THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF FINALIST CRYSTELLE PEREIRA RECALLS HER EXPERIENCE OF COMPETING ON THE HIT SHOW
THE Great British Bake Off has become one of the most popular reality TV shows on the planet and the recently concluded season 12 had a strong British Asian presence, with Crystelle Pereira and Chigs Parmar coming runners up. Client relationship manager Crystelle used her brilliant baking skills to reach the final and became a firm favourite with millions tuning in each week.
Eastern Eye caught up with the finalist to discuss her amazing The Great British Bake Off journey and future plans. She also gave baking tips.
What first connected you to baking? I’ve loved cooking from a very young age. I used to watch my mum in the kitchen cooking, while she would feed me extra food on the side, which is where I learnt the basics of cooking. However, as time went by, my sisters (who both can’t cook but conveniently love carbs and sugar) started demanding cake and bread from me. So naturally, my cooking expanded, and I started to teach myself the basics of baking.
What drew you to The Great British Bake Off? I’ve always been a huge fan of the show, but never ever envisaged myself being a part of it. As I started to do more baking, particularly over the past year, my sisters began paying attention to bakes I would be whipping up and started telling me to apply for Bake Off.
What was your initial reaction? (Laughs) I just said ‘no way José – have you seen what they make on Bake Off?’ But then they said to me ‘Crystelle, have you seen what you make? So that’s when I started to consider applying. I then had a chat with my dad, who really inspired me to apply. He chased his dreams at a really young age, arriving in the UK from Kenya almost penniless and just worked incessantly until he managed to start his own business. So, he just told me to do it and stop waiting around for the ‘perfect moment’. I realised that I had nothing to lose and should just pluck up the courage to apply.
How was the experience of being on the show? I can say with confidence that this has genuinely been the best experience of my entire life. I like to call it ‘partly a holiday, partly an intensive baking camp’. I am taking away a group of 11 new friends who are such special people to me. Additionally, food is such a huge part of my life, and being able to spend so many weeks in the Bake Off tent, living and breathing all things baking, was quite literally a dream come true for me. I will be eternally grateful for the opportunity to do what I love, and on such a big scale.
Was there any aspect of the show that you found challenging? I think almost every single technical challenge! I consider myself a planner; I love having timetables and itineraries for everything and hate the unknown. So, naturally, I knew that technical challenges would throw me. The worst of the pack was probably those dreaded ciabatta breadsticks where I stupidly convinced myself that a ‘long prove, short bake’ strategy was the way forward and boy, was I wrong? I can never look at breadsticks in the same way again.
Have your baking skills improved throughout the show? Absolutely! I have really surprised myself with how much I have learnt throughout the process. My baking skills were pretty basic before applying, and I got my first stand mixer for my 25th birthday last year. So, if you told me this time last year that I would be making entremets, layered bavarois desserts, and cakes that defy gravity, I think I would have just laughed hysterically!
Why do you think the show is so loved around the world? I know that, as a viewer, Bake Off and particularly the final episode, would always give me a lump in my throat, because it was just so emotional. I think, as viewers, we find ourselves becoming so attached to the bakers because everyone wears their heart on their sleeve, and that’s what makes the show extra special.
What else makes it special? There is just something so wholesome about Bake Off, isn’t there? The camaraderie between bakers and the friendships that form amongst us, the diversity amongst the bakers (which means that every person in that tent brings something unique and true to them), and the almost magical setting of that iconic, white tent, all work in harmony to create such a special show.
What was the experience of being in the final like? Honestly, I cannot explain the feeling of shock. I never in a million years thought I would make it into the tent in the first place, let alone make it through week one or the damn final. I never mentioned the final in the run up to Bake Off and didn’t think about it. It was just so unattainable, and the prospect of getting there was so unrealistic, so I just focussed on having a good time and doing my best. The Bake Off final is one of those iconic moments I have watched on TV for so many years, and being a part of it was beyond my wildest dreams. The feeling was surreal and pretty magical.
What has the experience of being in the public and press eye been like? It’s crazy, but a lovely sort of crazy. It sounds strange but I often forgot that other people in the country were watching me on TV and following my journey. I’ve never met anyone with the same name as me, so even hearing my own name on TV has been mind-boggling. I’ve had quite a few selfie requests on my way to work, which has been lovely but bizarre. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that.
What about any negativity? To the extent possible, I’ve tried to avoid certain social media platforms like Twitter, which are more prone to negativity. It’s easier said than done, but I’ve always tried to not take any negative comments personally or seriously. As long as my family, friends, and more importantly, myself are proud of what I have achieved, then I’m happy.
What is the secret of great baking? I don’t have years of experience to be able to give you the best technical tricks of the trade, but what I will say is, bake from the heart. I love feeding people! Having friends and family over and making them a feast is my way of showing love. You’ll have probably noticed that during the competition, where I dedicated most of my bakes to family members. For me, my family are the easiest place to draw inspiration from, and when you are baking with someone in mind, you will always put in a little more effort to make sure it is extra special.
Would you give us a top baking tip? I would just say don’t give up. Things rarely go well the first time you try something out, and the more you practise, the more you will learn about the art and science of baking. And don’t be afraid to push the boat out with flavours too!
What about tips for a novice baker? There are so many different aspects to baking, and you’re definitely not expected to master them all. Start with basic recipes in one discipline (like cakes), and as you gain more confidence, you can start exploring other disciplines like bread, and you’ll soon find out what is your favourite discipline, and own baking style too. Don’t try and do everything in one go!
What is the plan after Bake Off? I love my day job but would love to showcase more Portuguese-Goan cuisine because it’s something I am so passionate about. India is a huge country, and I don’t think we appreciate how much the cuisine varies as you travel between different states and cities. I love trying different cuisines and experimenting with my flavours, so it would be amazing to travel the world (once Covid allows), try new whacky foods, and document the whole journey. I would love to do more with food, whether that’s more baking and cooking, recipe developing or educating people about my cuisine. I’ll just take one step at a time and see where that gets me.
What inspires you? My inspirations are a mixture of cooks and bakers – Nigella has got to be up there, as well as pastry chef Dominique Ansel for his immense creativity and innovation. And of course, my aunty Hazel, who handed down to me all of her piping nozzles, which are now my prized possessions. Instagram: @crystellepereira
Quick Q&A with The Great British Bake Off finalist Chigs Parmar
What made you want to participate in The Great British Bake Off and how was the experience? I wanted to challenge myself and see if I could bake alongside some of the best amateur bakers in the UK. It was one of the best things I have ever done.
What was the most challenging aspect for you? Watching the baker leave after each episode (as we had become so close).
How much did the show help your baking skills? Most people go on the show because they just love baking. I went on a journey on the show and for me, I learnt 60 per cent of what I know now from just being on the show. It was like an intense baking apprenticeship for me.
What was the experience of being in the final like? I exceeded my own expectations, so for me it was just another day in the tent, baking with two amazing bakers.
What has the experience of being in the public eye since then been like and what about any negativity? It’s been overwhelming in a positive way. Everyone has been incredibly supportive. I have a thick skin and negativity does not bother me at all. I have not read many negative comments to tell you the truth.
What is the secret of great baking? I just bake things I love to eat and what my family and friends love. That way, it all comes from the heart and you bake with passion. My advice is to never overbeat your cake batter.
What tips do you have for a novice baker? Never be afraid to make mistakes. Learn from them and try again.
What inspires you? I get inspirations from everything, even my sister’s bathroom tiles.