Torrey Pines alum wins Hulu’s ‘Bakers Dozen’ show, baking 100% gluten-free
Torrey Pines High School alum Lisa Altfest recently won an episode of Hulu’s new baking competition show “Baker’s Dozen”, creating tasty and over-the-top confections that happened to be entirely gluten-free.
For her win, Altfest won a $5,000 prize and the coveted golden rolling pin. The professional gluten-free confectionery artist and celiac is on a mission to make sure everyone gets the very best gluten-free treats and to prove gluten-free can be delicious.
“I’m not only a celiac, but I’m a celiac who won a baking show,” said Altfest.
This was Altfest’s second time competing in a TV baking competition—in 2019, she appeared on Netflix’s baking show “Sugar Rush” with Roanna Canete of Coronado’s Gluten Free Baking Company, again competing completely gluten-free.
Hulu’s “Baker’s Dozen” is hosted by Tamara Mowry-Housley and Bill Yosses, former White House pastry chef. The show starts off with a decorating challenge that decides which five of the 13 contestants gets into the Bake Shop.
The contestants are then challenged to make 13 identical desserts, “whatever your signature bake is”, and only the top three move onto the final round—in Altfest’s episode, which premiered Oct. 7, the challenge was to make a “surprise” cake. Other episodes in the season include challenges like making bread art, breakfast dessert, geometric pies or tarts and a macaron tower.
On her episode, in the first round Altfest crushed the cookie decorating challenge, topping her cookie with a green succulent garden made out of buttercream.
For the second challenge, she whipped up a gluten-free tropical eclair, filled with coconut pastry cream with a passion fruit glaze and little mini coconut macaroons topped with a pineapple slice that she dyed and baked so it would look like a flower. “I got fancy,” she said.
In the cake round she made a wine cake—a three-foot-tall wine bottle made of gluten-free chocolate cake with a port and berry compote and brie swiss meringue buttercream, surrounded by little grape cake pops.
The cake was full of surprises—not only did it look like a giant wine bottle and tasted just like wine and cheese but Altfest built a graduated cylinder into the cake so that a cork could be pulled out and you could actually serve wine from the cake (for show purposes, it had to be grape juice).
This was the first time she tried making such a cake and Altfest admits it was a little nerve-wracking hoping everything worked out. The cake ended up being a show-stopper and sealed her victory.
“The cool thing about this show was that we somehow built a community in the hours we spent together filming,” she said of her fellow contestants. “It was almost like we were on a team even though we were competing against each other. It didn’t feel so much like a heavy competition but a fun event.”
Altfest grew up in Carmel Valley and graduated from Torrey Pines in 2007. Her husband, Eric, grew up in Del Mar and is a fellow Torrey Pines alum. The parents of two children currently split time between Orange County and San Diego with plans to move to the area permanently. Eric is the general manager at the Hillstone Restaurant Group, which operates Houston’s and Napa Valley’s Rutherford Grill—the group plans to open a new restaurant in the Del Mar Village, in the former Bully’s space.
Altfest had been working in marketing when she decided to pursue her true passion, moving to Canada to attend the Bonnie Gordon College of Confectionery Arts.
She worked as a cake decorator at different bakeries in Orange County before landing her dream job working for Duff Goldman at Charm City Cakes as a cake designer.
A month before beginning pastry school in 2015, Altfest was diagnosed with celiac disease, an immune disease in which eating gluten damages the small intestine. The diagnosis was a huge blow. “I thought that my career was over. I almost didn’t go to pastry school,” she said.
When she thinks of that now, she is happy she didn’t quit and was determined to learn everything she could about her new lifestyle. She would love to tell that young woman now that she would go on to work with Duff, compete in two baking shows and win one as a gluten-free baker.
During the pandemic, there was a halt in the custom cake business so Altfest shifted gears to gluten-free cookie decorating through her website, A Real Sweet Thing.
“I don’t think I was ever able to appreciate cookie decorating before because it was very time-consuming. But I started absolutely loving the cookies,” she said of her fun, creative and meticulously decorated gluten-free cookies in every theme imaginable for any occasion. She ships cookies and confections to customers throughout the country and one long-time customer only recently discovered her oft-ordered Victoria sponge cakes were gluten-free—she wasn’t able to detect a difference in taste.
Those who have seen Altfest on the baking shows have told her that she is good on TV with her high energy, fun sense of humor and big personality (she tends to make up songs while she bakes).
“That’s just me. I’m a lot,” she said with a laugh. “It just works on TV because they want you to be a lot.”
But it’s true that Altfest would love to be on TV more, mostly to share her platform and help celiacs feel that they are not alone.
Her dream is to help people “learn from Lisa”, to feel better about being gluten-free and to “be that girl” for the gluten-free community. Last week she inched closer to that dream by launching an ebook featuring an online course on gluten-free baking, to share all she knows such as what tools are in her kitchen, what gluten-free flours she uses as well as tips and troubleshooting.
“I want to inspire all of the celiac/gluten intolerant people to keep baking,” Altfest said. “And to get to keep eating the treats too.”
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