Avner Schwartz, 12, swears it all started with a meatball.
It’s in big bold letters on the website of his baked goods business, Gingee Says (named for his bright red hair), and when he tells the story, it sounds like it’s in big bold letters, too.
His mother, Rachel, doesn’t remember cooking meatballs with Avner in the ways that he does — as the experience that made him fall in love with cooking and baking. Regardless of the origin story, Avner has become a masterful cook and baker and, as of publication, has made it through two rounds of “Kids Baking Championship” on the Food Network. He filmed his episodes a while ago, and is tight-lipped about the end result, but said that he had a wonderful time.
“It was really cool to meet people just like me, boys and girls, people that just like to bake, just like me, as much as I did, all in one room together having a good time,” he said. It helped that the judges — Valerie Bertinelli and Duff Goldman — were “super nice,” too.
Avner lives in Haverford and attends Friends’ Central School, after having spent elementary school at the Stern Center. The nearly bar mitzvah boy goes to Hidden Valley Camp in Maine, enjoys volunteering with the Jewish Relief Agency, competes with the swim team and really, more than anything else, just loves to bake.
“You can express your creativity. It’s a fun thing you can do,” he said.
Three or four years ago, Avner began to get interested in baking, and hasn’t looked back. He worked his mother’s KitchenAid to exhaustion, watched countless baking instruction videos on YouTube (Rosanna Pansino — 11.8 million YouTube subscribers — is a favorite) and practiced like it was nobody’s business.
It was at the completion of one cake that had been shaped to look like a sheep that Avner realized that he might have a real talent for baking. His Instagram posts showing off his work racked up likes in the hundreds.
And it was in the comments of one of those Instagram posts that the “Kids Baking Championship” account reached out, encouraging him to apply to be on the show. Avner had enjoyed the first few seasons, but didn’t dream of applying. That comment, of course, was all the encouragement he needed.
As Avner talked with producers of the show on the phone, Rachel said, she began to, for the first time, get a real sense of just how advanced her son was in his chosen interest. Seeing him compete on set was an emotional experience.
“I literally cried the entire first episode,” she said.
And it’s not just judges of “Kids Baking Championship” who get to enjoy Avner’s baking, either. On Jan. 5, he and a friend teamed up to serve baked goods to Holocaust survivors at a Jewish Family and Children’s Service event as part of Avner’s bar mitzvah project.
Better yet, he sells cookies, cakes and more through his website.
“He’s a unique character,” Rachel said.
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