Jake Haelen grew up in the kitchen of his family's Middletown, New York, restaurant. "I've been passionate about food my whole life," says Haelen, who produces cooking and baking competitions for Food Network and Cooking Channel. "Now I'm lucky for it to be my job."
Some of his favorite projects are focused as much around family as they are around food. For Kids Baking Championship, Haelen sifts through casting videos looking for youngsters with a standout personality and top-notch skills. But technique and passion are just part of the recipe for a successful season. Haelen wants "the skilled kids, but also the entertaining kids, because we are making television."
Haelen's kitchen stages have also tested plenty of adults. Clash of the Grandmas, premiering in November, features super-skilled matriarchs who battle it out for a $10,000 prize. Haelen's own grandmother taught him to appreciate the hard work that goes into a family meal. "I have few memories of her not in the kitchen," he says.
On homemade pasta nights in his own kitchen, Haelen's toddler son is at the counter, squeezing dough and throwing flour. "Not all that helpful," he admits, but he's glad to see that early interest and a willingness to eat just about anything. "I lucked out."