So I think pretty much everyone on the face of the earth is obsessed with the Bake Offs. The Great British and the Great Irish Bake Offs. I know, I am, at least! There’s something lovely and wholesome about watching people who love to bake really enjoying themselves and trying to create the perfect, cake, tart or bread.
Hands down, my favourite on the Great Irish Bake Off is the sweet natured Aoife (who, ironically enough, attended Trinity College around when I did – I found out when I contacted her that we even had some mutual friends), so I was very pleased when she agreed to be interviewed by me to find out the behinds the scene info from the Bake Off. So feel free to have all your burning questions revealed!
How did you get your start as a baker?
I was 11 the first time I ever baked on my own. One of my teachers was giving a religion class on The Bread of Life and decided he’d cash in on some baked goods by making it part of our homework! I came home from school that afternoon and informed my Granny that I had to bring something into school that I’d made myself.
She showed me how to make buns using the creaming method and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the recipe! 4oz butter, 4oz sugar, 2 eggs and 4oz of self raising flour… I think I made buns non stop for a year after that, before gradually branching into pastry and breads!
Baking and cooking were always encouraged in our house. All three of my sisters can bake and cook, and while my brother has never shown an interest in baking he can certainly cook!
How did you find out about GIBO and what was the audition process like?
My friend Eoghain sent me on a link to the online application form for GIBO. I’d always watching GBBO and said that I’d love to enter it and how I wished there was an Irish version! At the time I was studying for exams, so in typical procrastination mode I spent an evening filling in the form instead of studying! After filling out the form I got an email in late November saying I wouldn’t hear anything until the New Year, so I kind of forgot about it!
Around February I got a phone call to do a telephone interview with the production company. After that I got an invite to come to the production company with something I’d baked and meet the judges. At that point it started to feel real!
I met Biddy and Paul for the first time at that stage. I brought in four different mini rhubarb tarts – rhubarb meringue, rhubarb and ginger lattice, rhubarb and custard and rhubarb with a vanilla mascarpone cheese topping. There was a bit of an interview, I was quizzed on my pastry and then I went home in a daze! A few weeks after that I got a call to come to the final interview stage, a mocked up technical bake!
I think there were three groups of ten brought in at different stages in the day. We were given ingredients and the bones of a profiterole recipe and left to bake for 90 minutes! The judges and production team wandered around asking questions during the bake. It was just like on screen but without cameras! We didn’t get any feedback though so I spent the Easter Bank Holiday weekend wondering if I’d hear back…
Thankfully I got the phone call in work the following Friday to say I’d gotten through to the show and that we would be receiving contracts etc… in the post if I accepted. It was completely surreal!
Are you given advance warning about what you’ll be baking? How much time do you have to practice?
You get sent a recipe request form for your showstopper/signature bakes in advance of the show filming. The turnaround was quite tight on these. I got the call to be a contestant on the 5th of April and filming started the 6th of May! The recipe requests started coming in on 19th of April for the first few episodes, but the recipes for a particular episode had to be submitted well in advance of the episode!
Once you had submitted the recipe it was set in stone, you could practice it in your own time, but you couldn’t fundamentally change it. However I found it was quite expensive with all the trial runs! Thankfully there wasn’t any waste – my co-workers ate some random stuff as I tried out different things!
It seems clear on the GIBO that you all get along really well – is it really just hanging out together for a weekend punctuated by the baking?
The whole experience is quite weird. There are highs and lows. But you have to enjoy what you can when you can. There are times when you’re incredibly stressed and you’ve no idea what you’ve to do for the technical bake or your pistachio bakewell has fallen apart on a tray (thank you episode 2!)… And during those moments you nearly stop to wonder what on earth you were thinking, coming on national TV to cook in a marquee of all things! But then Anna shouts that there are five minutes remaining, you cop yourself on and try to salvage the situation!
As a group we got along so well! There was a lovely friendly atmosphere from the first night. Even though it’s a competition, if you were having a drama someone would help you out without having to be asked. When we didn’t have a breeze what the technical was, we’d discuss what we could do together. It was as much a team effort as a solo one. We were constantly shouting advice around the room. And then between challenges we would hang out together, play cards or read recipes from cookbooks like little baking nerds! We used to go for walks around Clonabreany in the evenings after filming and it was just gorgeous, such a contrast to tent panic!
When it wasn’t tense it was the best time ever. And, as bad as it was, you even appreciated the tense moments! As I stood at my station during the disastrous technical of Episode 2, hopelessly glazing a tart that was beyond saving, I was laughing! Because as bad as it all seemed, at the end of the day, you were only baking!
Who gets to eat all the baked goods anyway?
Judging takes a LONG time. That first episode, where there were 12 of us to be judged and we each had 12 cupcakes – that took forever to film! Generally, once the judges critiqued your creation the cameras would have to be moved. While we were waiting the contestants would have a nibble to break up filming before judging started again! The crew were also very good at eating leftovers. Some of the cameramen went around with forks in their pockets, giving their own reviews! Nothing ever went to waste on set; we would even have some of the baked goods with lunch/dinner.
What do you think is the best thing about being on the Bake Off?
I suppose the best thing was the chance to do something so different! I work in a bank; I do accountancy exams, in my day to day life I don’t get to bake in a tent with a load of really talented and enthusiastic bakers! I’d never been on TV before. I’d never entered a cooking competition before. I didn’t really think they’d even pick me to go on the show! But they did, and it was honestly a fantastic experience. It pushed me outside my comfort zone, it made me try out new recipes, it was the insanely hectic. And I loved it!
And as cheesy as it sounds, I met some incredible people. We all came together so well as a group, we’re all going foraging with Biddy at the weekend! Its great to have this group of people who not only understand exactly what happened during filming but who want to talk about Swiss meringue and sourdough starters! We were all put together for this very bizarre, once in a lifetime experience and we all came away from it as friends with a load of hilarious stories and a strong desire to never cook in a marquee again!… (Maybe…)
Thanks to Aoife for filling us all in – you can cheer her on Thursday nights on TV3!