Baking has bonded Alley and his daughter, Morgan. Since she was little, Alley has been teaching his daughter as much about baking as he could and has fostered a love of baking in her as well.
It was actually his daughter’s common teenage sass that inspired Alley to apply for the Food Network’s Christmas Cookie Challenge. After Morgan told him that he was “too old” to be on one of these cooking shows, Alley accepted this comment as a challenge but didn’t really think he would be considered.
The selection process was long, beginning in March of 2017 and not reaching completion until July. Those five months were filled with phone and Skype interviews and sending photos of his cookies to the producers. “People don’t realize how long the process is,” Alley says.
But, if selected, the process then moves quickly. Alley only had a matter of days between learning that he was a competitor to flying down to New Orleans and begin filming his segment.
One of the hardest parts of filming the show was keeping it a secret for so long. It wasn’t until Thanksgiving that Alley could tell the ones who had introduced him to baking, his family, that he was taking his skills on-air. And even then, he couldn’t tell them that he won.
But this vow to secrecy was something that Alley shared with his competitors, who he remains in touch with. “It’s such a unique experience that you do really bond together quickly because there are so few people that actually have this experience,” he explains.
This camaraderie was fostered during the filming of the show, and Alley admits that he didn’t expect to come out on top because his costars were so talented. Even though they couldn’t taste each other’s cookies, “We were able to see each other’s work at the end,” Alley says. “I really thought it would be Marisol, a contestant from New York, who was going to win because her work was so out of the box [in terms of design] and her level of detail with piping.”
Retrospectively, however, Alley, who is currently working on a cookbook, can see that his work stood up to the rest and is proud of the cookies he was able to create, which earned him the $10,000 prize. Each recipe that Alley used has a tie to his family. His red velvet crinkle cookies are a favorite of Morgan, who loves the flavor. His lemon-rosemary shortbread cookies are a favorite of Alley’s wife, as well as Alley himself. And his winning sugar cookie reminds him of his early years spent on Beals Island.
2017 also marked Alley’s first year as a culinary arts teacher at Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School. But even after his big win, Alley was still “a nobody” to his students. Alley says they thought he was joking when he told them he was on the Food Network. But Alley watched the show with his students, who after seeing their teacher compete on-air were excited to be taught by a Food Network winner. Receptive of their excitement, Alley taught them the recipes he had won with. “It was great to be able to share some of my experience with the students,” Alley says, and he hopes that it will encourage their interests in baking.
Click to the next page for a fun cookie recipe you can try at home. And, for even more great ideas, visit our recipes page!
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