By Steve Hubrecht

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Invermere resident Vina Benn’s spectacular run in the continent-wide ‘The Greatest Baker’ contest came to an end in the semi-final stages.

The Pioneer reported on Benn’s progress in the contest in the Janurary 25 issue. The Greatest Baker is one of the largest online-run baking contests in North America, attracting thousands of participants each year. The sheer number of contestants made Benn’s run remarkable and even she was surprised that she survived six rounds of voting to reach the semi-finals.

But it was at the semi-final stage that Benn exited the contest. She finished sixth in semi-final voting, out of 100 contestants – close but not quite close enough to end up in the final.

As the minutes to the semi-final voting deadline ticked down, Benn admitted she kept a very close watch on her voting count. When the deadline passed and she hadn’t secured a place in the final she felt no ill will to those who beat her. Instead. “I was just so excited to have made it that far. It was so much fun,” she said.

Friends and family have been cheering Benn on. Benn’s sister was perhaps her biggest backer during the contest and “she was a bit disappointed, but I think still pretty excited overall that I got to the semi-final,” said Benn. Even her three teenage kids “thought it was pretty cool,” she added.

Her spell on The Greatest Baker has brought a small degree of local fame, with several people having stopped her in the grocery story to ask about the contest, and one woman even ordering a cake from Benn as a result.

What’s next for Benn’s baking?

“I don’t know, I honestly hadn’t thought about that,” she said.

For now Benn will keep moving forward with her local Mama Bear Bakery business, which she has been running since 2020. She operates the business out of her home, making baked goods to order and featuring at many of the Columbia Valley’s farmers’ markets throughout the summer.

She launched the business during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic when, like so many other Columbia Valley residents, she found herself suddenly out of work.

“I thought, why not? I don’t have anything else to do right now,” said Benn. She had been an avid home baker since she was in elementary school.

She started the business small and grew from there. Her lemon ricotta cookies and cinnamon buns were the initial hits at the farmers’ markets that first summer.

“The lemon ricotta cookies, they’re very lemony. And they do have a whole tub of ricotta, to make up for using less butter. They are donut-like cookies and pretty yummy,” said Benn.

The public was quite supportive of her fledgling enterprise, especially at the Radium Market on Main on Friday nights. So, in 2021, Benn moved Mama Bear Bakery into a storefront in Radium. From there she also supplied the Radium Brewery with fresh pretzels. The location wasn’t great, and Benn got little foot traffic, so after six months she went back to running the bakery from her home.

Mama Bear Bakery’s offerings have grown in recent years, with cakes becoming more popular. Homemade caramels are another customer favourite. Benn plans to add homemade salt water taffy this year.

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