Mathematics Alum Competes on Baking Show

Emily Adey on show Image by Netflix
Emily Adey ’15, ’18 competes in Netflix’s inaugural season of “The Big Nailed It Baking Challenge.”

By Brooke Coupal

It’s a race against the clock as Emily Adey ’15, ’18 pours flour into a mixing bowl.

The amateur baker is trying to re-create a multilayer cake that spills out sprinkles and candies when a person cuts into it. One side of the model cake is decorated in elegant flowers and ribbons, while the other side is adorned with sculpted figures of people dancing around a boombox.

Actor and comedian Ron Funches called Adey’s version of the cake “pure chaos” with its uneven frosting and drooping structure, before declaring, “I love it.”

While the decorating and construction of Adey’s cake may have gone awry, she successfully executed the sprinkle surprise and delivered on taste, securing her spot in Netflix’s inaugural season of “The Big Nailed It Baking Challenge.”

Last year, Adey, a resident of Littleton, Massachusetts, spent one month in Los Angeles filming the 10-episode show, which debuted on Netflix this past August. The show follows 10 amateur bakers who compete against one another for a $100,000 cash prize. Adey baked her way to the top five before being eliminated.

Emily Adey on show 2 Image by Netflix
Emily Adey presents her cake to judges, from left, Ron Funches, Nicole Byer and Jacques Torres.

“Filming the show was a lot of fun,” she says. “It was hard work and stressful, but it was a really positive experience.”

A mathematics alum who was working at the time as a missile systems engineer for RTX, formerly known as Raytheon, Adey did not have a lot of prior baking experience.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic and the boredom that came with it, I picked up baking, so I was very new to baking when I went on the show,” she says.

Adey’s admiration for the show’s host, comedian and actress Nicole Byer, led her to apply. While listening to one of Byer’s podcasts, Adey says Byer joked that “cake pays her mortgage.” Byer was referencing her hosting work on the Netflix series “Nailed It,” which follows the same premise of “The Big Nailed It Baking Challenge,” except that home bakers compete for $10,000 in a single episode.

Adey checked out “Nailed It” and liked its lighthearted format. With a desire to become a contestant on the show, she turned to the internet, where she found a Reddit thread on how to apply. Six months later, she got a call from a show representative.

Emily Adey show cake Image by Netflix
Emily Adey's cake re-creation from episode one features sculpted figures of people dancing around a boombox.
“They asked, ‘Do you have any interest in doing a whole season?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely,’” recalls Adey, who had to submit a video of herself baking as part of the application. “The rest is history.”

In each episode of “The Big Nailed It Baking Challenge,” professional baking coaches Erin Jeanne McDowell and Robert Lucas taught the amateur bakers a skill, ranging from cake leveling to airbrushing. The bakers then re-created an elaborate cake using the skill they had just learned. At the end of each challenge, Byer, French pastry chef and chocolatier Jacques Torres and a guest judge would vote on the best re-creation before eliminating one baker.

Adey’s favorite challenge involved making a rocket out of cake with a sculpted figure of herself riding it.

“We had to work with isomalt (a sugar substitute) to make flames for the rocket, which is a really advanced skill,” she says. “I liked the way mine looked in the end, and it tasted great.”

Adey, who recently started a new job as an engineering program manager for Advisor360, a Weston, Massachusetts-based software company, says her mathematical skills came in handy during the competition.

“I can follow a recipe like no other, and I think that comes from my mathematics background,” she says. “My cakes always tasted really good.”

Emily Adey show cast Image by Netflix
Emily Adey, second from left, poses with the rest of “The Big Nailed It Baking Challenge” contestants.

Adey adds that her experience at UMass Lowell prepared her socially for the show.

“One of the biggest draws I had to UMass Lowell is its inclusive and diverse environment,” says Adey, who had transferred to the university from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. “Stepping into a show where there were 10 of us who had to be instantly comfortable with each other, UMass Lowell helped me prepare for that because I learned how to relate to people from all different walks of life.”

While Adey did not win the ultimate cash prize, she walked away with new friends, baking techniques and kitchen items, which she collected during a raid of the show’s pantry after being eliminated.

“It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” says Adey, who continues to bake for fun, often alongside her 5-year-old son. “The fact that I was part of a Netflix reality show and baked with these amazing bakers – I’m very grateful for the opportunity.”