SALT LAKE CITY — When Utah baker Debi Jensen first got a voicemail asking her to compete on a new baking show, she thought it was a joke.
Then a few months later she and her granddaughter, Sage Jensen, were in the presence of “Cake Boss” star Buddy Valastro, participating in a fierce head-to-head baking competition against another grandma/granddaughter combo.
They were competing on Discovery Family Channel's new show “Bake It Like Buddy,” being judged by Valastro and Marissa Lopez, the season two winner of TLC’s “Next Great Baker.”
A cross between “Cake Boss” and “Family Feud,” the show, which premieres Saturday, Sept. 8, features family baking duos from across the country competing against each other for $1,000 in cash and professional baking supplies.
To earn that coveted prize, the bakers must design, bake and decorate a full-blown cake in less than four hours. Valastro sets a unique challenge in each 30-minute episode, leading the bakers to compete in a swirl of sugar, flour and frosting as they create a themed cake ranging from unicorns to Halloween, according to a news release.
Debi Jensen held almost every job possible in the baking world before opening Swirly Girls Gourmet Bakery on Daybreak's Soda Row. The baker got her skills from her mother, who she describes as “the typical kind of ‘Leave It to Beaver’ mom.”
“My mom taught us at a young age how to bake everything in the world,” she said. “Baking was a part of my mom that she passed down to me. Now you go to culinary school, which is awesome, but my culinary school was at home, which was awesome.”
Debi Jensen was initially hesitant to get a job baking because for her, the craft was a way to serve the people around her rather than a way to make money — but she did admit liking when people oohed and ahhed over her baking. Despite her hesitance, she started as a counter girl and made her way up the bakery ladder until she was traveling as a national sales representative for baked goods.
The baker took another big step when she started her own store in 2010, and the move proved worthwhile as the bakery often brings in lines out the door. A large part of the bakery's success comes from its “no drama” policy, Debi Jensen explained — a policy that encourages positivity even in the most stressful of situations.
“People laugh, but we do a little singing and dancing when things get a little crazy,” she said. “Everyone gets along and has more of an attitude like mine. They tell me that they like coming to work. It’s a place where the community really supports you.”
Her 16-year-old granddaughter, Sage Jensen, works in the store and continues learning the art of baking from her grandmother — a tradition that began years ago with sleepovers. But these weren't your typical sleepovers: Debi Jensen would organize culinary activities with her grandchildren, including baking cookies, bread or cupcakes.
But Debi Jensen’s baking reputation has spread beyond her family and into the community — even into her granddaughter’s high school, where fellow students will find out where Sage Jensen works and ask about her grandmother.
“Everyone knows my grandma already. Why is my grandma more popular than I am?” Sage Jensen joked.
Regular customers refer to Debi Jensen as “Grandma,” Sage Jensen said. “Or everyone comes in and says, ‘Tell her that her best friend is here!’”
But Sage Jensen considers her grandma to be her true best friend and the only one who could persuade her to live out her dream of competing on a show judged by her childhood hero, Valastro.
“When I was super little, I would always watch 'Cake Boss.' (I had) every single episode recorded and all my friends would come watch 'Cake Boss' for hours,” Sage Jensen said. “Seeing him (in person), I was at a loss for words.”
But even meeting her “Cake Boss” idol didn’t outshine the experience of competing with her grandma, who she considers to be her “No. 1 supporter.” And her grandmother feels the same way.
“What an experience for a grandma and a granddaughter," Debi Jensen said. “You can’t really top that as a bonding experience.”
Debi and Sage Jensen's “Bake It Like Buddy” episode airs on Discovery Family Channel Saturday, Sept. 8, at 7 p.m. MDT.