SNA Member Wins Food Network’s Season 3 Holiday Baking Championship


SNA Member Kentucky Jason Smith Wins Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship

Using what he described as “Southern hospitality mixed with a little moonshine,” Jason Smith proved that a self-trained K-12 cafeteria manager can go toe to toe with any professional chef. Employed the past six years as a cafeteria manager at Isonville Elementary School in Isonville, Kentucky, Smith was the unexpected winner of Food Network’s Season 3 Holiday Baking Championship on December 18. With his achievement, Smith, an SNA member and a board member of the Kentucky School Nutrition Association, puts school nutrition professionals in a welcome public spotlight.

Smith beat out eight other professional bakers in elimination rounds aired on television over the course of several weeks. Smith survived the competition’s final round by scoring high marks for the presentation, taste and creativity of his holiday-themed cake focusing on Santa’s workshop and elves. In addition to receiving the coveted title of champion, he earned $50,000, which he plans to use to fund a nutrition education program with area students.

“When they called my name, I saw my entire life flash before my eyes,” recounts Smith to “The next thing that I knew, my knees went out from under me and I almost totally blacked out. And I thought, ‘Oh Lord, don’t pass out on national television.’ It was like somebody hit my knees with a baseball bat and I could not stand up any longer.”

While the judges’ comments gave him some confidence that he had a good chance, the competition was impressive. “So, I went into a little bit of an anxiety attack [just before the] announcement. I was so very surprised [winning] that even if Santa Claus had himself come, I would not have been any more surprised.”

A self-taught baker who earned his craft from his grandmother, mother and aunts while growing up on a rural tobacco farm in Eastern Kentucky, Smith was the very first “home baker” to win top honors in the Food Network’s competition. All the other contestants in Season 3 were either bakery owners or professional pastry chefs.

“My baking style is very diverse,” he explains, describing it as a mix of old heritage recipes infused with a New Age twist. “Years ago, people in our region of Kentucky were very poor and they just did not have the money to buy all the ingredients—especially the oils and sugars—to make a cake, so they had to find another way to make dessert. My grandmother made a ‘pecan pie’ out of leftover soup beans. None of us ever had a pecan pie before, so we thought the pie made out of soup beans was the best thing we ever had.” Smith has carried on this tradition, making this recipe of pecan pie from soup beans. “It is just second nature to me.”

Smith’s appearance on the cable television network has turned him into a world-wide celebrity, earning him followers from as far away as Australia, Norway, Canada and the Caribbean. A group of fans in Alaska call themselves “The Jason Bakers.” He says he can’t shop in his community without being recognized and stopped for his autograph.

SNA Member Kentucky Jason Smith Wins Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship

As an encore, Smith appeared on a Holiday Baking Championship Special that aired on December 25. He competed with Season 1 and Season 2 winners, along with the three fan favorites of the Kids Baking Championship. As part of the competition, Smith was paired with one of the junior chefs and their entries (Spicy Chocolate Cinnamon Cupcake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Sprinkles, Black Forest Cheesecake Tart and Rose Macaroon) took top honors!

That Smith plans to invest his winnings into a nutrition education program for kids won’t come as a big surprise to many of his SNA peers. Early in his career at Isonville, he encountered a fourth-grade student who “had no idea where a pineapple came from and had no idea what it even looked like. The only thing he knew was that it came in a can,” recollects Smith. His goal is to create a program to introduce children to foods from around the globe. He intends to call it Taste the World. “And what I want to do [with this program] is bring in different foods from different parts or regions of the world, like pineapples, mangos and kiwis, and have kids come in once a month and show them where it comes from, how it grows and how best to eat or prepare it,” he explains.

Poverty is rampant in his part of Kentucky. “So, I believe there is more that I can do with these kids to show them how to be more worldly about their knowledge of the food they eat. And if I can teach one child, one thing about food, then I think that I have won the world,” Smith notes, adding that the experience might even spark them to follow in his own footsteps in baking or other culinary pursuits.

“I am still the same old country boy from Kentucky,” says Smith.” Winning this has not changed me at all. I am a very humble and grateful person, and I appreciate everything that has happened to me. I’ve been on a journey that not many people get to be on, and I am very thankful for that.”

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