In what amounted to a push to the last half of the last episode, sprinkled with plenty of Christmas magic along the way, Naples’ very own Lerome Campbell, a pastry chef at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples on Vanderbilt Beach Road, made his hometown proud by placing second in the Food Network’s fifth annual season-long Holiday Baking Championship.
The reality TV competition started with an original pool of nine bakers, and each week starting at the beginning of November, the chefs created epic festive desserts to save themselves from being eliminated throughout the seven episodes. Campbell survived until the very end, among the top three bakers in finale that aired Monday, Dec. 17 at 9 p.m.—and he wound up being only one cake short of the $25,000 prize (although his edible ornaments in the night’s first heat impressed the judges enough to give him that early win before going into the final bake-off).
The chef has been in his position in town for the past three years, managing the fantastical creations coming out of the resort’s restaurants—and having an integral role in the yearly construction of a life-size, 100 percent-real-down-to-the-last-gumdrop gingerbread house that’d make Buddy the Elf swoon. Before that, Campbell had climbed his way up the ladder in prestigious pastry kitchens in Southwest Florida and beyond, such as the Woodstock Inn & Resort in Vermont and the Gasparilla Inn and Club in Boca Grande.
Campbell hopes to parlay his experience into one day opening a bakeshop of his own—and, thankfully for us, he’d like to do it on our shores.
For more information on the show, including full episodes and scheduled reruns, see foodnetwork.com/holidaybakingchampionship.