As a kid, Jason Smith decided he liked spending time in the kitchen more than anything else.
The winner of Season Three of Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship, Smith has taken that love for cooking and turned it into a career that has taken him to television and beyond.
With wild shirts and jackets, a bald head, and a distinct Kentucky accent, Smith not only wowed viewers with his authentic southern charm but wowed the stars and producers at the cooking network as well. They thought he had something special going on.
His cooking adventures began when he was a child. Growing up on a farm near London, Kentucky., Smith said he decided that he would rather cook in the kitchen with his grandmother than work the fields.
“I started cooking and baking with my grandmother when I was six,” he said. “I grew up on a huge farm in London, Kentucky. It was a tobacco farm, and I just hated working in the fields. So, I asked my grandmother one day if I could stay with her because she always fixed breakfast. She fixed lunch and would bring it out to the fields, or we’d all go in and eat, and then she’d make dinner. That was a five-day a week job.”
It was the beginning of his love of food, he said.
Learning how to cook and learning his grandmother’s recipes helped him launch his own catering company at the age of 15. After college, he said, he bought a florist business in Grayson and operated the catering and florist businesses there.
When the recession hit, he decided he needed to find a job with benefits like insurance and a retirement account. He found a job as a cook in an elementary school kitchen and later moved up to cafeteria manager.
A lover of competitive cooking shows, a snow day led him to make a fateful application.
“I had always wanted to be on a cooking show just one time,” he said. “I wanted to be on the show just one time, just to prove to myself that being a home baker doesn’t mean that you can’t reach for your dreams and goals. So, of course, I was still working at the school at that time and it was a snow day, so we were all home from school. I just got on my laptop and thought, you know, I’m gonna see if there’s an application out there somewhere to apply for this.”
Smith’s application was accepted and after an hour and a half long interview, he was moving on to the next phase of the selection process – six weeks of more interviews and assignments, like making a video of him doing his piping technique or talking about the science behind baking.
“I’m not a very patient person, so it was hard for me,” he said. “I’m more the type that says, okay, let’s get this thing going.”
A few weeks after that, he said, he was doing his weekly shopping at Walmart, checking out with the cashier he always talked to, when he got a call from the network.
“I looked at it and I said to her, ‘Here’s my money clip. I have to take this phone call. It’s very important. Just finish ringing up my stuff, pay for it, put the leftover money in your pocket and I’ll be back to get my stuff in a minute,” he said.
When he learned he’d be on the show, he was elated, he said. But he couldn’t tell anyone. For weeks leading up to his being on the show, and weeks after, he couldn’t tell anyone that he’d done anything.
His competitive drive, he said, helped him win. But it was his downhome style that made him memorable.
“In one of our interviews, I said, ‘Look, this accent that you’re hearing? This Kentucky dirt farm boy that you’re talking to? This is the way I am. This is who I’m always gonna be,’” he said. ”And, you know, the first thing after I said that they said to me, ‘That’s what we want. We want people that are true to their self.’”
Smith said he’s proud of his Kentucky accent, his Kentucky heritage, and his rural roots. It’s those things that have made him successful, he said.
But it’s also his spin on those things that have made him successful since the show aired.
Smith was asked to compete on Food Network Star and has since been a judge on several other cooking shows. In addition, he’s launched his own website and Instagram cooking series called “Southern Country Bling.”
The name, he said, comes from what Bobby Flay and Giada DeLaurentis told him was his appeal.
“I wore all these odd, bright-colored blazers and these wild outfits on Food Network Star and Giada and Bobby said to me one day, ‘You know, what you’ve got in your pocket is the best thing ever?’ and I said, ‘What’s that?’ And they said, ‘Your country bling,’” Smith said.
“They said ‘Your country bling is your outfit, your accent, your personality, … the way that you think about your dishes and your food and how they go together, the way that your food makes a person feel, you are the full package, and that’s why we think you are country bling.’”
Smith is known for his favorite ingredients – bourbon, bacon, and butter – and posts his own take on recipes – southern dishes with just his own unique twist.
Another, important part of his journey from home cook to Food Network star, has been about empowering kids, and adults, in rural areas, and showing them being from a small town isn’t what matters.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re from, you still can reach your dreams,” he said. “I’ve always been a big activist for people and teaching people how to cook and bake even before I was on television.”
Smith said that coming from Kentucky he knows of a lot of kids who never got to follow their dreams. His message to them is simple: “What you think that you should be doing, you should really be reaching for your goals.”
Now, Smith said, he works on Country Bling and flies off to Hollywood whenever the Food Network calls.
“I still live in Grayson. Whenever they need me to film something or show up in person or whatever I’m doing, they just fly me wherever I need to be,” he said. “I just show up, honey, wearing something sparkly and flash my style and my accent and cook up something good and go on to the next thing. Lord honey, there’s always something to do.”