In the end it was a home baker from Laurel County that defeated shop owner and seasoned bakers alike to be crowned the 2016 Holiday Baking Champion.
Jason Smith, who currently resides in Grayson, Ky. was 'tickled to death' when Food Network's The Holiday Baking Championship announced him as the winner of the title and $50,000.
“I can tell you, for the first time in my life, I am absolutely, truly speechless about it,” Smith said. “And I'm always the guy that has something to say about everything. But I just don't know how to put this into words.”
Smith comes out of the show as the first home baker to ever win the title.
“I'm a home baker, and I'm the first home baker to ever do that. I've actually made history,” Smith said. “And it's a lot to take in, in a quick time. But I'm taking it all, savoring the flavor of it. You know to show people that home bakers have what it takes to actually do what they want to if they set their mind to it, and I've showed them that it can be done.”
Smith got his baking start at a very young age with his mother, grandmother, and aunt, all who all taught him most of what he knows. And he used several of their recipes throughout the show to win challenges.
From his grandmother he used her oatmeal-raisin sandwich cookie and a trick she has of putting sauerkraut in cake batter to make it moist.
And from his aunt he used the recipe that won it all -her Italian Cream Cake in the finale.
The very last challenge the remaining contestants had to complete was a holiday themed cake. Smith knew from the start that he wanted to use this recipe, and that he could win with it.
Apart from winning the Holiday Baking Championship, this cake also won a Blue Ribbon at the Kentucky State Fair several years ago from a time where his aunt made it herself, so he knew it could win, he was just waiting for the right time to use it.
“I was like OK, it's win or lose right here, you've got to do something now that you can win this with. This is yours to win or lose so now it's time brother, you've got to do it. So I thought OK I can win this thing with this cake, I know I can.”
One of the key features of the show is contestants winning advantages from a small cooking challenge before the main challenge.
While another contestant won the advantage, Smith said it felt like it was really an advantage for him.
“When Bobby [the host] said you have 5 hours to make a Christmas themed cake. I knew from the start exactly what cake I was going to make because I wanted to use that cake in honor of her,” Smith said.
The verdict the judges laid down on his final cake was more than Smith ever dreamed of.
“Duff [one of three judges] said he had never heard of that frosting or tasted it, that was something that being a home baker, was absolutely touching to me. I got to show a professional something that he had never seen," Smith said. “And Duff was totally blown away with the cake. He said he had never tasted an American sponge (cake) before that was as good as that one, that was the best cake he had ever tasted. That was one of those things that just blew me out of the water. It was all I could do to keep from breaking down on TV because that meant so much to me, to hear him say that, the professional that he is.”
Smith said the response from the show has been overwhelming, 'but overwhelmingly good.'
“I've had so many people congratulate me on Facebook and Twitter,” Smith said. “Just congratulating or telling me how I was their favorite or how good I did on the show, and that is just so humbling.”
He said he even has people come up to him in the grocery store asking for pictures or autographs, incredibly humbling for the country boy from Kentucky.
“I would just like to take a moment to thank all of them,” Smith said. “All the people that watched the show, my parents Connie and Bill Smith. And I would also like to tell them not to let their dreams just be dreams. I was a home baker and look what I did. You can get out there and do anything as long as you set your heart to it.”
For now Smith is just living in the moment and savoring the victory, still waiting for it to officially process.
And he is going to let what happens, happen.
He would love to spend his winnings to start a food program in his county to bring in exotic foods for kids at local schools to try and learn something about them.
“We live in a kind of poverty stricken area that children don't have a lot of lofty goals in life,” Smith said. “And there is a lot of food that the kids around here never see, as far as different types of fruit I want to start a program called Taste The World, and I want to bring in different foods and stuff from all over the world and have kids come in once a month and teach them where it comes from and this is how it grows and you can eat it raw or you can cook with it."