Faces of the J

Baking Beyond His Years

The J’s Great Challah Contest attracted bakers of all ages — from 20-year veterans to preschoolers in our Early Childhood School. One of the youngest contestants was 13-year-old Alex Sayres. He may only be a teenager, but he’s no newcomer to the kitchen.

He’s been baking and cooking regularly since he was 8 years old—everything from eggs to sashimi to elaborately decorated cakes (including a birthday cake shaped like the Sorting Hat from Harry Potter). This wasn’t his first kitchen competition either: in 2016, he was one of two Washington state finalists in Michelle Obama’s Healthy Lunchtime Challenge.

Alex learned to bake beside his grandmothers, and his dad taught him to cook. “But now I’ve sort of surpassed him — I don’t think he’d mind me saying that,” Alex says with a laugh.

As his bar mitzvah approached this summer, his rabbi asked him to think about what special contribution he would make to his family after his bar mitzvah. Alex decided that baking a weekly challah for his family was the perfect combination of his Jewish identity and his love for baking—and it doesn’t hurt that it tastes good too.

Alex’s mom, Brianna, joined the crowds sampling challah and cheering on the 25 contestants who entered their creations for the judges at the Great Challah Contest. Alex’s submission was a four-braid, chocolate and vanilla swirl challah with chocolate chips that was inspired by a recipe his cousin gave him. He took the basic recipe and experimented to find the perfect blend—and to make it even sweeter.

“I felt very proud to see him challenge himself to participate, and to share and learn from his fellow participants,” Brianna says.

The contest kicked off a full weekend of festivities for the J’s SeaJAM Festival, celebrating 50 years on Mercer Island and 70 in greater Seattle. Being at the J throughout the SeaJAM weekend was exciting for Brianna, who grew up at the J. She attended camp and B’nai B’rith Girls youth group and worked as a camp counselor. “Now that I’ve moved back to Seattle, I love bringing my kids to wonderful events at the J like the SeaJAM Festival,” she says. “Whenever I walk into the J, it brings back so many wonderful memories!”

Although Alex’s challah didn’t make it into the top three, he enjoyed being part of the event. And it definitely won’t stop him from baking. Not only does he plan to keep making challah every week for his family, he’s also hoping to audition to be a contestant on the cooking show MasterChef Junior. In the meantime, he’ll continue mixing things together, making unique creations, and waiting to see what comes out of the oven.