WHEN John Whaite takes to the stage to demonstrate some of his recipes at the Essex Fine Food Show next month it’s fair to say he’ll be in his element. The former Great British Bake Off winner, author and TV chef loves nothing more than sharing his skills.
‘I’m a food teacher,” he says. “That’s how I see myself.
Whenever I write a book, do a TV show or do a food show I’m passing on skills.’ “The Essex Fine Food Show is the first food festival of the season for me so I’m really looking forward to it.
“I’ll be demoing a few recipes from my latest book (last year’s Perfect Plates) and I’ll have a wander around, have a chat with people and have a laugh on stage – it’s very informal.”
Such relaxed good nature is evident when I chat to the former Great British Bake Off winner, food author and now TV chef in his own right down the line from Lancashire - he’s recently ended a four-year stint living in London to move back to his childhood home to set up his John Whaite him. “I loved every minute of it. It was one of the most fun experiences in my life.
It was exhausting, but never horrible. It launched my career and I’m so lucky to do what I do.”
There have been some comments in the press attributed to John since his win that suggest everything was not so lovely when the cameras were off on set. He mentioned he once asked Paul Hollywood outside to confront him over a withering comment about his scones and did he really describe national treasure Mary Berry as ‘Scary Mary’?
‘I used ‘scary’ to describe Mary Berry because she is so good at what she does you don’t want to disappoint her,” says John. “It was taken out of context by the press, as they are wont to do. I did have a chat outside with Paul, but it was nothing really.”
Cookery School, where he gets to share even more of his skills.
“I run 99 per cent of the classes,” he says. “We do have the occasional guest chef, but the rest of the time it’s me.
It can be exhausting, but I love meeting new people and seeing them go home with piles of delicious food they’ve cooked and they’re so proud of themselves.”
It’s certainly a busy time for the 27-year-old what with running the school, working on his latest cookery book, his fourth, “all about comfort food”, and helming the second series of ITV cook-off show The Chopping Block with chef Rosemary Shrager.
However, it’s clear John thrives on the pressure of such a demanding schedule.
When he made his name in Bake Off in 2012 he was also studying for his final exams for a law degree. This is one man who can multi-task.
Despite the fraught timetable, John looks back on Bake Off as the making of The show made John a household name, but, he says, he is a different person away from the camera, in looks at least.
“I don’t get noticed much.
When I’m out I never do my hair and I wear scruffy clothes. If someone does notice me I give them a conspiratorial wink to say ‘yes it’s me, but it’s our little secret’.
“There’s no naked selfies of me or a sex tape out there I just do something that people like. I don’t really do the showbiz parties and high-profile friends – I’d never get a word in edgeways!”
John does admit to a Twitter friendship with Dean Edwards, chef of the Lorraine show and fellow star of the Chef ’s Stage at the Essex Fine N Heading to next month’s Essex Food Festival - TV chef John Whaite Food Show. “We’ve bumped into each other at ITV parties.
He’s a nice guy.”
John’s current TV role, on the Chopping Block, has him now occupying the judge’s role in a cook-off. Does he, as a former cookery show contestant, feel for the losing cooking couples he has to send home.
“I do have an empathy for the contestants because of my background, but at the same time anyone who goes into a competition knows what to expect. I see it from both judge and competitors’ standpoints.”
positive output for me Certainly, despite now being given the judge’s role, John does not believe he is the finished article. It is clear his love of teaching is matched by his desire to learn.
The first thing he did when he won Bake Off was to enrol on a patisserie making course at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu cookery school in London.
“I may have won Bake Off, but I knew I couldn’t be an expert just being a home cook.
I needed proper teaching.
You really need to know what you’re doing to teach others.”
And it didn’t stop there. John clearly believes learning is a lifelong adventure. In fact, he tells me, he’s just learnt a new technique he is very excited about from a friend.
“My friend Rosie recently taught me about a technique for marinating meat called velveting. It’s a Chinese method where meat is marinated in a mixture of egg white, corn starch and rice wine. It transforms a steak. I love it.
I’m obsessed with learning.
There’s always new things to learn.”
The creativity of cooking, as well as developing John’s skills, seems also to have a therapeutic effect on John.
In a month where both By MARK EDWARDS email@example.com I don’t get noticed much. When I’m out I never do my hair and I wear scruffy clothes. If someone does notice me I give them a conspiratorial wink to say ‘yes it’s me, but it’s our little secret HUMMUS, PEPPER AND DOLCELATTE FLATBREAD PIZZA INGREDIENTS 175g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting 2 tablespoons hummus 4 roasted peppers from a jar 100g Dolcelatte 2 teaspoons sweet chilli dipping sauce Sea Salt Rakes 150ml water Olive Oil METHOD Preheat the oven to 260C/240C fan/gas mark 10 and place a pizza stone or a strong, large baking sheet in the oven to get hot Toss together the flour with 3g salt, then add water and a glug (about 1 tablespoon) of olive oil. Bring together into a dough, and knead for a couple of minutes until smooth.
Ball up the dough and leave it in the mixing bowl to soften for 20 minutes at room temperature.
Once the dough has rested, lightly flour the worktop and roll the dough out into a large, thin circle - if the base is left too thick, it won’t crisp up and will stay doughy and soggy.
Slide the pizza base onto a well-floured baking sheet. Spread the hummus over the pizza base, then tear the peppers into long strands and scatter them over the top.
Crumble on the Dolcelatte, then slide the pizza onto the hot pizza stone or baking sheet and cook for 7-10minutes, until very crispy around the edges You can slice this into neat portions with a pizza wheel, but I like to embrace its flatbread origins and just tear off pieces Prince William and Harry have opened up about their need to talk about emotional issues, I ask John, who has been open in the past about how cooking has got him through dark times, about the meditative qualities of preparing food.
“Creativity is paramount,”
he says. “It lets you turn a destructive energy into a cathartic one.
“Cooking is a creative, positive output. It’s meditative.
“It’s also a social thing, which can bring you out of whatever slump you may be in.
“If you bake a batch of brownies you could eat them all, but you wouldn’t feel too well, so you offer them to people and break the wall.”
N If you want to share in John’s creativity and passion for food, get down to the Essex Fine Food Show on Saturday May 13 and Sunday May 14 at the Chelmsford City Racecourse. Visit the show website for a full list of exhibitors and to buy your tickets in advance and save on the gate price. Tickets from £6. General seating for John’s demonstrations on the Sunday are £4. To purchase tickets or for more information, visit essexfinefoodshow.co.uk