Mary Valentino always had an interest in baking, but her career was as an assistant bank manager. She started taking baking classes from Wilton at Michael’s and her passion only deepened from there. Then her three-year-old daughter Emma started showing her YouTube videos of cookies being iced, and Mary was hooked. She started spending hours figuring out how to use her decorating techniques to ice cookies.

Her friend convinced her to make a Facebook page, and the cookie requests slowly starting rolling in. As more and more orders were being filled, she was juggling her job, being a mom, and making cookies, she decided to leave her job and start Emma’s Sweets to pursue her passion for creating art on a cookie.

“It started as a hobby simply for fun,” she said. “But within a year, I got busy with orders. And after a few years, I was been able to leave my banking job.”

On Monday, Mary will be on the Food Network show “Christmas Cookie Challenge” competing against four talented bakers to see who takes home the $10,000 grand prize. Be sure to tune in Monday, November 12 at 10 p.m. EST to watch!

But before she shared her passion and flair for baking with the Food Nerwork, she filled custom orders and filled in her own ideas to make a party special. People request her cookies for parties, bridal showers, bachelorette parties, weddings, and other special occasions. She loves being part of someone’s special event.

“I like that the cookies can add a special touch to the event,” Mary said. “People get really excited. What keeps me going is the fact that my cookies can make a positive impact on someone’s special day.”

When searching for inspiration, Mary likes to peruse craft stores or home goods stores like Home Sense to find patterns or anything else to spark an idea for a cookie design.

“There’s patterns on furniture or crafts that I see that inspire me,” she said. “I like to see the seasonal items. The other day, I saw some owls and figured that could be a cookie. You see patterns on everything.”

As a frequent shopper at Michael’s, she would see the Silhouette wall and wonder about what she could do with it. Once she started looking into it, she realized she could use it to make stencils for her cookies. “I didn’t want to always pay someone else for stencils. That’s initially why I bought the Silhouette. That investment paid for itself five times over.”

Now she also uses her Silhouette for labels, jars, and other projects to beautify her home and make her parties special.

Each cookie set is different, and as a one-woman show, Mary pours her heart and creativity into everything she does. Her favorite cookie decorating to do is painting cookies with an edible food coloring, even though it’s also the most time-consuming option.

“It might take longer, but with the detail you can put on a cookie, it becomes a work of art. Painting cookies is very therapeutic. It’s very relaxing. The outcome is worth the time because it’s beautiful,” she said. 

She puts a lot of time and effort into her business and into her cookies, which are truly a work of art, but she wants anyone looking to start a creative endeavor to know that anybody can start anywhere. One of her favorite things about what she does is building up other people, and she suggests others do the same.

“The biggest thing we can do is lift up and support other artists, especially those who do the same work as you,” said Mary. “I think it’s so important that we just lift up each other. You are your own unique person. People come to me because they like what I do.”

To see more of Mary, follow her Instagram @_emmas_sweets, read her blog, or subscribe to her YouTube channel Emma’s Sweets.