- I competed on season nine of “The Great British Bake Off,” and I lasted three weeks in the tent.
- On my final week of the show, I tried to make bread with very little practice or experience.
- Paul Hollywood isn’t as scary as he seems on TV — he actually helped me with my bread.
When I competed on “The Great British Bake Off” in 2018, I had almost zero experience baking bread — so I shouldn’t have been surprised that it was my undoing.
I made it through three wonderful weeks on season nine, and now I’m walking everyone through what really happens inside Britain’s most sought-after tent — including what Paul Hollywood was like in real life.
Read on for my experience getting sent home on week three: Bread Week.
I barely practiced baking bread, and Paul Hollywood could tell, but he was kinder than I could’ve imagined
With my lack of experience, I was pretty much mentally at the exit before I even started week three.
But there were many fond memories from this week, and one of them was Hollywood. He is the bread king and a true connoisseur of all things bread, so he has a ton of knowledge on the matter.
I remember his judgmental blue eyes peering across my messy station and into my defeated soul. I think he felt bad, so he decided to give me some advice.
Here are two tips I got from the bread king himself:
- Active yeast mixed with flour and dropped in warm water should always rise. If it doesn’t, the yeast is dead.
- Yeast and salt aren’t friends and should never touch each other — aka salt kills yeast.
As this may exemplify for you, the famed judge isn’t always as foreboding as he appears on camera. In fact, Hollywood is very fond of the bakers.
I remember during week two when my dear friend Briony Williams started crying when Hollywood said her bake looked a mess but tasted the best. When the cameras stopped rolling the judge came around and gave Williams the tightest hug, and I wish it was me in his arms.
Bottom line: Hollywood is great and a fair bit of a softie.
We actually figured out what the secret technical challenge was just based on our call-sheet schedule
On week three of season nine, the signature challenge was Chelsea buns.
I chose some of Hollywood’s supposed favorite flavors: peanut butter and bacon. But after the challenge, I’m not so sure my Google search results were accurate.
The showstopper that week was the wedding korovai — a three-tiered enriched dough — in five hours, which is pretty much impossible. I thought the production team made this dough up until I traveled to Greece specifically to find the mighty korovai at a little bakery in the middle of Crete.
Those challenges went to plan, but there was one major glitch on week three.
At the start of each filming day, all the bakers receive a call sheet with the timings for the challenges. On this day, the technical challenge was only scheduled for an hour of filming.
There are a handful of breads that you can make in an hour — a soda bread, naan, chapatis — so during the break, I remember we got talking and cracked it. It was naan.
We continued to discuss how to make it, and soon enough word got out. Some people on set panicked because the bakers knew the technical.
The production team had to decide whether they were going to choose a whole new bake, cut our break short so we wouldn’t have more time to talk about it, or just go through with the day as planned.
Even though I’m an Indian baker and knew the challenge a little beforehand, I couldn’t make naan
But even knowing what the secret technical challenge was going to be didn’t help me. I came in the bottom rank of this challenge.
I still remember Prue Leith telling me, “Your mother would be ashamed of you,” since I’m an Indian baker. But there’s no naan in the South of India where I’m from.
This week also brought out the best in my friend Ruby Bhoghal, who empathized with me throughout the episode — until she confessed on national television, “At least I’m not the worst Indian in there.”
Before going on the show, I never imagined I’d be crying over baked goods
I never understood all the tears on “Bake Off” until I paraded out of the tent on national television with glistening eyes. I covered it up by calling them “happy tears.”
I personally didn’t have a clue what this experience was going to be like or what would come after. But in no time I found myself growing fond of a bunch of people from the production company and the other bakers.
I still remember the full gang singing “Leaving on a Jet Plane” after I got sent home — intended for me, I think.
Then I bawled my eyes out when the team ran toward me to bid me adieu for the last time as I got into the cab. They were all so dramatic, like a Bollywood film. But it was only fitting, I must say.
Although no 12 bakers (who were previously strangers) are going to love each other unconditionally, I ended up with three of my closest friends: Imelda McCarron, Williams, and Bhoghal.
That was my three-week journey in the famous tent. It’s an experience I’ll cherish all my life and one that has really made a small-town boy from India dream big.
Here are 3 things that happen after you leave “Bake Off”:
1. The bakers may not win a prize at the end of the show, but they usually have a shot at fame
There’s no cash prize on “Bake Off,” but after the show, the bakers get a small intro into the PR and talent-agency world via Love Productions.
This can then lead to book deals, repeat TV appearances, a chance to tour the country for food demos, and more.
2. The bakers get a stipend to cover any necessary expenses.
You get paid a nominal fee to cover any out-of-pocket expenses — something to the extent of about $400 if my memory serves me right.
3. When you walk out of the tent, the #gifted frenzy commences.
Considering that “Bake Off” is one of the most popular shows in the UK (and beyond), it shouldn’t be all that surprising that restaurants and brands generously shower/spoil the contestants. There’s also usually an opportunity for future collaborations.
Antony was on “The Great British Bake Off.” If you were on or worked on a reality-TV show and would be interested in being paid to write about your experience, email pdifiore [at] insider.com.