Ahead of the Cake & Bake Show, Londoner John Whaite – winner of The Great British Bake Off series three – shares his TV secrets and tells us what to look forward to at the show
The underdog in the programme’s first all-male final, seven million people tuned in to see John beat recruitment consultant Brendan Lynch and medic James Morton to victory. But perhaps his most memorable moment was when his finger had a nasty meeting with the blade of a food processor when checking on his dough.
But the incident didn’t hold him back, and his victory has resulted in him publishing two baking books, setting up an artisan chocolate business and a cookery school and, this month, John will be returning to London’s Cake & Bake Show for his third stint as a star speaker, alongside his fellow Bake Off winners from all four series.
The Cake & Bake Show is the ‘go to’ for baking expertise and inspiration from a string of celebrity bakers, including TV chefs Rachel Khoo, Rosemary Shrager, Phil Vickery and Simon Rimmer, master patissier Eric Lanlard, the UK’s top chocolatier Paul A Young and Celebrity Masterchef winner Lisa Faulkner.
As well as live cake decorating, skills classes, real bread demos, live celebrity bake offs in the competition theatre and all the latest baking equipment, there will, of course, be a bounty of delectable cakes, breads and pies and the most ambitious sugarcrafting and baking installation you’ll ever see.
Stepping into John’s apartment at the Royal Herbert Pavilions on Shooter’s Hill, an old military hospital built for the Woolwich Garrison with heavy input from Florence Nightingale, his love of baking is evident from the outset. As well as hundreds of baking and cookery books by everyone from Nigella to Ottolenghi (including, of course, books by Berry and Hollywood), there were freshly baked breakfast muffins awaiting us on the coffee table, a patisserie-style Black Forest gateaux, all layering and mirror glaze, just being finished off in the kitchen, pots and pans hanging on John’s ‘inspiration’ blackboard, and more Kitchen Aids than you can shake a piping bag at.
The apartment, his first London property since the Bake Off victory (John is from Lancashire), is compact but beautifully decked out with Farrow & Ball’s Downpipe, a kind of twilight blue, on the walls, bespoke curtains at the huge, arched windows and a bright yellow, button-backed statement chair sitting under an Arco-style floor lamp by the window.
Sampling one of John’s fab muffins, I wonder aloud how baking got so big? ‘A lot of people say it’s because of the Bake Off,’ he says, ‘that it’s made us all bake again, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I think it’s amplified a passion that was already there, because baking is therapeutic, it’s addictive.’
But what I really want to know, is what Paul Hollywood, Mary Berry and Mel and Sue are like behind the scenes.
‘Paul is scary, but Mary, she gets disappointed and the look she gives you is like a slap in the face. So the aim was to please Mary because she’s been in the industry for so many years. Paul seems to play more of a character. Although I think they’ve swapped roles this year, Mary seems more cut-throat. I wonder if she’s been corrupted by the blue-eyed monster himself?’ he giggles.
‘Mel and Sue are so funny, but they steal ingredients. When I was making my Arabian Nights tart I had fastidiously chosen the perfect blueberries, but Mel started eating them, one by one. It happened with a walnut praline that I made for my tart tatin as well. Sue just absolutely loved it, so I had to make her a separate one. They’re great fun, and they have a real passion for food.’
Twelve passionate bakers going head to head in a hot kitchen must generate some sparks. Is it all whisks and spatulas at 10 paces in the Bake Off tent?
‘It’s very supportive, actually,’ says John. ‘When we were doing the plaited bread challenge we were trying to help each other out and the executive producers were telling us that we couldn’t. The competitive spirit wasn’t there until the semi-final and the final, and that’s when you want to start pushing people into ovens and cutting off their electrics, because that’s when you realise it’s a competition, and you’ve come this far. But it’s quite a wholesome show, and I think you’re so high on sugar it’s a bit like, ‘whoa, man, I love you’. You’re tripping off bakes.’
At the Cake & Bake Show, as well as finding John signing books and dispensing advice on making muffins rise, you’ll also find him in the bakery theatre, where he’ll be demonstrating his skills (‘I’m going to make something savoury, but I haven’t quite decided yet,’ he says) and going head to head against his fellow Bake Off winners in the Competition Theatre, where they have just 15-20 minutes to produce a bake from start to finish, which will then be judged by audience members.
‘The Cake & Bake Show is for anyone who is remotely interested in the smallest crumb of cake,’ says John. ‘You’ve got the top-names in baking and there’s a great energy to the show. It’s like a festival without the mud and rain and loads of sugary treats.’ The Cake & Bake Show runs 3-5 October at Earl’s Court.