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Q & A: Duff Goldman and the Four Kids Baking Championship Finalists

Q & A: Duff Goldman and the Four Kids Baking Championship Finalists

Q and A with Duff Goldman and the Four Kids Baking Championship Finalists
By Hannah and Cailin Loesch

DUFF GOLDMAN

Did you learn anything about yourself, as a chef and as a person, from the kids?

Absolutely. This might sound cheesy, but I learned that I still have much to learn. These kids knew so much coming in to this competition and there are ingredients and techniques that are as commonplace to them as creaming butter and sugar that I have never worked with. They showed me that real chefs never give up, and that it is never too late to start over. They would mess up a batch of cookies, and with 20 minutes left, toss them and start a new batch. They showed me what it means as an adult to see with a child’s eye.

As we grow older, we follow thought patterns that over time become etched in our minds. Like a river that starts out as a small stream. At first, the stream wanders over a broad landscape searching for a path, as it settles, it erodes the soil underneath and becomes deeper and more fixed. That happens to all of us when we have decided that a certain course of action will achieve the desired results. We stop looking for other solutions that might be better or just more fun.

When you study Zen, it teaches about “Shoshin” which translates to “beginner’s mind.” Shoshin is a concept that teaches us that we are infinitely creative when we look at our existence with enthusiasm and an open mind stripped of preconception. That is how these kids baked.When confronted with a challenge that they didn’t understand, they would look at the problem with no preconception and start moving. They process information so quickly that they would learn as they go and by the end of the project, were totally proficient in something they had never seen a few hours before.

Mentoring these kids was so educational for me as a chef and as a person, and it was seriously one of the coolest things Food Network has ever let me do.

CONTESTANT INTERVIEWS

NATALIE VENABLE
Age: 11
From Westlake Village, CA

Natalie, who says that her friends would describe her as “weird and fun”, has been cooking and baking since she was four. She is also an aerialist and takes school very seriously. Someday, Natalie hopes to have her own show on Food Network called “Let’s Bake with Natalie Kate”!

Let's start with the very beginning of your Kids Baking Championship experience. How did you find out about the show, and what was the casting process like?

My mom saw a post on Facebook about it and sent in the application telling them about me. Then I went in and interviewed with them. They called me back to an audition with a bunch of other kids to bake for them live in person and that was really exciting!

Describe the moment that you found out you'd been chosen to compete.

Oh my gosh. I got in the car and I was upset about not doing well on a test to get into a certain math class and my dad said, "Well, you got into something else..." and I was just in shock. I was still mad about the test, too, so it was kind of funny. It took a while for it to sink in. Being a baker is usually thought of as an adult career.

What made you decide to start so young?

I guess I just did it because I liked it, not really for a career. Now I really love it and when I started seeing the different shows on Food Network I decided I really wanted to do that! I want my own show and my own cupcake shop.

Do you think that kids have any advantages over adults when it comes to baking?

I think kids will try crazier flavor combinations. I like marshmallows and I want to try making different flavors and using them in recipes, even if it seems weird.

Had you seen any baking or cooking competition shows before appearing on one yourself? How is Kids Baking Championship different from the adult shows? Oh yes! My sister and mom and I watch Chopped all the time! I think the kids one is different because the judges were really nice and sometimes helpful. We were willing to help each other. Nobody tried to use ingredients or the ice cream machine to keep anything away from anyone else. It wasn't like that. The adults are always trying to beat each other and we were all just trying to make cool things.

Are you into cooking as well as baking? What is your favorite desert, and are there any that you dislike?

Yes. I love cooking too. I play Chopped at home and I love to sauté things.  My favorite dessert is probably meringues. Right now I really like this chewy chocolate flourless cookie that I want to perfect.

Did you make friends with your fellow contestants, or were you very competitive? Did you have any opportunities to hang out and have fun during breaks from filming?

Yeah, we made friends with each other right away. We would go out to dinner together sometimes and even Dave & Busters after the tapings if we weren't too tired. It was sad to see the others go home.

How has life at school changed since you've been on TV? Do your friends watch the show?

People at school have been really nice and have been cheering me on. I think some people are just surprised to know that I really bake. It seems like a lot of them are watching!

Describe your experience working with Duff Goldman.

Duff is really funny and really nice. I think he was a great choice for the kid's show because he never got down on anyone for mistakes. He really wanted us to know that was all part of learning.

What advice would you give to other kids who want to become bakers?

Bake. A lot. But try to use recipes and not just boxed cake mixes. Start with cookies and cupcakes and frostings before you try anything like a pie crust or meringues or something that might not go well. It's fun when it works, so do something easy first.

ANNIKA COFFMAN
Age: 12
Born in California, but now lives in Boise, Idaho

In addition to baking, Annika enjoys playing piano, cheerleading, and barbecuing. She is even part of her middle school band!

Let's start with the very beginning of your Kids Baking Championship experience. How did you find out about the show, and what was the casting process like?

My aunt lives in LA and she is in the catering business, and one day she emailed my mom a picture of the flyer just saying "Oh, Annika would be perfect for this because she loves baking!" The casting process was stressful just because, you know, I was scared they might not like me or I wouldn't be the right fit, but also really fun because I got to be myself, and show the producers that I'm unique and a good baker all at once!

Describe the moment that you found out you'd been chosen to compete.

I actually found out that I was going to be competing over the phone when the producers called me and I was totally speechless! My mom and I sat there for a second just looking at each other like, oh my gosh, oh my gosh! I'm on the show! Then we just started screaming and jumping around because we were so happy! I was nervous, but I was so excited at the same time, I forgot about being nervous completely!

Being a baker is usually thought of as an adult career. What made you decide to start so young?

When I started baking, I never thought that I would actually be able to do something like this with it! I started baking because I would ask my mom "Can you make me some cookies", and she was like, "No I don't have time!" So then I just went and made it on my own and it turned into this amazing outlet for me and way to express myself! I decided to start baking because I LOVE anything sweet! I make food so that I can eat it!

Do you think that kids have any advantages over adults when it comes to baking?

I personally think that adults might have a little bit of an advantage because they’ve been doing it longer, and they might have better technique, but I also think that kids are better in the sense that kids have so much imagination and creativity. Also, kids aren't baking for anyone else, they are just baking for themselves, to have fun and to just go with it which I view as an advantage. I look at it this way because where as adults are usually baking to get money, kids are doing it for fun. I think kids have an advantage because we are so creative and have so many ideas that it translates through our baking and makes us better bakers.

Had you seen any baking or cooking competition shows before appearing on one yourself? How is Kids Baking Championship different from the adult shows?

I had watched some cooking and baking shows, and had enjoyed Buddy’s and Duff's shows, but honestly I found the cooking shows pretty boring. I really didn't watch that often. But as soon as I got on a show myself it was an instantly different experience. I think that the Kids Baking Championship was definitely one the best things I've ever done in my life! It was such an incredible experience, I don't know of anything else that I could do that would meet those standards for the rest of my life! I think that the show is different than adult shows, because it's just more interesting! Also I think it was better because we were all friends. In adult shows, you see people who are not sharing and trash talking and just being rude to each other. However, Kids Baking Championship was really different than that, because we shared with each other and have a lot more fun with it than I think the adults did.

Are you into cooking as well as baking? What is your favorite desert, and are there any that you dislike?

I am NOT A cook by any means! I love to bake, but cooking is definitely not my forte. I've always been better at baking because I love everything that I bake but in cooking there's a lot of things that I don't like so I usually tend to veer away from cooking in general! My favorite dessert is definitely crème brûlée because it's just so good! I don't like desserts that have a lot of fruits in them because, as weird as it may sound, I don't like fruit!

Did you make friends with your fellow contestants, or were you very competitive? Did you have any opportunities to hang out and have fun during breaks from filming?

I'm generally a competitive person, but I made friends with everyone on the show because they were all so amazing! The night before we competed on the day that we had first met, we all went to one hotel room and just hung out, ate pizza, and talked! It was one of the most fun times I've ever had! They were all really really nice and I'm so glad that I met them! I still keep in contact with some of them today which is awesome. I miss them, but hopefully there might be a day when we can all meet again! We did get opportunities to just have fun during the filming, and we mostly had fun during the lunch breaks, and the judging because it took a long time! During some of the lunch breaks, Duff would come over and talk to us which was amazing!  

How has life at school changed since you've been on TV? Do your friends watch the show?

School has changed a bit since I've been on the show. It's awesome, but sometimes embarrassing when my teachers will bring it up in class! All the people in my class watch the show which is really great because I feel super supported by all of them. I get a lot of Instagram messages and tweets that say, "Oh, I love you, you're so amazing!" It's crazy! It makes me really happy to know that I am inspiring people just by doing something that I love!

Describe your experience working with Duff Goldman.

My experience with Duff Goldman was absolutely amazing! He was so nice and caring, and he was like a dad to all of us! Duff was a really great mentor because he helped all of us when we didn't know what to do or when we were scared or anxious or confused. I had watched his show, Ace of Cakes, and that was actually one of the things that inspired me to start baking and making cakes! He was totally awesome! It was a gift to be able to work with him.

What advice would you give to other kids who want to become bakers?

If any kids out there want to become bakers, I say go for it! You never know what you'll be good at. Who knows, you could be on Kids Baking Championship! I know that I never expected to make it this far but being here just solidified my passion for baking. There's nothing holding you back! No matter what anyone says to you or if they doubt you, you can do anything you want. I'd encourage everyone out there to just go try something new whether it be baking, unicycling, whatever you want! If you set your mind to it, you can do anything!

JACKSON FUJIMORI
Age: 11
Lives in Torrance, CA

Jackson used to bake late at night so often, his friends and family started calling him the Midnight Chef! He hopes that by participating in the competition, he can prove to the world that kids can have the same baking skills and talent that adults do.


Let's start with the very beginning of your Kids Baking Championship experience. How did you find out about the show, and what was the casting process like?

I have a friend that does acting and commercials and her agent told her about a casting call for Kids Baking Championship. Since they knew I really liked baking, she thought I should try out for it. The casting process seemed pretty quick since I think we found out about it right before they were selecting the kids for the show. My dad shared a video with a casting person that showed me making my cookies and cream cupcakes and they emailed him right back asking to talk to me. It was the last day of school for me so I called them when I got home. Then they asked me to go in for an interview in front of a camera. Then they asked me to go to this place for a baking test. I didn’t know what to expect so I was really nervous. We found out that we had to do this baking test to show our ability to perform under pressure and also to show how we would present our baked items to judges. I remember really liking that whole thing! I thought it was so much fun!

Describe the moment that you found out you'd been chosen to compete.

At that time, it still was a secret and we had friends over at our house after a baseball camp so my mom pulled me aside into the kitchen and told me. I was really excited and had to scream quietly.

Being a baker is usually thought of as an adult career. What made you decide to start so young?  

For many years, I wondered what I wanted to do as a career. Many of my friends are interested in music or sports, but two years ago during a summer camp I learned how to make apple crisps and I found my passion. Also, in 2nd grade, my friend’s mom was starting her own cupcake business and would always bring in different kinds of cupcakes for us. That’s when I also taught myself how to make some of my favorite cupcakes, too! I watched a lot of YouTube videos and tried different recipes. I even did a yard sale to earn money to buy my own stand mixer, which has been my most important tool in baking!  

Do you think that kids have any advantages over adults when it comes to baking?  

Yes, kids have an advantage over adults since they have more years ahead of them to practice.

Had you seen any baking or cooking competition shows before appearing on one yourself? How is Kids Baking Championship different from the adult shows?  

Yes, I’ve seen many cooking shows before on Food Network and TLC before appearing on Kids Baking Championship. Kids Baking Championship is different from adult shows because we don’t fight or hold grudges against each other! We all got along really well and became good friends.  

Are you into cooking as well as baking? What is your favorite desert, and are there any that you dislike?  

Although I like cooking, I enjoy baking more because I love to eat desserts! My favorite dessert is a Madeleine. I don’t particularly like Coconut Macaroons.  

Did you make friends with your fellow contestants, or were you very competitive? Did you have any opportunities to hang out and have fun during breaks from filming?  

I made many great friends and I really didn’t feel like I was competing against them because I was just concentrating on doing my thing the best I could! I especially enjoyed meeting other boys who loved to bake since not many boys like to bake. After a day of filming, some of us would go out to eat or explore new places to eat desserts. We really enjoyed eating ice cream at this one place that uses liquid nitrogen to harden the cream. Since I was the “local” one, it was fun taking them around to different places I like that they might not have in their hometown. We went to the Santa Monica Pier one day, and Dave & Busters one night! I loved the kid bakers who were part of this show! We had so much fun together. One night, we even had a pizza party in Cody’s room and watched the Next Food Network Star together! I still keep in touch with many of them on Instagram and have visited Payton and his family at their home in San Francisco. We always talk about how fun it would be if we could have a reunion somehow since we are all spread out all over the country.  

How has life at school changed since you've been on TV? Do your friends watch the show?  

At first I didn’t know what to do because it was overwhelming. Many people congratulate me and ask me, “Did you win?” My friends all watched the first one and made some jokes about my “thousandaire” line! Then most of them watched the second and a few watched the third show. The teachers and staff are all really nice and supportive, even some of the teachers that weren’t so nice before!

Describe your experience working with Duff Goldman.  

He’s a really cool guy! Working with Duff kinda felt like closely working with your dad. He’s really fun but he also gives lots of constructive criticism and encouragement. He was so funny and smart and such a great teacher, giving me a lot of tips for baking. If Duff taught a baking class, I’d love to take his class and learn more from him! It would be fun to spend the day at Charm City Cakes to learn from him and his bakers, too! For my last 2 birthdays, I visited Duff’s Cakemix and invited a few friends to decorate cakes. I love it there!  

What advice would you give to other kids who want to become bakers?  

Don’t give up on your dreams! If something doesn’t turn out right when you first make it, keep trying because it will be better the next time. And if you tried out for Kids Baking Championship and didn’t get in, keep trying. I tried out for another show last year but I didn’t get in but this came up and I tried it and got in! So don’t give up! Even if one thing doesn’t happen, it might be because something bigger or better will!

HOLLIS JOHNSON
Age: 13
Born in Summit, NJ, but currently lives in Jacksonville Beach, FL

In addition to baking, Hollis loves to travel. Her favorite place that she’s been to so far is Egypt. One of her favorite parts about traveling is seeing how the food changes with the country’s culture.

Let's start with the very beginning of your Kids Baking Championship experience. How did you find out about the show, and what was the casting process like?

Well, two years ago, when we lived in Atlanta, my sister, Devon, and I entered a baking competition. The owner, Miss Patty, became fast friends with my family. The beginning of summer after our move to Jacksonville, Florida, Miss Patty e-mailed my mother asking her to call immediately. Miss Patty told my mother that she needed to call a casting agent in LA about a children’s baking competition for which they were auditioning. We called, and I was interviewed about my baking experiences, favorite recipes and other hobbies. I had a Skype interview the next morning and was told to make a video of me baking one of my favorite dishes. Then I was asked to fly to New York with my mother to audition in the Food Network studio! It was so much fun! I finally heard from the casting producer that I was selected to be on Kids Baking Championship and that we had to leave in a week!  

Describe the moment that you found out you'd been chosen to compete.

Oh, I can remember this moment perfectly! Devon and I were doodling together at the kitchen counter when the phone rang. My whole family’s eyes lit up with excitement! My mother answered and began to talk on the phone, and, I began to eavesdrop! When we heard that I was selected, we all began to scream and jump up and down! It was one of the happiest moments in my life that I will never cease to forget!

Being a baker is usually thought of as an adult career. What made you decide to start so young?

Well, I didn’t decide to start baking. It just was a tradition in my family that became a hobby. My mother always baked cookies, pies and cakes for holidays and special occasions, and she always baked with Devon and me. Then when we traveled, we would cook and bake a local dish in each country. My interest and palette grew from there, and my sister and I began to bake and cook more and more for fun. Do you think that kids have any advantages over adults when it comes to baking? To me, I think it is pretty much the same, except perhaps the adults have better techniques because they have more training.

Had you seen any baking or cooking competition shows before appearing on one yourself? How is Kids Baking Championship different from the adult shows?

Of course! I had been watching the Food Network channel with my family since I was a toddler. We watched Food Network Challenge, Cupcake Wars, Food Network Star, Chopped and Worst Cooks in America. These competitions have a similar plot to Kids Baking Championship, but each show has different challenges and surprises. I think Kids Baking Championship is equally as difficult as the adult shows, if not more, because you have to live up to the adult’s level of expertise.

Are you into cooking as well as baking?

What is your favorite desert, and are there any that you dislike? Yes, I love cooking and baking the same! I have been cooking with my mother as long as I was baking! My top three favorite desserts would be cheesecake, a simple sugar cookie and a root beer float! If I had to say a dessert I dislike, it would be Stollen which is a traditional German fruit cake. I sure hope Chef Gerstenecker is not reading this!

Did you make friends with your fellow contestants, or were you very competitive? Did you have any opportunities to hang out and have fun during breaks from filming?

My competitors and I were very close and very friendly throughout the whole show. We would spend time together off set eating lunch and dinner. Everyone seemed to laugh a lot, but, don’t get me wrong, it was still very competitive. These children are amazing bakers!  

How has life at school changed since you've been on TV? Do your friends watch the show?

My family and I have moved quite often, so we have friends from all over the United States, and they have been so excited for me! We even receive e-mails and phone calls from people we have not seen for years! This show has made it so fun to reconnect with old friends!

Describe your experience working with Duff Goldman.

Oh my gosh! My sister and I have watched his show, Ace of Cakes, since we were little.  Having him stand right in front of me was an unforgettable moment! Duff was really funny and made us feel very relaxed. It would be so much fun to work with him again!

What advice would you give to other kids who want to become bakers?

Follow the recipe but don’t be afraid to experiment!

Watch the finale of Kids Baking Championship February 23rd on Food Network.