MINI / Mindful Parenting / Prodigies

11-year-old Champion Baker Dreams of an Being Aerospace Engineer

Fort Myers fifth-grader Riya Shah may dream of becoming an aerospace engineer, but in the meantime, she stands out as a champion baker.

BY March 31, 2022
11-year-old kid champion baker
The 11-year-old baker recently landed a spot on Food Network’s Kids Baking Championship. (Photo by Anna Nguyen)

When Riya Shah was only a year old, she molded Play-Doh into cakes, patting down pretend frosting decorations with her little hands. A decade later, she is a baking prodigy who whips up lemon-jalapeño tarts and mango cheesecakes in her Fort Myers kitchen—and a contestant on the most recent season of the Food Network’s Kids Baking Championship. “Watching her as a baby, we never thought she would actually turn into a baker, but retrospectively we see she was always thinking about it,” Riya’s mother, Roshani Shah, says.

Riya is a busy fifth-grader: a lover of art, math and music—namely the flute, piano and violin, which she plays with the Southwest Florida Symphony Youth Orchestra. She also recently won her school spelling bee. When the pandemic gave her more time at home, she started watching baking tutorials on YouTube. “From there, there was no stopping her. She just took off,” Roshani says.

The young baker taps into her creative side with artfully decorated desserts like s’mores cookie bars, chaat masala popcorn and a chocolate Oreo cake with a reverse drip. Many of the treats featured on her Instagram look almost too good to eat. One of her showstoppers is a chocolate cake with ombre pink frosting and chocolate ganache drip, adorned with Swiss meringue buttercream flowers and gold accents. “I love baking,” Riya says, “because I love art and food.”

While her favorite treats to eat are cream puffs, Riya’s favorite things to make are macarons, which allow more room for creativity. “The first time I made macarons, I did it totally wrong,” she says. “They were flat, all spread out, but they still tasted good.” For special occasions, like friends’ birthdays, she whips up specialties like galaxy macarons with blueberry Swiss buttercream and Rasmalai macarons with saffron-infused buttercream. Riya made trays of themed sugar cookies for her school’s holiday party—an assortment of snowmen and trees, all decorated as if they came from a boutique bakery.

After watching Kids Baking Championship with her family for years, she decided to apply for the series last year. Her parents helped her make a video to send to the network. During its run, hordes of Riya’s friends came over each week to watch her compete in Season 10. “To see her working in that Food Network kitchen, which had always been her dream, was a feeling beyond what I can express in words,” Roshani says.

Still, despite her knack, baking isn’t the career plan for Riya. “I want to be an aerospace engineer because I like science and math,” she says. “I want to keep baking always, but I want to do it as a hobby.”