Stress, sense of adventure are in North Texas woman's 'Cake Boss' mix

If all goes well, the next couple of days will be pretty big for Megan Rountree. But then, it's been a pretty big year for Rountree.

The Colleyville-bred cook will be a contestant on Cake Boss: Next Great Baker, a competition series that begins Monday night on TLC. The day after the series premieres, Rountree plans to open Legacy Cakes at 120 Main St., Suite 120 in Grapevine. Both events cap off a year in which Rountree got married and made a move from Kilgore, where she ran a coffee shop, back to Dallas-Fort Worth.

"You just kind of have to put a smile on your face and realize that it's all going to be happening for a reason," says Rountree, who was in the process of moving and preparing to sign a lease on her bakery when she talked to the Star-Telegram. "Yes, it's stressful at times. But it's exciting, it's a new adventure, it's fun to do with my new husband. You've got to look at it as 'This is going to be a whole lot of fun,' but you've got to make sure to let the fun come out."

Rountree, who, at 23, is one of the show's younger contestants, says that she started baking on a weekly basis during high school, and continued baking for sorority events when she was in college at Baylor University. After college, she attended Le Cordon Bleu's patisserie and baking program in Austin, then returned to Baylor to work as head baker for the university's catering department before moving to Kilgore.

"Baking is definitely my therapy," she says. "Even if I just need to take a minute out for myself, it's kind of like the 'don't talk to me' time in my family. If I'm in the kitchen, they kind of notice and kind of stay out of the way. It's a reliever -- you get to be creative, and sometimes a little messy, and kind of 'get it out' on all realms."

Cake Boss: Next Great Baker is a spinoff of Cake Boss, which follows Buddy Valastro and his family at their busy Carlo's Bakery in Hoboken, N.J. Next Great Baker is a blend of The Apprentice and Top Chef: Just Desserts, with 10 pastry-chef contestants vying for a $50,000 prize and a chance to work alongside Valastro. In a release for Next Great Baker, Valastro says the show is just as much about running a business as it is about making and decorating great cakes.

Filming began in September, meaning that Rountree had to be on location mere months after getting married. Don't expect to see Rountree doing a lot of those teary phone calls home that have become a reality-show cliché, however, because she and her husband were able to work with Next Great Baker's schedule.

"My husband actually has a very flexible job," Rountree says. "And he was able to come up there with me the entire time. I probably saw him maybe 30 minutes a day, but it was nice to just come home to a familiar face."

As contestants on Top Chef: Just Desserts learned, the stress of competing on a cooking show can be compounded when the show involves baking, a technique that requires the kind of precision that can be tough to maintain when you are working in unfamiliar surroundings.

"Coming into a brand-new kitchen and not having everything that you're used to having at home is a huge challenge to overcome," says Rountree, who decided to apply for the show after reading about it on a baking blog. "At the same time, it was really fun. You got to be very creative. You kind of felt like MacGyver in the kitchen at times."

On a biographical video on Next Great Baker's website, Rountree says that she is a perfectionist. But she quickly had to adjust that trait while competing on the show.

"You have to really learn how to lay back and see things from a different angle," she says. "But I think my perfectionist tendencies did help me in several areas. You get very tired, you get very worn down, but that little habit, in the back of your mind, will keep you going."

Rountree says that she believes she got along well with the other contestants, and she has experience in competitive cooking, so she was prepared for what the show had to offer on that front. Or for some of it, anyway.

"It was different, because a lot of the competitive cooking that I've done, or cake decorating, you don't get criticized to your face," she says. "[With the show], you have to learn how to take it in stride but realize that they're not out to get you, they're out to make you better."

Robert Philpot, 817-390-7872