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Baking Delights

An interview with John Whaite, winner of The Great British Bake Off: "daunting, but it’s the best thing I’ve ever done”
“I found that when I was going through difficult times in life, baking always offered something that was quite serene and tranquil for me. Baking’s also quite constructive, so it became quite therapeutic for me as well”

John Whaite hasn’t put down the whisk since his stint in the bright white tents of The Great British Bake Off. After claiming the top prize over eleven other amateur bakers competing in the popular baking series, a level headed Whaite decided to continue his culinary education in classroom conditions. Now, with a Le Cordon Bleu patisserie diploma under his belt and two well-received cookbooks on the shelves, Whaite looks fondly back on his Bake Off experience.

“It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in my life,” the softly spoken baker tells us. “We’d be out on a Friday night, enjoying food and drinks, then be off to the tent on a Saturday to start filming. The whole process was brilliant.

“You’re so involved in the situation that you forget that it’s televised. Watching the show back you realise that, you know, perhaps you could have worn a different outfit. Those months later, you think, ‘Oh crumbs, I’m being watched by 7 million people and I’ve just done a woody woodpecker impression!’” he laughs. “So it’s daunting, but it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”

Whaite entered the baking competition envisioning a more corporate career to come. Enrolled as a law undergraduate, he’s since graduated with First Class Honours - despite completing his finals whilst filming The Bake Off. At university, the high achiever’s culinary abilities rose far above ordering in a takeaway; a trait the British public have come to associate with student living. Whaite explained how his affinity with flour stems from his time in the kitchen as a young boy helping his mum.

“Back then baking was a process that we did, no questions, we just did it. And over the years I sort of realised that it was something I found really comforting, I think because of that link with my childhood and the maternal bond.

“I found that when I was going through difficult times in life, baking always offered something that was quite serene and tranquil for me. Baking’s also quite constructive, so it became quite therapeutic for me as well.”

As well as offering peace of mind, baking has come to deliver Whaite his dream career. Completing a course at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu, it’s certainly a step away from his original ambition of being a commercial lawyer.  

“I’ve done a patisserie diploma that took me nine months. I’ve learnt a lot about the industry in that time as well and that’s given me the voice I felt I needed. Even though I’d done The Bake Off I felt that I wanted to grow even more in the industry so I could feel viable when I stood on the stage telling people how to bake things; that people would find me a reliable character in the industry.”

The prestigious Le Cordon Bleu is not for the faint hearted, and sometimes Whaite found himself traipsing across London in the early hours to make class.

“It was hard going, but all part and parcel of the fun, and it really adds to that sort of energy and that buzz. The process itself was difficult; the exams are hard and the expectations are high. They’ve got high standards in terms of absenteeism and attendance. It was difficult to try and fit it in around my book writing but Cordon Bleu has improved me as a baker and I now feel that I have a reliable, responsible voice in the industry.”

He may have a responsible voice when it comes to culinary delights, but every chef has a failsafe comfort food…

“Something starchy and something cheesy, so spaghetti carbonara, mac and cheese, anything that is quite bad for you but is good for the soul, really.”

Whaite’s been busy developing his own recipes of late, catering for home bakers old and new. From al fresco dining to grab-and-go delights, his latest offering, John Whaite Bakes at Home, has a personal edge.

“The cookbook sort of epitomises what home baking means to me. It describes how baking at home can be literally at home or it can be with your friends on a Friday night making pizzas and sharing beers. There’s also some great picnic recipes in there because it’s starting to get sunnier, the days are getting longer. It’s a book that demonstrates what home baking is to me, with simple, tasty recipes.”

John Whaite Bakes At Home is published by Headline and is £20.00.