Nemo Tsai, 11, has been helping out in his parents’ restaurant for years; says the baking competition was both pressure-filled and lots of fun
By Jo Mathis / AAPS
When Nemo Tsai was a kindergarten student at Wines Elementary, he began helping out in his family’s Japanese-American fusion restaurant Godaiko on Oak Valley Drive.
Then last year an agent admired pictures of his culinary efforts on his Instagram account, and asked if he’d like to compete on the popular Food Network program.
So that’s how the Forsythe Middle School sixth grader came to compete with 11other kids vying for $25,000 on the Kids Baking Championship.
“It was a surprise—I never imagined myself being in any kind of cooking or baking show,” said Nemo, 11, standing in the Godaiko dining room that is his home away from home. “It was a lot of pressure, but so much fun, too.”
On each episode, the kids were given a baking challenge and then critiqued by judges Valerie Bertinelli and Duff Goldman. Nemo said the best part of all was hearing the judges’ reactions to his work.
The Tsai family is not permitted to say whether Nemo won the 10-episode competition which was filmed in August, but they can say he’ll definitely be featured in at least the next episode—Episode 4—airing Monday, Jan. 18 at 9 p.m. on The Food Network.
In this episode, the eight young bakers are challenged to create portable hand pies and a dressed-up version of “ants on a log.”
Nemo and his father, Paul, were in Los Angeles taping the show for the month of August, staying at the hotel where the competition was held, and social distancing throughout.
“I was really homesick wanted to come back home, but it was good for me to keep baking and not get eliminated,” said Nemo. “My favorite part of the show was just getting to serve my food to Duff and Val. Getting their feedback was really awesome.”
You might be surprised to know that while Nemo loves making sushi and helping out in the kitchen, he wasn’t a particularly experienced baker prior to the competition—unless you consider his numerous candy bacon and chocolate caramel cakes.
That’s why his father, Paul Tsai, was so grateful to the folks at Zingerman’s Bakehouse for giving Nemo some quick baking tips just before they flew to Los Angeles in August for the competition.
“We just love Ann Arbor, and the support we’ve gotten from the community, and from Ann Arbor Public Schools,” says Paul Tsai, an Ann Arbor native who attended AAPS as well as the University of Michigan.
As successful as Nemo has been in the kitchen, there’s another place he loves to be even more: the golf course. In fact, earlier this month, Nemo competed in the Junior Honda Classic Tournament in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Paul Tsai says he’s impressed that his son has picked up two hobbies neither he nor his wife share.
“It’s incredible to see him excel at these things he chose for himself,” said Tsai. “He’s a lot of fun to watch.”