Imagine the butterflies.
Here you are, Savannah Davis, a Grade 5 student at Woodholme Elementary School in Pikesville, standing on a Toronto soundstage, one of two finalists on a cable TV cooking competition called “Sugar Showdown,” and you’re awaiting the verdict of a panel of judges who just sampled the white and dark chocolate butter cream cake you were given 90 minutes to create from scratch.
“Yeah,” says Savannah, a self-assured 10-year-old whose friends call her “Savie,” “I was really nervous.”
At stake in the competition taped last July was a $10,000 grand prize and national recognition as one of America’s premier junior bakers. Savie had already survived a 45-minute first round against two other competitors. Her fudge and marshmallow concoction was deemed sufficiently scrumptious by the judges – including one of her favorite chefs, Baltimore’s own Duff Goldman – for her to move to the finals.
The competition, in which bakers were asked to create “chocolate factory” cakes, was more stressful than she’d imagined. “You were so busy cooking that you didn’t notice what the others were doing,” she says. “They told us not to look at the cameras, and you had to talk a lot. We had to describe everything we did, every step of the recipe.”
As she and her assistant, Chef Taneka Weldon, owner of Whimsy Cakes in Catonsville, waited for the judges, Savie thought of all the practice she and the chef had put in last summer, some sessions going to 2 a.m. But Savie had learned to become a good cook, she says, by being a perfectionist with her culinary creations. “If I don’t get it right, I do it over again,” she says. “I just want to master each recipe by making it my own.”
And if she won, Savie thought, she’d put the money away for college and, maybe someday, to use to open her own bakery. She would call it “Savie’s Sweet;” she already had made a logo for her future shop.
Then it was time; a decision had been made. As Savie and Chef Taneka and the other competitor held their breaths, the judges spoke. . . .
Challenges and Creativity
Cooking excites Savie Davis like few other things in life, a gift from her grandmother, Mary Davis, early on. “I’ve been cooking ever since I could talk, really,” Savie says. “I remember thinking that everyone else (in the family) was doing it, and I liked what they made, so I thought I could do it, too.” She spent much of her early years learning how dishes came together under her grandmother’s tutelage and the support of her parents, Shymaine, a tax accountant, and Stephen, who owns a plumbing business.
As a Woodholme student who most enjoys her classes in science, health, and art, Savie says she enjoys both the challenges presented by recipes as well as the creativity she puts into cooking by experimenting with different ingredients. With time, she became more accomplished so that by the time she was 7 or 8, she was allowed to bake on her own – cupcakes and cakes, mostly.
“She was a pleasure to teach, always a smile on her face and a positive attitude,” says Teri Lewis, Savie’s Grade 4 teacher last year. “We had many conversations about baking during recess at school, and I could tell that she enjoyed it immensely!”
Today, Savie mostly makes “simple stuff” – pound cakes and pies – though she helps with family meals, too. Her favorite dish is sweet potato casserole, though she also can cook rice and gravy and chicken and steak dishes – what she calls “basic dinner stuff.” The most fun is making a dish, she says, though “eating it is fun, too.” The worst part: cleaning up.
A year ago, her dad signed Savannah up for sessions at Weldon’s “Whimsy Kids’ Sweet Academy,” a cooking and baking class for kids. By spring, Weldon had seen enough talent in Savie to make an audition video with her and send it in to producers at the cooking show.
“I knew she wouldn’t be shy and that she loved to (bake),” Weldon says.
When word came that producers wanted Savie for a show, the practicing began last summer – “a lot of practicing,” Savie says. There were other hurdles – Chef Taneka had to get a passport, for one thing – but in July the pair found themselves flying to Canada for the show’s taping.
The experience was new for Weldon, too, despite a background in show business. “It was exciting but it was also nerve-wracking,” she says. “We thought (Duff Goldman) would give us a hard time because he’s from Baltimore, like us, and he’d want us to get it just right. . . . And I couldn’t help Savannah as much as I wanted to. That was tough.”
Weldon says Team Savie panicked just once when Savannah couldn’t find sour cream among the ingredients she needed. “’Where’s the sour cream? Where’s the sour cream?’ she asked me,” Weldon says. “I told her, ‘There isn’t any!’” Savie kept her cool and found yogurt to use as a substitute.
When the pair stood before judges at the end of taping, as Goldman and his fellow evaluators wavered between Savie’s cake and the other child’s confection, Weldon says she was more emotional than Savie was. “I was more excited than she was. She’s just standing there smiling,” Weldon says. “I looked at her and said, ‘Really, Savannah?’”
Finally, the verdict. Would Savie’s chocolate creation, complete with edible factory walls and a factory courtyard fondant fountain, win out? Would she take home the $10,000?
*(SPOILER ALERT: If you want to see whether Savie wins the Sugar Showdown rather than read it here, The Cooking Channel (Verizon FiOS Channels 163 and 663 in Baltimore County) will air the episode on Sunday, Feb. 19, at 12:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 25, at 8:30 p.m., and Sunday, February 26, at 12:30 a.m. If you want to know now how it turned out for Savie, go the bottom of this story.)
To see Savie Davis’ YouTube video audition for Sugar Showdown, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvtjwEMVWgk.
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*Well, of course Savie won.