Hannah Burton chats to the blue-eyed baker about kitchen disasters, dream dinner parties and whether Mary Berry really is as nice as she seems…
There are very few things that will get me up and about early on a Saturday morning, but the prospect of meeting Paul Hollywood is definitely one of them. On 19th July, Paul was taking part in the Gloucester Quays Food Festival, and unfortunately had not been lucky with the weather. After weeks of sunshine, the South West was hit by a deluge on Saturday morning, and Gloucester Quays, normally such a pretty spot, was sodden. I took shelter in the Cookery Theatre, where Paul’s demo would be held, and spotted him peering out from backstage looking vaguely horrified at the amount of water pouring into the marquee. I can, however, reveal that he still looked as tanned as he appears on TV.
I made a mental note to avoid gazing directly into the silver fox’s blue eyes, lest I make a fool of myself, and headed over for an interview. I must admit I didn’t quite succeed in keeping my cool – listening back to the number of high-pitched giggles I emitted throughout was fairly mortifying.
Hi Paul, thanks so much for taking the time to meet with me – I’m a huge fan of GBBO. So, what’s your absolute favourite thing to bake?
Probably croissant – it’s quite difficult to make but once you’ve mastered it you’ll never stop.
If I can be so bold as to suggest that you might have ever had one, what’s been your biggest kitchen disaster?
I think the biggest problem was when I was given the job of sugaring 1000 doughnuts, and I didn’t sugar them, I salted them. Every one of them.
That’s interesting to hear, because I remember you were quite tough on John Whaite when he did a similar thing on Bake Off. I think it was his rum baba and he salted the dish instead of sugaring it…
Yeah, I was harsh, wasn’t I? And there was one last year too, I was pretty tough on Toby when I got a mouthful of salt.
So on GBBO, what has been the best thing you’ve ever tasted, and, if you can say, what’s been the absolute worst?
The best thing, or one of the best things, was definitely Ryan’s key lime pie.
That looked amazing!
And one of the worst things was probably John’s rum baba (series 3)… I think it was the baba… Or maybe Toby’s Victoria sponge (series 4) – I can’t remember exactly but both were really salty!
Dream dinner party: who would you invite, dead or alive?
Michael Palin, Henry VIII and my nan and granddad because I haven’t seen them for ages. I’d be happy with that.
Do you have a favourite TV chef that you like to watch?
Keith Floyd, I like to watch him. I just find him fascinating – I love his down-to-earth style of cooking.
In the last few years there’s been such a huge increase in foodie attention, with popular TV shows and festivals like this one – why do you think that is?
I think there’s always been a real interest in food and in watching demonstrations. I think the real difference now is that it’s baking rather than just cooking. Baking’s always been there in the sidelines, but now’s it’s getting the chance to shine. And I think in many ways it’s bigger now than cooking, much bigger. And it’s down to programmes like GBBO that are teaching people and evangelising baking.
I’ve read a few interviews with Mel and Sue about GBBO where they’ve said that right at the beginning they wondered what the heck they’d signed up for.
We all thought that, we didn’t know what to expect at all.
So what made you want to do it, when it was such a step into the unknown?
Well it was a great fit for me – teaching and judging – so at the time it was just perfect.
I can’t help but wonder what happens to all the food on GBBO after the judging?
We have a crew of 120 people, so that’s where it all goes.
Do you have a favourite restaurant?
That’s tricky. It really depends on what mood I’m in. I go to Luigi’s where I live in Sandwich in Kent quite a lot, and it’s very much a family-oriented, Italian, great place. It just does basic food and that’s what I like, and they do it really well.
What was your baking inspiration and what got you into baking?
It was my parents. My dad was a baker, and my uncle was a baker. My mum was great, predominantly at cakes and biscuits and my dad with pies and breads, so I would say my parents were definitely my inspiration.
So, if you hadn’t have been a baker, what would you have been?
(By this point, the steely blue gaze had started to get the better of me) Oh, OK *much giggling* – so you’d still have been making women swoon?
(Normalcy seems to have deserted me entirely now) Speaking about women swooning – on our blog, one of the most searched-for terms is ‘Paul Hollywood topless’. Just thought I’d let you know, in case you ever fancy indulging our readers…
*Much laughter* Fat chance! I’d hide from that!
Now, this seems like an obvious question, but is Mary Berry as lovely as she seems?
Err, no she’s an absolute witch *laughs* No, of course she’s lovely, she’s absolutely fantastic. She’s like my mum really, and we do get on really well.
It seems like you’ve got an absolute dream job.
Yeah it is. And this year, we’re moving to BBC1, and it’ll be fascinating to open it up to new people, and find new talent for the series.
And when does it start this year?
In a couple of weeks – keep an eye out for the trailers.
Excellent, I can’t wait! Thank you so much for your time, Paul.
Keep an eye on the Food Festival Finder blog for a review of Paul’s baking demonstration.