Arts

A Los Altos teen and his sister started a baking business. Then Food Network came calling.

Los Altos resident Naiel Chaudry is the first Pakistani American contestant on "Kids Baking Championship." Courtesy Food Network.

Two years ago, Los Altos siblings Naiel and Punhal Chaudry started their culinary adventure with great intentions and some help from YouTube. During the COVID-19 lockdown, they wanted to do something nice for their mom, a front-line doctor, and dad, an entrepreneur and engineer. They had been watching some cooking shows and wanted to try it themselves, so they took on the challenge of becoming the chefs for a date night for their parents.

Their parents were game, but at the back of their mother Aifra Ahmed's mind was a concern.

"We were really nervous," she says. "How are we going to pretend that we like it?"

To her surprise, she says, she didn't have to pretend: The souffle they whipped up for dessert was spectacular. "We were just blown away," she says.

Punhal and Naiel Chaudry bake together while their parents look on. Courtesy Rabiaz Art Photography.

Satisfied with their first project, the kids kept at it, and word spread to friends and family. When a neighbor paid them for a loaf of banana bread, they decided to try to make a business out of it.

Help sustain the local news you depend on.

Your contribution matters. Become a member today.

Join

They launched their first batch of sales in advance of Valentine's Day 2021, starting out with simpler recipes like cupcakes and creme brulee before moving on to more complex dishes like their signature cake, a fusion ras malai tres leches cake. The cake is made with cardamom sponge layers and uses ras malai, a popular dessert in India and Pakistan made with rose water, saffron and pistachio flavors soaked into the cake to give it the moist texture of a tres leches.

Naiel, who's 13, says that their logo was something he pieced together in a few minutes on the computer the day of their first sale. It pays homage to the artistic style of Pakistani truck art, in which trucks around Pakistan are elaborately decorated in bright colors and intricate calligraphy. The business name, Lá Jawab, means "matchless" in Urdu.

Over time, the Bullis Charter School students developed their own flair for Asian fusion desserts and built their specialties — Naiel specializes in the science of baking, while Punhal focuses on cake decorating and fusion boba drinks. When asked whether sibling tensions ever arise during their baking projects together, Punhal, now 11, replies with a laugh: "Yeah, we have experienced that a lot. Like, almost every time we bake." But, she adds, "When we're in a good mood, we help each other out."

A three-tier wedding cake the child bakers at Lá Jawab created. Courtesy Aifra Ahmed.

And for their big projects, including wedding cakes, they put aside their differences and team up. One of their scariest moments, they say, was when they had been tasked with baking their first wedding cake. As they were initially assembling their first two-tier confection, the fondant began to bulge from the cake's softness and the cake began to lean. But they managed to fix it, and said that the bride ended up loving the cake. On another more recent wedding cake order, they had to innovate because their client wanted figs on the cake, but they couldn't find any because they weren't in season. So they went with candied blood oranges instead.

Behind the children's business is a dedication to community service that comes from their upbringing. The family has a tradition of traveling to Pakistan each year to visit a school that they raise funds to support. While in Pakistan a couple of years ago, the family was eating at a fine-dining restaurant when Naiel looked out the window and saw children begging for food.

At the time, their father Moazzam told them, "You can keep feeling bad about it or you can be part of a solution and do something."

The experience stuck with him, so when he and Punhal started their business, the two committed to donating 20% of their proceeds to charity. Among the nonprofits they support are the APPNA Free Clinic in San Jose, which their mom heads as chief medical officer, homeless service nonprofits and the Human Development Foundation in Pakistan.

The Lá Jawab chefs. Courtesy Aifra Ahmed.

As they began marketing their wares on Instagram, Naiel was approached by a casting agent for Food Network's "Kids Baking Championship." He went through several rounds of the casting process before getting on the show, making him the first Pakistani American kid to compete in its 11 seasons. The winner receives $25,000.

"It was just super crazy and really surreal to me that I got selected for a show I'd been watching since I was really young," he says.

Four episodes have aired so far. In the latest, contestants were asked to prepare desserts in a jar as one might for a food festival. Naiel baked a lemon rosemary cheesecake with a graham cracker crust and a blackberry compote and made it to the next episode on Jan. 23.

Los Altos resident Naiel Chaudry, who co-founded a bakery business with his younger sister, is competing on Food Network's "Kids Baking Championship." Courtesy Food Network.

While Naiel can't reveal how he did overall on the show — the season was filmed months ago but is being aired each Monday — he says the experience has helped him grow as a baker, especially when it feels like things aren't going right.

"Before the show I used to panic in situations like that. But when I got on the show, I said 'I'm not going to panic on the show, I'm just going to bake and whatever happens, happens,'" he says. "I've carried that from the show to my business."

The experience helped him meet another childhood goal: to be on TV. While his earlier dreams were to be on the Disney Channel, he says he's happy to have made it on the air on a different channel for his baking skills.

At first, his mother Ahmed says, she was apprehensive about how Naiel would manage the criticism on the show — the judges are kind, but they don't hold back their critiques when the children mess up.

"I was just so proud," Ahmed says. "He (managed) it much better than I thought he would, which was for me a learning experience."

Learn more by visiting Lajawabtreats.com or check out the Instagram page @lajawabtreats.

Dig into food news. Follow the Peninsula Foodist on Instagram @peninsulafoodist and subscribe to the newsletter at paloaltoonline.com/express/foodist to get insights on the latest openings and closings, learn what the Foodist is excited about eating, read exclusive interviews and keep up on the trends affecting local restaurants.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox in our Express newsletter.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox in our Express newsletter.

Kate Bradshaw
   
Kate Bradshaw reports food news and feature stories all over the Peninsula, from south of San Francisco to north of San José. Since she began working with Embarcadero Media in 2015, she's reported on everything from Menlo Park's City Hall politics to Mountain View's education system. She has won awards from the California News Publishers Association for her coverage of local government, elections and land use reporting. Read more >>

Follow AlmanacNews.com and The Almanac on Twitter @almanacnews, Facebook and on Instagram @almanacnews for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

A Los Altos teen and his sister started a baking business. Then Food Network came calling.

by / TheSixFifty.com

Uploaded: Fri, Jan 20, 2023, 10:26 am

Two years ago, Los Altos siblings Naiel and Punhal Chaudry started their culinary adventure with great intentions and some help from YouTube. During the COVID-19 lockdown, they wanted to do something nice for their mom, a front-line doctor, and dad, an entrepreneur and engineer. They had been watching some cooking shows and wanted to try it themselves, so they took on the challenge of becoming the chefs for a date night for their parents.

Their parents were game, but at the back of their mother Aifra Ahmed's mind was a concern.

"We were really nervous," she says. "How are we going to pretend that we like it?"

To her surprise, she says, she didn't have to pretend: The souffle they whipped up for dessert was spectacular. "We were just blown away," she says.

Satisfied with their first project, the kids kept at it, and word spread to friends and family. When a neighbor paid them for a loaf of banana bread, they decided to try to make a business out of it.

They launched their first batch of sales in advance of Valentine's Day 2021, starting out with simpler recipes like cupcakes and creme brulee before moving on to more complex dishes like their signature cake, a fusion ras malai tres leches cake. The cake is made with cardamom sponge layers and uses ras malai, a popular dessert in India and Pakistan made with rose water, saffron and pistachio flavors soaked into the cake to give it the moist texture of a tres leches.

Naiel, who's 13, says that their logo was something he pieced together in a few minutes on the computer the day of their first sale. It pays homage to the artistic style of Pakistani truck art, in which trucks around Pakistan are elaborately decorated in bright colors and intricate calligraphy. The business name, Lá Jawab, means "matchless" in Urdu.

Over time, the Bullis Charter School students developed their own flair for Asian fusion desserts and built their specialties — Naiel specializes in the science of baking, while Punhal focuses on cake decorating and fusion boba drinks. When asked whether sibling tensions ever arise during their baking projects together, Punhal, now 11, replies with a laugh: "Yeah, we have experienced that a lot. Like, almost every time we bake." But, she adds, "When we're in a good mood, we help each other out."

And for their big projects, including wedding cakes, they put aside their differences and team up. One of their scariest moments, they say, was when they had been tasked with baking their first wedding cake. As they were initially assembling their first two-tier confection, the fondant began to bulge from the cake's softness and the cake began to lean. But they managed to fix it, and said that the bride ended up loving the cake. On another more recent wedding cake order, they had to innovate because their client wanted figs on the cake, but they couldn't find any because they weren't in season. So they went with candied blood oranges instead.

Behind the children's business is a dedication to community service that comes from their upbringing. The family has a tradition of traveling to Pakistan each year to visit a school that they raise funds to support. While in Pakistan a couple of years ago, the family was eating at a fine-dining restaurant when Naiel looked out the window and saw children begging for food.

At the time, their father Moazzam told them, "You can keep feeling bad about it or you can be part of a solution and do something."

The experience stuck with him, so when he and Punhal started their business, the two committed to donating 20% of their proceeds to charity. Among the nonprofits they support are the APPNA Free Clinic in San Jose, which their mom heads as chief medical officer, homeless service nonprofits and the Human Development Foundation in Pakistan.

As they began marketing their wares on Instagram, Naiel was approached by a casting agent for Food Network's "Kids Baking Championship." He went through several rounds of the casting process before getting on the show, making him the first Pakistani American kid to compete in its 11 seasons. The winner receives $25,000.

"It was just super crazy and really surreal to me that I got selected for a show I'd been watching since I was really young," he says.

Four episodes have aired so far. In the latest, contestants were asked to prepare desserts in a jar as one might for a food festival. Naiel baked a lemon rosemary cheesecake with a graham cracker crust and a blackberry compote and made it to the next episode on Jan. 23.

While Naiel can't reveal how he did overall on the show — the season was filmed months ago but is being aired each Monday — he says the experience has helped him grow as a baker, especially when it feels like things aren't going right.

"Before the show I used to panic in situations like that. But when I got on the show, I said 'I'm not going to panic on the show, I'm just going to bake and whatever happens, happens,'" he says. "I've carried that from the show to my business."

The experience helped him meet another childhood goal: to be on TV. While his earlier dreams were to be on the Disney Channel, he says he's happy to have made it on the air on a different channel for his baking skills.

At first, his mother Ahmed says, she was apprehensive about how Naiel would manage the criticism on the show — the judges are kind, but they don't hold back their critiques when the children mess up.

"I was just so proud," Ahmed says. "He (managed) it much better than I thought he would, which was for me a learning experience."

Learn more by visiting Lajawabtreats.com or check out the Instagram page @lajawabtreats.

Dig into food news. Follow the Peninsula Foodist on Instagram @peninsulafoodist and subscribe to the newsletter at paloaltoonline.com/express/foodist to get insights on the latest openings and closings, learn what the Foodist is excited about eating, read exclusive interviews and keep up on the trends affecting local restaurants.

Comments

There are no comments yet. Please share yours below.

Post a comment

In order to encourage respectful and thoughtful discussion, commenting on stories is available to those who are registered users. If you are already a registered user and the commenting form is not below, you need to log in. If you are not registered, you can do so here.

Please make sure your comments are truthful, on-topic and do not disrespect another poster. Don't be snarky or belittling. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

See our announcement about requiring registration for commenting.