Kona 13-year-old on newest season of Food Network’s ‘Kids Baking Championship’
January 27, 2024, 1:00 AM HST
Tasi Savage’s love for making sweet treats with sugar, spice and everything nice was born and fostered in her grandmother’s kitchen. Her tūtū introduced her to baking when she was just 2 years old.
“She’d always have me in the kitchen helping her, and I really liked it,” said Tasi. “Plus, I got to eat while she cooked, so that was great.”
Since then, the Kona girl has grown into her apron to become a talented baker, whipping up heavenly desserts and goodies — most often cakes and cream puffs when it’s not cookies, which are her favorite to bake because they are customizable and “also really tasty” — at least once a week for her family, friends and neighbors.
The flavor fluency, scrumptious skill set and culinary creativity Tasi has nourished through the years at home now are being showcased in a much larger kitchen in front of a nationwide audience as she and 11 other bakers from across the United States take on baking challenges with a school twist.
And she’s only 13 years old.
Tasi is a contestant on the newest season of Food Network’s “Kids Baking Championship.” The Emmy-nominated competition series returned New Year’s Day for its 12th installment, challenging the kid bakers, ranging from 9 to 13 years old, each week to make some of the most delectable and eye-popping treats imaginable inspired by the best part of the school year.
The baker who graduates at the top of the class after all 10 episodes will win not only the coveted title of “Kids Baking Champion,” but also a sweet spot in Food Network Magazine and a gratifying grand prize of $25,000.
Through the first three episodes, Tasi was on her game.
She won the first challenge of Season 12 the first week with what judges Duff Goldman and Valerie Bertinelli called a “picture perfect” chocolate portrait cake with ricotta peanut butter filling and vanilla buttercream with toffee bits. It also had several edible decorations that included a small surfboard, paying homage to her favorite activity, surfing.
Goldman and Bertinelli called the cake moist, rich and satisfying.
“They’re really, really well-known chefs and I got to be judged by them, and they said they liked the stuff I made,” Tasi said, adding it’s great when friends and family tell you a dish you baked is good, but it’s a completely different experience to have people at Goldman and Bertinelli’s professional levels, who have tried so many desserts and have so much experience, say you made something they liked. “It’s just very rewarding to know that all that practice you’ve put into it has paid off.”
That cake was her favorite dish up to this point in the season because it was delicious and she won the challenge.
She was safe in Episode 2 with her s’mores blondies topped with toasted Swiss meringue on top instead of marshmallows in honor of every kid’s favorite part of the school day, recess, and the timeless game of hopscotch.
Tasi was also safe in Week 3, when she teamed up with a fellow contestant to bring the judges out-of-this-world goodies with a space theme, perfect for any Astronomy Club bake sale. They included her snack mix brownies and coconut passion fruit whoopie pies.
The theme was inspired by her gazing at the stars the night before the challenge while standing outside the hotel where the contestants and accompanying family members were staying.
Team challenges were her favorite. She enjoyed them because she could bake and talk with other contestants, with whom she became fast friends, instead of having to focus on her own dish and having no time to talk with anyone.
Tasi didn’t fare well in Episode 4, which aired this past Monday. The bakers were challenged to make mosaic pies, one of the hottest trends in baking that are filled with cubes of gelatin suspended in creamy pie filling.
She made a passion fruit mousse with guava, peach, mango and strawberry gelatin and fresh kiwi. While the judges enjoyed the flavors Tasi brought together in her pie, the mousse was too loose, she kept the skin on the kiwi and she wasn’t successful with her mosaic design.
That landed her in the bottom two, but the judges decided she deserved to remain in the competition.
“I was a little off that day and it didn’t come out exactly how I wanted it to. It definitely didn’t come out how I wanted it to,” Tasi said about her least favorite challenge thus far, adding that it didn’t feel good and she was worried, scared and nervous that she could have been eliminated.
The toughest parts of the competition were baking time constraints, most often within a 2-hour period when at home she can take “hours on end” to make a dish, and instances when she had to quickly pivot to save a dish that didn’t come out how she wanted to elevate it enough to be passable for the judges.
But the hardest part was watching new friends getting eliminated: “The next day, they’d be flown back home and we wouldn’t see them anymore,” Tasi said.
The most fun she had on the show was sharing the experience with the other contestants, especially talking about how everyone’s desserts came out and how they could be better. Tasi also learned how to make a lot of new dishes and work with less time, which she admitted was quite difficult because she wasn’t used to baking on such a short deadline.
She was 12 during filming of the show in the summer of 2022 in Knoxville, Tenn. She’s now an eighth-grader at West Hawai‘i Explorations Academy in Kalaoa.
Tasi does mostly bake, but she also enjoys cooking. It was a savory dish that opened the door for her to apply to be a baker in this season of “Kids Baking Championship.”
She won her age division in the Localicious Recipe Contest presented by Hawai‘i Gas as part of the 2021 Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival. Tasi was a sixth grader at the time and cooked her way to victory with her hala kahiki shrimp ceviche with purple sweet potato chips, a recipe she created using just 10 ingredients.
Organizers of that contest reached out to her and her family at the beginning of 2022, informing them about a casting opportunity for the show and asking if she would be interested.
“She was very reluctant,” said Francis Savage, adding there was a lot of “no, no, no” at first. “Luckily, everything worked out. … For kids her age, obviously, it’s a lot of work if they do get in, but you know, it’s worth a shot. You never know.”
Tasi said it hasn’t quite sunk in that the season is now airing and she is on TV.
She said it’s also “super cool” to be part of a network family that includes so many celebrity chefs, cooks and bakers: “It’s just so surreal to see myself on Food Network.”
Tasi and her family watch each week’s episode together and many of her friends are also tuning in. She said it’s funny that they can just go on TV and watch her, and watching herself on the show has led to a realization that she makes a lot of involuntary faces when she’s eating.
Representing Hawai‘i, especially the Big Island, in the kids baking contest while bringing flavors from her own backyard in the Kona Cloud Forest, including lilikoi and guava, to those participating and watching was an honor as well: “It’s really awesome,” Tasi said.
Francis Savage couldn’t be more proud of his daughter.
“I brag about it to everybody,” he said. “She hates it. I told her principal, I told her teachers. She was like, ‘Dad, don’t tell anybody else.'”
Tasi hasn’t thought too far into the future about her culinary path. She just really likes baking and cooking, with a desire to learn more. Working in a kitchen is stressful, so instead of becoming a professional chef or baker, she might lean more toward teaching others how to do it.
There’s time for her to figure it out, including how to win over even the worst critic, no matter if he’s also her biggest fan who doesn’t like sweet treats.
“I’m very picky and I’m boring and I don’t like it so sweet,” Francis Savage said. “I could be a very tough judge.”
“He’s too picky,” Tasi said laughing as she and her father kidded with each other.
He doesn’t mind chocolate, but not too much. The cake Tasi made in Episode 1 was right up his alley. He also enjoys salty and more subtle sweet flavors, like perhaps a tart and Tasi’s key lime pie.
She has work to do to convince him to eat more of her baking, but she has many years of learning and growing ahead of her — and possibly many of her own recipes to craft — that hopefully will help.
“Kids Baking Championship” airs on Mondays. Check your cable provider’s listings for when and on what channel. You can also watch the show on the streaming service Max, including past seasons and episodes.