Squirrel Hill baker competes on Food Network’s Christmas Cookie Challenge
When Jasmine Cho got a call from Food Network in the spring, the Squirrel Hill baker thought to herself, “Is this real life?”
“It’s actually pretty hilarious, because literally the day before I heard from the network, I was having a conversation with my partner Ryan about how I didn’t think I cared much for fame,” said Cho, 35. “When Food Network called, it was as if the universe was saying, ‘Oh really?’”
Cho is the founder of Yummyholic, an online bakery that specializes in custom treats, and she is most known for her lifelike depictions of people through portrait cookies.
On Monday, Nov. 18 at 10 p.m., she will make her first Food Network appearance as she competes for $10,000 on the show Christmas Cookie Challenge.
In the episode, which is titled Merry Christmas Makeover, host Eddie Jackson tasks Cho, along with four other bakers, to create cookies that show North Pole Characters getting into shape for a very merry “fit-mas.”
Judges Matt Adlard, Ree Drummond and Bradi Milloy will decide which cookie makers move onto the second challenge, where the bakers will have to redesign and reconstruct Santa’s house using only cookies with surprise ingredients such as tahini, avocado, olive oil and almond butter.
“The entire experience was all incredibly exciting, fun, surreal, and a little bit exhausting,” she said. “It’s wild having to create show-stopping cookies that typically take hours to execute well. In the end, I am so glad I said yes to the opportunity despite all my initial fears and nervousness going in.”
Cho and her fellow competitors have been anxiously awaiting their episode to air and keep in touch through a group text.
“I think I got extremely lucky and ended up blessed with four lifelong friends,” she said. “Even though we were technically competing against each other, we shared such a unique experience that transcended all of that.”
She is also excited for her friends, family and followers to see her reveal a more creative, competitive side.
“It was personally exciting for me to be competing against such talent from all across the entire country and test how my skills measure up,” she said. “We each put out best food forward and kept cheering each other on to the end.”
This past year, Cho gained a lot of attention for her Asian American portrait cookies, which she creates to spark conversation about cultural awareness and Asian American history. Some of her figures featured in icing include Afond Moy (the first Chinese woman to come to the United States), Sammy Lee (the first Asian American man to win an Olympic gold medal for the U.S.), Grace Lee Boggs (the legendary Asian American author, activist and philanthropist), and more modern figures such as actors George Takei, Keanu Reeves and Awkwafina.
With every portrait cookie she shares, she accompanies it with the person’s story. It’s a form of baking that she likes to call “sweet activism.”
“I think cookies are literally the most palatable form of activism,” she said, noting that they force you to tear down your defenses when it comes to “stories that might be harder to digest.”
She also released a children’s book this year titled “Role Models Who Look Like Me: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Who Made History,” where her watercolor illustrations of important figures often left out of history books are alongside rhymes that tell their stories.
“This year has been nothing short of epic between publishing my first children’s book to giving a TEDx talk to appearing on CBS This Morning,” Cho said. “To be able to now close out the year with a Food Network appearance is just absolutely the cherry on top. I just feel so blessed and so grateful.”
When she’s not a baking artist and activist, Cho is working toward her degree in art therapy at Carlow University with hopes to pioneer a baker therapy program rooted in art therapy research. Already, she has completed a pilot study in partnership with the Center for Victims and plans to expand her research with other programs later this year.
With this experience on Food Network and all her other accomplishments throughout the year, Cho said she has learned to “never say never.”
“The day before I heard from the network, I was closing myself off to dreams that I didn’t even know I had, she said. “You really will never know what kind of magic is waiting on the other side of your comfort zone until you step out of it.”
Cho will appear on Food Network’s Christmas Cookie Challenge on Monday, Nov. 18, 10 p.m. The episode will re-air several times throughout the holiday season.