Some dreams take a lifetime to achieve. But at age 13, Tyler Zager is already living his wildest dreams as one of the youngest chefs to win a culinary championship and launch his own menu at a high-end restaurant.
At his tender age, Chef Tyler of Weston has won the Food Network’s 2016 Kids BBQ Championship, launched his own kids’ menu at Kitchen 305 in the Newport Beachside Hotel & Resort in Sunny Isles Beach and has become a Bake Sale Hero for the No Kid Hungry foundation.
“If he continues in this path, I think he will be a force to be reckoned with in the culinary industry,” said Tal Savion, director of food and beverage for the Newport Beachside.
Tyler’s culinary passion first ignited when he was 7. He began baking brownies and chocolate chip cookies with his grandmother on Sundays. He quickly realized he loved cooking and started helping his mother in the kitchen during dinner.
To complement the home-cook skills he learned from his mother and grandmother, Tyler attended Publix Apron Cooking School in Plantation and a program called Chefs and Artists in Weston to develop his talents. He has since happily inherited the task of cooking for the family from his mother, Lainie Zager.
“He cooks about four nights a week. I usually go to the grocery store in the morning while he’s in school with a list he gives me,” his mother said, “and when he comes home instead of having sports activities he has cooking.”
Tyler’s cooking skills won him a feature in the Food Network’s magazine, $20,000 and respect in the culinary industry when he won the Food Network’s 2016 Kids BBQ Championship.
Tyler smoked his seven competitors with barbecue dishes like his Spicy Carolina Chicken Wings, Dessert Pizza, Cinnamon Toast Crunch French Toast and his Zager Family Mac and Cheese. But he blew the judges away with his Grilled Watermelon, which earned him the title.
“The Grilled Watermelon dish was my favorite. I grilled the watermelon and topped it with some balsamic glaze, feta and mint,” said Tyler. “It was different, and made me stand out.”
Not only was his cooking showcased on the Food Network but, as of mid-May, some of Tyler’s new dishes can be found at a restaurant in Sunny Isles. The owner of the Newport Beach Resort, Steven Hurowitz, recruited Tyler to spice up the kids’ menu at the hotel restaurant, Kitchen 305.
Tyler worked with the restaurant staff to transform simple kids’ menu dishes like hot dogs and chicken tenders into creative and fun gourmet experiences like his Cap'n Crunch Coated Fried Chicken “N” Waffles, which was the big hit of the night when the menu launched in May.
Like any good chef, Tyler walked around chatting to his customers about his dishes and made new fans of all ages.
“The chef is awesome! His food is so yummy,” said Ezra Mualem, 5, who dreams of someday being a chef himself.
Tyler’s cooking not only quenches the hunger of his customers but also aids in the fight against child hunger — 100 percent of the proceeds the restaurant made the night of the menu launch will be donated to the No Kid Hungry foundation, a nonprofit that raises money to provide nutritious food to hungry kids in need.
Tyler has become a No Kid Hungry Bake Sale Hero and holds bake sales regularly to raise funds for the organization. In May, he hosted one in which he showcased the baking skills he learned from his grandmother and sold Oreo-stuffed brownies and chocolate chip cookies for the cause.
“I am very proud of him. I think it’s great for somebody his age to want to give up his time to do something like this,” said his grandmother Diane Stern.