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'Next Great Baker' finalist's Mormon faith on display

"Next Great Baker" finalist Jen Kwapinski stayed true to her LDS values throughout the competition.
"Next Great Baker" finalist Jen Kwapinski stayed true to her LDS values throughout the competition.
Jen's Cakes

Buddy Valastro, star of "Cake Boss" and host of TLC's "Next Great Baker" reality TV show, has contestants take on tough challenges to see if they have what it takes to work at the famous Carlo's Bakery.

It's a stressful environment, but season 3 contestant Jen Kwapinski remained true to herself and what she believes in.

Kwapinski, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, owns Jen's Cakes (and her website is in San Jose, Calif., where she makes cakes and cupcakes for weddings and other special occasions. She is also a mother of two young kids.

Her beliefs factored into the competition during the "baker's challenge" in episode 9, when the contestants were asked to create a "cocktail-inspired cupcake." After creating a cupcake using Kahlua, a rum and coffee-flavored liqueur, Kwapinski made a bold move by adding a filling containing the Kahlua. Since the filling was not baked, she didn't taste it before presenting the cupcake to Valastro.

It was "too strong" for his taste. When asked about the cupcake, Kwapinski simply said she chose not to taste her cupcake for "religious reasons."

"I figured they can't expect every single person to be drinker, even though everyone there but me ended up being one," Kwapinski said. "I don't drink and if anyone ever tries to persuade me to do so, I'm never going to give in. That's just how it is."

It was during the same episode when contestants Paul Conti and Ashley Holt teamed up with Kwapinski during the "elimination challenge." Conti and Holt argued constantly back and forth with language that had to be bleeped for television.

"I'm not used to cussing, and it's hard to be around it when you don't like being around it," Kwapinski said. "I had to tune their language out so I could stay focused on the challenge.

"Even as they were fighting, I was more aware of the bigger picture than the other contestants. I knew I was blessed to be on the show and because of it I'm now getting better at reserving more time for things such as reading my scriptures. It's important to have key things in your life and to keep doing them, then everything else will fall into place the way they are suppose to."

The season 3 finale of "Next Great Baker" was Monday, Feb. 11. The three finalists (Kwapinski, Holt and Gretel-Ann Fischer) competed in Last Vegas for the chance to win $100,000, appear in Redbook magazine and work beside Valastro in Carlo's Bakery. Holt ended up winning the title of "Next Great Baker," with Kwapinski finishing third.

The episode confronted Kwapinski with more challenges to her beliefs. Previews portrayed drinking and gambling.

"I've been taught that gambling is wrong because it can put you in a bad financial situation if you're not careful," she said. "Since I never want to be in that situation myself, I've never even had the desire to gamble."

A scene in the finale episode showed Kwapinski playing Blackjack with Valastro and the rest of the finalists. The decision was a difficult one for Kwapinski, but since no money was involved, she felt comfortable.

"The producer asked me on camera if I would be all right playing the game since no money was involved," she said. " ... I felt comfortable with my decision because I wasn't really gambling."

Being one of the final three contestants is a major accomplishment for Kwapinski. She felt she was able to prove herself to Valastro and knows she had divine help.

"I became so close to my Heavenly Father during the show because I was able to spend more time focusing on myself," she said. "I'm so busy at home and don't have that much time for as much scripture reading as I would like. To get through this show, it took a lot of prayer and scripture study."

Kwapinski has a few words of advice for anyone who may have the chance to be on a reality television show.

"Stay true to yourself and your values because that will always be beneficial," she said. "Also, keep in mind that everyone is watching you and everything you do is on camera. Any poor choice you make or any negative thing you say or do most likely will be shown on television, so by staying positive and keeping your head in the competition, it will be better in the long run."

Kylie Lewis is an intern for the Deseret News where she writes for Mormon Times and does other feature articles. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho, receiving a bachelor's degree in communications.