Winning a baking competition TV show at any career stage is an accomplishment in itself. But when a young, Arizona-born and self-proclaimed “at-home” baker takes home the trophy (or in this case, a coveted golden rolling pin) on one of the most streamed baking shows of the moment (i.e. Hulu’s “Baker’s Dozen” series), the accomplishment feels pretty unprecedented.
But for Tess Levin, it’s a career highlight—a moment which, for any aspiring baker or pastry chef, offers a new level of credibility and reach to continue expanding their brand. Beyond taking the pristine pin home, Levin was also rewarded with a $5,000 cash prize and a slew of new social media followers on Instagram and TikTok—drawn not only to her carefree humor and charm, but also her inimitable relatability.
“I always get messages from people being like ‘You remind me so much of my friend’—and I love that, because it’s like, I am their friend. I’m their online baking friend,” says Levin.
While Levin’s win is undoubtedly a huge career moment, for her, it’s just the beginning of her baking passion—the rest of which is being poured into her own gourmet dessert company, Fluff Cups.
Fabulous Arizona had the chance to talk with Levin about her Hulu journey, the challenge in building a brand in the digital age, and her best tips for holiday baking this season.
What was the experience of getting to bake competitively like? Is TV and working in that sort of space something that you’d like to explore a little bit more in the future?
Absolutely—it was so fun. I was more nervous going into it, and then once I was there, I realized I can only do what I know how to do. It was definitely intimidating—especially being an at-home baker and kind of having to navigate that feeling of imposter syndrome, for lack of a better term. But ultimately, they [the judges] liked what I did, which was fantastic. And it really gave me a sense of credibility. To your point of on-air baking, I think that would be an ultimate goal to do more television-focused baking like that—maybe even in a judge role.
Obviously social media is such a huge asset in building your digital brand and really connecting with fans. As someone who has been able to kind of brand herself as the “culinary comedian,” how would you say that having those spaces has helped you to expand your own business? And is it something that you think other young bakers or creatives should really try tapping into if they haven’t already?
There’s so much opportunity in social media—and like we all know, there’s also a lot of negatives to social media too. I do think that there’s more opportunity than negativity. And so, if young bakers or small businesses aren’t on social media, I think it really is a good tool to grow the audience, grow that customer base, and bring awareness to your business. I mean, every industry is so saturated at this point, right? There’s so many bakeries, there’s so many companies, there’s so many restaurants. Social media allows you to have an audience of people who like you for you, like you for your product, or for whatever it is. And I think it’s a good way to build confidence to show off what you’re doing and to build that audience that will ultimately convert to sales.
With so many pastry and baked good businesses out there right now, how would you say that Fluff Cups, in particular, is maybe different from the rest?
I always think about this question and I’m always like, ‘Well, what makes me different? I don’t know.’ Because, sometimes as an individual—and especially with social media—you just compare yourself and your skills so much to others. I think for me, what’s really helped to set me apart, is that I’ve put my personality out there. I’m doing baking segments, I’m dancing, I’m testing products and then the people following me kind of get this sensation of like—oh, I’m your friend. Like everyone knows someone who’s like me, and I feel like I’ve just become everyone’s online baking friend. So, just don’t be afraid to put yourself out there because it will make you seem more relatable and also make your audience connect with you more.
Beyond social media and tapping into that digital side of things, I’m curious—what other advice do you have for other young people who are trying to navigate the baking or food industry during what is just such a unique and unexplored time?
Certainly. So, I don’t really have the answers—I’m nowhere near being quote unquote ‘successful.’ This may be success to someone, but as someone who’s as ambitious as I am, I’m like—I need more. So, I think the one thing that I struggle with and I think every baker or small business struggles with is building too much of their brand on social media. Let’s say social media doesn’t exist anymore or Instagram is down for a week—who am I without that? What is my brand without that? So, my advice for others who are going into this field is to not be afraid to expand your brand on social media—but also have something outside of it too. It’s a great tool to build things and to enhance—but like, have your own website, because no one can take that away from you.
With the holiday season ahead, are there any goodies that you’re particularly excited to make or maybe experiment with this year? And do you have any tips for people diving into what is arguably one of the busiest baking seasons of the year?
Yeah, oh my God, it is like literally the busiest [LAUGHS]. So, what I am going to try this year is a square cake—for Christmas specifically, I’m going to make a present. I’ve never done it before, but I’m excited to try that as something new.
And the one piece of advice I would give bakers (hobby bakers or professional ones) throughout the holiday season is: Don’t take on more than you can do. Your mental health is more important than someone getting a cupcake. We all want money, maybe we like being busy, or we just want to make everyone happy—bakers are not selfish, we want to make everyone happy. As a result, it’s so important to set boundaries, especially for the holidays.
For more information on Tess Levin and her baking company, Fluff Cups, visit www.fluffcups.net.