Much to our dismay, The Great British Bake Off recently ended, leaving a danish sized hole in our lives. Fear not, for we have managed to have a chat with Jo Wheatley and find out the inside scoop on being a contestant on one of the most cult cookery shows of the moment.
Since winning The Great British Bake Off last year, Jo has had unparalleled success, setting up her own cookery classes from her home in Essex and launching her first book, A Passion for Baking, currently available exclusively at Sainsbury’s for £8.00.
We caught up with Jo to see how winning The Great British Bake Off changed her life and what she’s upto at the moment.
What first inspired your love of baking?
I used to stay with my Nan every weekend and she was an amazing pastry maker. I’d stand and make jam tarts with her and that’s where the love affair began.
How has winning The Great British Bake Off changed your life?
My life has changed amazingly. The show has had such a positive effect on my life. I now have so much more confidence and self belief, which wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t entered the show.
What did you think of the talent on this year’s competition?
I thought they were a fabulous group of bakers- they all had a lot to bring to the table in terms of creativity, skill and talent.
What advice would you give to amateur bakers hoping to enter The Great British Bake Off?
I suggest that anyone hoping to apply to the show should do lots of research beforehand, vital when faced with one of the difficult technical challenges. In terms of personality, just be yourself and keep smiling.
How do you balance motherhood with work? Any tips for mums out there?
For me this couldn’t have come at a better time as my boys are now all quite self-sufficient, they still want lifts, dinner and washing but if I am away working for days at a time, they can manage. However it does take about 3 days to clear the destruction they have left in their wake.
One food staple you couldn’t live without?
Your first cookbook, A Passion For Baking has been a major success. How are you coping with the new found fame?
I’m really enjoying meeting and talking to everyone. People have been so kind with their feedback towards my book and for me, A Passion For Baking was the most wonderful gift to write. I left school with very poor results but writing always brought out something wonderful in me. Even when I was working 16 hour days to finish the book, it was still an absolute joy, being surrounded by my passion. When I did the last edit and we signed off it was an odd feeling, almost as though something was missing, like the time just after Christmas when you put all your decorations away for the year.
You also run cookery classes. Can you share any tips or advice with some of our less confident cooks?
I just want everyone to feel that they are coming along for a fun, relaxed informative day and will be go home with some wonderful bakes, plus the knowledge of how to recreate them. So many of my students have returned again and again and I have now become good friends with some of them. Also on my Facebook page, Jo’s Blue AGA we have Wednesday Top Tips which is another aspect of my work. I love how it brings people together. Baking has had such a huge revival in the last couple of years and I think that’s because it is such a joyful way to spend a few hours.
What is your failsafe recipe that you know will please everyone?
I have a raspberry torte in my book from when my boys were small. I used to meet with my antenatal group every week and we would take it in turns to host, which was no mean feat with 9 mums and 18 toddlers. The torte recipe came from my lovely friend Linda and over the years I’ve adapted it to suit each season and to peoples’ tastes. It was always a winner.
What do you enjoy doing, besides baking?
I absolutely love tennis, I’m not great at it but I really do enjoy playing. But mainly I love spending time with my family.
Christmas is coming up. How will you and your family spend the day?
We have always had a big Christmas breakfast, it is almost as important as the lunch. We also set out little funny table presents, everything from whoopee cushions to wind-up racing snails and then after breakfast everyone will open their stockings. These have always been the presents that Santa brought and my lot even as grown-ups would be devastated if ‘he’ didn’t come. I always spend Christmas eve wrapping the stocking pressies. This started when the boys were small and has now become a tradition. I will also make mince pies, lay the table and prep my veggies. I adore Christmas and it is about this time that I start soaking fruits in preparation to make my cake, mincemeat and Christmas pudding.
Who would be the guests at your dream dinner party?
Nigella (she is my biggest food hero), Nigel Slater (I love Nigel, he makes me feel calm and like everything is good in the world), Richard and my closest girlfriends as they always make me laugh and always enjoy everything I cook.
What’s next for you?
A second book, more cookery classes and whatever comes my way. My new philosophy is to try everything. We are only here for such a short while that I want to grab every moment and try as many things and see as many places as I can.