Shove your star baker

Words: Alessandra Estrada  

Shove your star baker

The Great British Bake Off qualifies you for nothing


Guess what winning The Great British Bake Off qualifies you for in life? Nothing. Ten weeks of edited TV programming, in a set-designed environment, with metered tasks, tea breaks and a cheerleading squad of dynamic presenters, doesn’t mean you actually know what you’re doing when it comes to baking.
But each week, the great British public watches in droves as amateur bakers burn their buns, drop their cookies and under-prove their loaves, cheering for the lone phoenix that rises from the ashes to be crowned Star Baker.
As a professional, I struggle to watch this show. On the rare occasion that I have soiled my own eyeballs, I have seen people plunge their fingers into boiling caramel in the name of assembling a Croquembouche; drop whole iced cakes on the floor, scoop them up, and try to reposition them back on a stand; and serve leaking, curdled custard that looks like someone blew chunks from between their Fraisier. *Shudder*
If these things amuse you, in a similar way to the evictions on Big Brother, the loser-girl in the final who doesn’t win The Bachelor, or the entire series of The Search for the Next Pussy Cat Doll, then yeah, please go ahead and keep watching the GBBO. You understand something most of the 6.4million C4 viewers don’t — that this whole show has been engineered for entertainment purposes only.
Somehow, this bubble-world of baking winners has escaped being tarred and feathered with the rest of the reality stars. Winning Big Brother probably means you have a career as a highly paid escort to look forward to when the prize money runs out, but for some odd reason, winning the GBBO entitles you to ‘Celebrity Baker’ status, some kind of subsequent TV gig, a cookbook deal, and multiple (paid) appearances across the country at dedicated trade shows. Because you won a reality TV show.
Could someone please explain to me why chefs like Gordon Ramsay, Michel Roux Jr, Marco Pierre White, and Raymond Blanc all had to go get Michelin stars before they were ever allowed to cook on TV/see their names in print? What’s the message here? That if you want to learn how to cook a steak properly, you should learn from an extremely qualified professional with years of experience, but if it’s a Victoria Sponge you’re after? A debt collector named Edd will do.
The better question is, why do people want to learn from Edd, when there are such incredibly talented, experienced professionals that could be in his shoes? And no, I am not talking about GBBO The Professionals, which is so, so bad, I’ve had to block it from my mind in the name of being able to move forward with my life. [Actually, the episode in Season One in which Benoit Blin hits on that girl in French, like subtitles don’t exist, was pure comedy gold. Along with adding, ‘That’s what HE/SHE said!” after anything Cherish Finden says.]
I’m talking about experts like Jordi Roca, Pierre Hermé, and Dominique Ansel. Or someone based in England — William Curley, Joakim Pratt, and Graham Hornigold, amongst others. Or just the ladies? I can mention Anna Polyviou, Sarah Barber and Allysa Torey… How many of you had heard of Claire Ptak before she made the royal wedding cake? Because believe it or not, she has been the successful owner of a profitable bakery and a published author for years.
This show makes what I [and loads of others] do look like clown shoes. It makes people believe that anyone, from any background, can do my job, within a fraction of the time it really takes. As someone who specialises in carved novelty cakes, if a client asked me to make a showstopper in four hours from start to finish, I would literally laugh in their face. Sure, it can be done… You can also drive a car with your feet but that doesn’t make it a good idea.
So, before you go buying that cookbook by whoever is the current-and-soon-to-be-forgotten-winner of the GBBO, please remember they are about as qualified as Kim Kardashian to give you advice on baking.