the kids and honestly, anybody to just be the best be as healthy as they can be”, Wartel said.
Wartel has made it through two rounds of the competition and awaits the announcement if she made it to the quarterfinals. The winner of the competition, which will be announced December 10, will be featured in the Bake from Scratch magazine and receive a $10,000 cash prize.
Though Wartel noted she is not one to normally participate in competitions, when the opportunity of “The Greatest Baker” competition came around she jumped on it, hoping to secure funding to open a commercial kitchen where she can grow her own business.
Though Wartel currently bakes cakes for her friends and family for their events, she said the competition will allow her to pursue her passion. “It's always risky opening up a business, so having a studio would just allow me to not have my home refrigerator packed with cakes and my sugar flowers drying on my kitchen table. It should be a home, not a bakery.”
As Wartel continues to teach students and pursue her business in her available time, former boss Lanzerotti had one piece of advice for Wartel: “Just do what you feel is right.”
More information about the competition, and how to vote for Wartel, can be found here.