Interview with John Whaite from The Great British Bake Off
With this series’ final of the BBC 2 Great British Bake Off fast approaching, we have a quick chat with the cheeky chest-baring finalist and former Manchester University student, John Whaite, to discuss his experiences in the competition famous for its excellent crumb formations and instilling fears of the dreaded soggy bottom.
How did you get into baking?
I got into baking when I was 5. My parents got divorced and I used to bake with my mum and sisters so it was always a really inherently comforting thing for me to do with my family.
So what made you decide to enter the Great British Bake Off?
My partner and flatmate from last year kept telling me I should apply, and I’ve always been baking along with the show and I just thought I should go for it. So I did!
Baking’s becoming a lot more popular with younger people, is it becoming more fashionable to bake?
I don’t think it’s necessarily fashionable, but it’s always been entrenched in English tradition and I think younger people from my generation used to bake with their parents so it’s really starting to re-emerge now – and good on it! I think it’s a really good thing that younger people are interested in an older tradition.
A lot of thought clearly goes into your ideas – how do think up all of your bakes?
Everything I do is very symbolic and I like it to say something about me, I want it to be a statement. I want to portray a thought through my baking, not in a contrived way, but just always make sure the bake is achieving something.
Do you have a favorite bake?
People always ask me this but I rarely bake something more than twice; I don’t have a signature dish. I like to build up a repertoire and move on, I don’t want to stay stagnant with a few things. If someone says something was amazing, I’d obviously do it again for them though.
Is there as much camaraderie on the set with the other bakers as there appears to be on the programme?
When you have something in common with somebody, you find comfort in chatting with them about that interest. On the show we all obviously had that one thing in common so while we might not be able to go out with each other every night of the week, we all still had that reference point to each other so we automatically click. Not only that but we were all under the same pressures, James was doing his degree, Catherine had a family, collectively we were doing 15 hours a day and we all had that to consider.
How about with the judges – is there a lot of pressure because of Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, two iconic bakers?
It’s difficult because you not only put so much effort into every bake, but you also project yourself. If Mary and Paul said oh “that’s poor” you interpret that as you yourself are poor. It’s very personal, but to be a successful baker it has to be personal. As a baker I wear my heart on my sleeve. They are brutally honest, but always constructive and I know it’s a terrible cliché but I learnt more in the 10 weeks than I have learnt in my 23 years of life.
You mentioned in the penultimate episode you wanted to further pursue baking, tell me about that?
I want to be a baker, definitely. I want to go to ‘Le Cordon Bleu’ where I would learn French patisserie and cooking or I would love to open a bakery to retire in if it was the right time. As long as it’s with baking! I always say that my life path, wherever it takes me, is littered with cake crumbs.
Building up to the final, did you do anything different to the usual?
Well we had to practice a lot, obviously. Every day I had wake up and bake the same thing over and over and that’s what I found most difficult. It’s like looking at a spreadsheet for a whole week everyday, and when you come to reinterpret the bake it can be very stressful. I prepared as much as I could and I think I probably spent every waking hour in the kitchen.
Any specific high points for you?
Winning Star Baker in week two obviously was amazing and just clinging on for dear life every week and progressing through the show!
And, of course, any lows?
Salt in the rum babas wasn’t a highlight, and then of course slicing my finger and not being able to finish the showstopper in week six was a definite low. Any time the judges disliked anything was always really difficult because you project yourself into each bake.
Finally and most importantly, what happens to all the food after filming?
There are about 60 production staff and they just get devoured by them!
The Great British Bake Off final airs on the 16th of October where the series’ best baker will be crowned culinary champion, but you can catch up with the grand finale and see if John can put the icing on the cake and take home the top prize on BBC iPlayer.