For generations, kids learned their way in the kitchen at the hem of their mother’s apron. Today, food television is often the teacher.
For 12-year-old Aditya Pillutla of Cary, it’s been a bit of both. The budding baker is one of 12 contestants in season four of Food Network’s “Kids Baking Championship” and so far looks to be a front-runner, winning two challenges in the show’s three episodes so far.
At stake is a prize of $25,000, a feature in Food Network magazine and the title of Kids Baking Champion. Duff Goldman and Valerie Bertinelli are the hosts and judges of the show, which premiered Jan. 1 and airs Mondays at 9 p.m.
Aditya started baking at 9, drawn to the kitchen by watching shows like “Cupcake Wars” and developing his skills watching cooking videos on YouTube. He competes for time in the kitchen with his mother and sister, but says their interests are more in savory cooking and his lie mostly in confections. Delicate French macarons are his favorite thing to bake, Aditya said, but cupcakes and cookies aren’t far behind.
Aditya, an eighth-grader at Carnage Middle School in Raleigh, said watching watching earlier seasons of the show inspired him to try out.
“I watched the show and I thought I can do this too,” Aditya said. A number of Skype interviews and a visit to the stuido later, Aditya got the most exciting email of his life. He filmed his episodes on the show last summer in New Orleans.
In a lineup of contestants blending precociousness and sugar highs, Aditya is mellow and easy going. The show started with 12 bakers, but has eliminated one per episode through the first three.
Aditya prevailed in in a cookie cake challenge in the season premiere. Though his heart was set on making chocolate chip, life handed Aditya oatmeal raisin as his assigned flavor. But he spiced it up with cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice in the buttercream and tucked some candied ginger in between the layers.
“I wanted chocolate chip, but they were all taken, so I went with oatmeal raisin and thought, ‘I could so something really cool with this,’ ” Aditya said. “I wanted to do something more interesting than the typical boring oatmeal cookie.”
Aditya shaped his layers by hand and baked them each as giant cookies, rather than cutting circles from rectangular dough like the other contestants.
The following week, he finished in the bottom three in a challenge that asked bakers to make pizza for dessert.
He rebounded on the Jan. 15 episode, though, winning with his lemon bars drizzled with blueberry coulis.
He said that he loved cooking in the state-of-the-art kitchen, with the gleaming appliances and pantry full of every ingredient imaginable.
Aditya said he bakes at least once a week, more in the summers and on breaks from school. When the show started airing, Aditya said his classmates at Carnage were surprised, both that he was on a national TV show and that he was such a passionate baker.
“It feels kind of weird,” Aditya said of watching the show, “but also at the same time kind of fun to watch myself and see how it all turns out.”
Drew Jackson; 919-829-4707; jdrewjackson
Aditya Pillutla’s pro tips
Since Aditya Pillutla already has been baking a quarter of his life so far, he’s got wisdom to share.
▪ He said his best tip for inexperienced bakers is to bring butter to room temperature before using it.
“If it’s too cold, the mixer struggles, and if you’re making cookies it doesn’t spread out,” Aditya said.
▪ He also advises saving experimentation for the second time you make something.
“The first time you’re trying out a recipe, follow it exactly, then after that you can experiment,” Aditya said.
▪ “Kids Baking Championship” airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on Food Network.