Winner of The Great British Bake Off 2012, John Whaite went on to train at Le Cordon Bleu. Now a food writer, John writes for The Telegraph and is resident chef on ITV’s Lorraine. He has recently opened his own cookery school. We spoke to him about his Bake Off experience and more…
Tell us about your love of baking and how it started
I started baking, as most people do, when I was about 4/5 years old. I would spend most Sundays with my mum in the kitchen, so it just became a comforting thing that we did. Then, when I was at university, away from home, to reminisce a little bit I’d get the scales out. That’s when I realised that I was actually quite good at it! I enjoyed it and it allowed me to be creative. I was always creative in different ways, like drama and dance, but I wasn’t very artistic and I didn’t have a tangible thing to show for it. I found baking to be that form of art really.
How has baking has helped you?
I think that because it’s such a creative process, it enables you to turn quite negative, destructive energy into something constructive. It still takes quite a lot of effort to get out of bed and get engaged in the kitchen. But once you do, it’s quite meditative. You have to slowly work through the recipe, and give it all of your attention. So there are a few reasons why I think baking is comforting.
What were your thoughts when entering GBBO and did you expect to do so well?
I didn’t expect to get onto it. I thought I might get an interview, and just see how it goes. I took it with baby steps, thinking: if I get to the next stage, great, if I don’t I’ve come this far and had a great time. You just had to take it week by week, which was quite difficult because you have to plan what you’re going to bake in advance. You have to invent recipes, but you might not get through to that stage. In the competition I just thought ‘right I’m going to get through this week and see what happens’. It was one of the most fun things I’ve don’t in my life.
What did it feel like when you won the GBBO?
It was bizarre! It was really strange, one of those… it was a cloud of ‘nothing feels real’. It still doesn’t feel like it ever happened to me, because at that stage it was so fuzzy. It really is bizarre.
— John Whaite (@John_Whaite) July 13, 2016
What have you been up to since Bake Off?
I’ve been doing all sorts actually. After Bake Off, I went to Le Cordon Bleu in London to study for a nine month Diploma in Patisserie, which was great fun. I’ve written two baking books and a cookery book.
What are your baking plans are for the future?
One of the biggest things is that I’ve opened a cookery school. I’ve taken over a 400-year-old barn in Lancashire and completely restored it. I’ve retained all the original features, like the old stones walls, and I’ve kept all the beautiful industrial farm features, but I’ve renovated it to become a beautiful space – enough for ten students. It’s looking fabulous; it’s really exciting.
What’s your advice for budding bakers?
Just don’t take it too seriously. I mean, you have to take it seriously enough that you respect the recipe and that you have the ingredients, but don’t get too bogged down if things go wrong. Things go wrong so you can learn why and how things work. Sometimes the best way is to make those mistakes. You can’t be slapdash and lazy with it, just throw things in the bowl and hope that it comes together; you’ve still got to think about what you’re doing. But, just enjoy it, its a hobby, its a pastime – there’s no reason to not enjoy it.
— John Whaite (@John_Whaite) July 26, 2016
Have you been watching GBBO this series? What would be your tips for the contestants?
If I’d spoken to them before filming, I’d probably just say make you sure you’ve practised. You need to practise with the time constraints at home, because you need to be on the ball in the tent. Also, be respectful to everyone; the days can be long, you can spend 12-13 hours filming in one day, but that’s the nature of television. So be patient and be respectful to the producers because they’re just doing their job. Finally, just enjoy the whole damn thing! It goes so quickly and you want to look back positively on the experience, so make sure you get the most out of it.
How would you describe your style in terms of finishing touches and cake decoration?
I think rustically beautiful. For me, what I’ve tried to do recently is strip things back and make things more simple. People want simplicity in their baking. Of course, you want to push the boundaries, test yourself and teach yourself new things every time you go into the kitchen. Still, it has to be realistic, so my approach now is just the home baker – I think people can relate to that more easily.