Dallasite Greg Ballenger takes baking talents to ‘Holiday Baking Championship’

JENNY BLOCK | Contributing Writer

Greg Allan Ballenger is such a remarkable baker, you’d think that generations of frosting runs through his veins. But if you were to ask if he comes from a long line of bakers, it would be tough to get him to stop laughing.

“No one else in my family loves to bake,” he said, “although before I was born I had a great-great-grandma, who we called Grandma Bumblebee, who was the baker of the family.”

She baked for every event, from weddings to birthday parties, but “Sadly, she passed before I was born. But growing up, I always heard stories of how amazing a baker she was and how we would have been best friends,” Ballenger said.

These days he’s certainly making her proud. Ballenger, 30, is a competitor on Season 10 of Holiday Baking Championship on Food Network.

Ballenger did not go to school to learn to bake. The Tipton, Iowa, native holds a BA in exercise science from the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls and a doctorate in physical therapy from Clarke University in Dubuque. He is a full-time home health physical therapist with Healing Hands Healthcare.

But Ballenger also runs Greg’s Goodies, the baking business that he started during the pandemic when traveling physical therapist jobs were all but impossible to come by. “With all my free time and the need for some supplemental income, I began perfecting the art of decorated sugar cookies,” Ballenger said.

Doing both gigs isn’t always easy. “It gets chaotic at times!” Ballenger said. But, “after more and more people began seeing my work and loving me for it, that love only fueled me to bake more and more.”

Over the years he has gone from making simple cakes to making a tiered birthday cake for his great grandmother when he was only in the fifth grade. “From there my craft only continued to grow by continuing to watch Food Network,” Ballenger said.

Fascinated with baking all through his childhood, Ballenger said he would watch Food Network constantly, particularly the baking competition shows. “I would see a cool technique to make a piece of edible art and would run into the kitchen and try it,” said Ballenger whose mother loved his experimenting but not cleaning up after him.

There are so many reasons why Ballenger loves baking, but the main one is the reaction he gets from clients when they first see his work: “’Oh my God. This is too pretty to eat!’ they tell me. I love bringing joy to people,” He said,

He also loves the creativity it allows him — from flavors to design. “I love how baking brings people together,” Ballenger said. “I love entertaining and hosting, whether it’s for the biggest event or the smallest get-together, you can bet I’m bringing a baked dish for others to try.”

How did Ballenger get a spot on Holiday Baking Championship? It could not have been anymore random, he said. He received what looked like a really suspicious message on his baking Instagram page. The person identified as a scout for a gingerbread show looking for an assistant baker.

So Ballenger reached out to his friend, Lio Botello, who had been on a cooking show on Food Network before, to see what he thought. Botello gave him the greenlight to reply. But once Ballenger learned more, he decided it wasn’t the best fit for him.

“I have worked with gingerbread before, but I don’t have a ton expertise to the degree that these other bakers had,” he explained, having watched the show in question many times before.

But, as luck would have it, a few months later, the same scout reached out again, this time about Holiday Baking Championship.

“We went through numerous Zoom calls so they could get to know me, and, finally, they offered me a spot on the show!” Ballenger said.

He said the show was the biggest roller coaster he has ever been on: “So exhilarating and fun, and, yet, so many nerves and pressure as we get the challenge and then get only a few minutes while scouring the kitchen for ingredients to think about what we are going to bake for the challenge, all the while knowing you are on a time clock and have millions of people watching your every move.”

Still, he said, he doesn’t regret a thing and would do it all again in a heartbeat. “I made lifelong friends who geek out about the same stuff as I do, which is rare to find,” Ballenger said. “I also loved it, as I am an avid Christmas fan and am constantly obsessed with Christmas. I dressed as the Grinch for Halloween last year, and have a Buddy the Elf costume, one of my favorite Christmas movies.”

Ballenger said if he had one piece of advice for aspiring bakers, it would be simple: Practice, practice, practice. “I am a home baker who has not taken a single class about baking — not even home economics,” he said. “With enough determination and gut, you can get to any level that is possible.”

Baking is a science, he added. “You are going to have many flops and mistakes. But if you continue to stay with perfecting the craft, you can get there. And, trust me, once you perfect the bake, and others try it and give you all the amazing feedback, it is so worth it!”

You can join Ballenger for a premiere watch party at JR.’s Bar and Grill on Monday, Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. “I will have plenty of baked goodies for all to try!” he said. “My creations are wacky and crazy. So, if you have any event coming up and you’d like to wow your guests, shoot me a message and we will come up with something fabulous. The sky’s the limit!”