WHO: Lila Smethurst, a seventh grader at Tex Hill Middle School, in San Antonio.

WHAT: Food Network’s Kids Baking Championship, a baking-competition TV show in which young bakers, aged eight to thirteen this season, vie to win $25,000 and a feature in Food Network Magazine.

WHY IT’S SO GREAT: Smethurst took home the top prize in the elimination-style reality show that challenges young kitchen whizzes to create everything from cupcakes to pastries, all while testing their skills, creativity, and ability to work under pressure.

During the season finale of Food Network’s Kids Baking Championship, competitors were tasked with making science fair–style volcano cakes that had to produce smoke. Texan Lila Smethurst created a polar-themed volcano cake that won the judges over.

Even though she’s young, the Tex Hill Middle School seventh grader is hardly an amateur with a whisk. “I began baking at a very young age by helping my mom and Nana in the kitchen,” Smethurst said on her website. “I began trying new recipes and techniques and baking quickly became my favorite hobby.” At age nine, she created the concept for Lila’s Butterbomb Bakery, which is now a custom online-order business.

Season twelve of the show premiered in January, and Smethurst was one of twelve bakers from around the country to compete. She had been asking her mom, Jill Smethurst, if she could audition. “When I was in third grade, I asked my mom if I could try out for the show, but she said she didn’t quite think I was ready,” Smethurst told Texas Monthly. “I kept on practicing, and then a little while later I applied, and then here we are.” 

Even though she had a rocky start on the show, with some difficulties crafting a red velvet cake in the first episode, she came out on top in the end with her polar-themed volcano cake. Her final creation was a chocolate cake with chocolate hazelnut pastry cream and salted caramel buttercream. It featured penguins and blue-and-white waves—both made from frosting—at the bottom, with orange and yellow flames—made from sugar—on top.

Smethurst had clearly done her research prior to coming on the show, because she “noticed that other bakers that had won previous seasons made chocolate cakes.” So that inspired her flavor choice.

The most stressful part of the five-hour bake was when she couldn’t fit the cylinder to hold the dry ice for the smoke effect into the cake. The judges, famed baker Duff Goldman and actress Valerie Bertinelli, took issue with the appearance of the final cake, but they said it was the best-tasting of the bunch. 

Smethurst burst into tears when the judges announced she had won the title, along with the prize of $25,000 and a feature in Food Network Magazine. She described the moment as “really crazy,” adding, “I never would have thought that it was me in the end against so many amazing bakers.”

While the prize money is a lot of cash for a preteen, Smethurst already has some smart plans for how to use it. “I think I’m gonna save it,” she said. “I might use some of it for baking supplies or stuff like that.” As if all that excitement wasn’t enough, the Smethursts celebrated the win by bringing two cats—named Duff and Val, after the judges—into their home.

It seems like the reality competition-show bug has bitten Smethurst, who says she’d like to also try out for Chopped Junior or MasterChef Junior. “I feel like now that I’m kind of in the Food Network family, it’d be so fun to go back and do a different thing,” she said.