John Whaite, winner of this year’s The Great British Bake Off, which aired on BBC Two on Tuesday night (16 October), speaks to British Baker about his win and future plans within the industry.
The 23-year-old law graduate from Wigan tells BB about making friends with Eric Lanlard, learning to bake through YouTube and his plans to open up his own patisserie with a traditional English twist.
Congratulations on winning the third series of The Great British Bake Off, how does it feel?
It’s absolutely bonkers, I can’t quite believe it really. I think I am still in shock and it was all a rollercoaster. I was chuffed to bits, but it’s all a mixed range of emotions, as you can imagine.
As the show came to a close you were labelled as the underdog, would you agree with that?
It’s something quite difficult to live up to, because I think being the underdog is quite an honourable accolade. I can see where it comes from as I did have a few rocky weeks, but to then come up trumps in the final is great. The good thing about the competition is that it’s judged week by week, so it gives people a chance to show what they can do.
Following on from the show and your career now in baking, BB understands you would like to train in Paris at a patisserie school.
I definitely want to do that and I want to do as much as I can in terms of writing about baking, as well as some TV work. The future is very blurry at the moment; it’s very exciting, but it’s still obscure.
Why did you decide not to train initially in bakery or catering and complete a law degree instead?
My parents always wanted me to get a degree and I can understand why, because it’s something to fall back on. They wanted me to do the academic thing, and rightly so, but now it’s time to navigate my own future.
Is baking something you have always wanted to do from a young age?
I have always been obsessed with baking and concocting cakes from a young age. It’s exciting being able to put things together and create something out of next to nothing.
Have you had any professional training in baking or patisserie?
None whatsoever. I learnt how to bake by watching YouTube video tutorials, reading a copious number of recipe books and my mum is a great baker as well. So it’s been a number of different things that have allowed me to experiment as a baker and try different techniques.
Have you had anyone from the industry approach you to help with your training and your career progression?
Not as yet, but I have had a lot of influence and support from Eric Lanlard for probably about a year now after I tweeted a picture of one of my cakes to him. He has been really helpful and understood my passion. I have met him a few times and he has been kind enough to invite me to his bakery, Cake Boy, in Battersea, London.
He’s more of a friend than a mentor as we’ve never worked together, but I would still love to learn from him, as well as others like Michel Roux Jnr. There are people that I dream of working with, but it all depends on whether they think I am good enough and the opportunity comes along.
Is your aim to have your own bakery?
Definitely. I think there should be a bakery on every street corner in the UK, because that’s how it used to be and how it should be now. So I would like to be part of that revolutionary movement. It could be 20 or 30 years down the line for me – it’s part of my plan, but I don’t know where it fits just yet.
What sort of vision would you have for your own bakery?
I would love it to be a patisserie with a traditional English twist. I love the rustic nature of English baking, but also the delicate style and finesse of French cooking as well. So I would like to marry the two together – I’m thinking a rustic loaf with a bit of gold leaf!
Is there anything else you would like to create when you have your own business?
Well people love traditional things, but cupcakes have been around for ages and they are still going strong. So I would have a few, but put a bit of a twist on them – maybe not have your conventional mountain high of buttercream on top; I would try and alter that in some way.
Sometimes it’s good to stick to tradition with things like lemon drizzle cakes and chocolate tarts. I still love Black Forest gateau – I know it’s a bit 1970s, but it’s a great flavour – and I would look to give it a bit of a modern twist.
Would you include similar recipes in a book when you write one?
No, I think I’d like to go down a more rustic route, but my baking is based on a montage of different things, so I’m not totally sure what I would include in that yet.