BAKE OFF ’S DAVID ATHERTON
REIGNING Great British Bake Off champion David Atherton is releasing his very first cookbook, appropriately named My First Cook Book. It’s jam-packed with healthy takes on breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and everything else in between! We caught up with David to discuss his new book, early baking memories and, of course, Bake Off. ▮ How does it feel to be releasing your first book?
I guess people have different dreams, don’t they? For me, having used cookbooks my whole life, I’ve always thought: “Well, this is what other people do!” So, yeah, it’s pretty exciting.
▮ Tell us about it, because it’s not just about baking, is it?
No, it’s definitely a cookbook! I just care about food and people learning about food in general. I’m definitely not a just a baker. I probably cook way more than I bake. You’ll find lots of different things [in the book]. It covers all different times of day, as well: breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, treats, party food, etc. But they’ve all got a sort of healthier slant. It’s quite lazy to just use sugar and butter for everything, because you can bake some really soft, sweet-tasting cakes by using vegetables and fruits and things. This book is good for you! Good and tasty.
▮ Is it true that you’ve been cooking since you were the same age as First News readers?
Yeah! We’re quite a big family – there are seven of us, and my mum just used to treat the kitchen like a playground for us. She was a fantastic cook and baker. We had homemade bread our whole lives; we never had store-bought bread. My mum would be constantly working with bread dough, so we’d spend hours just playing with it. She was quite a hippy, too, so we’d always make our own yogurts and grow our own vegetables. We just learned everything about food.
▮ What was your signature dish when you were younger?
I think scones – they’re quite quick, so kept my interest. I love when they’re freshly made and they’re all soft and you can choose different jams and toppings to put on them. Jam on before cream, for sure.
▮ Lockdown caused a baking boom. What was going on in your kitchen during lockdown?
Well, in my kitchen, my partner wanted to learn about sourdough bread, so I was teaching him about sourdough and now I can’t go anywhere near it! He’s doing it all the time now. But, to be honest, a lot of the time I’ve been turning to the same old recipes because it gives you comfort and a sense of normality. So yeah, I’ve been cooking and baking a lot of my favourite things.
▮ If someone wants to give baking a go for the first time, where should they start?
The easiest thing would be to buy my book, ha ha! No, you should keep it simple. Baking and being in the kitchen can bring so much joy, because you’re creating something and then eating it. If you pick something complicated, you are just going to be disappointed. Find a really nice simple recipe first and take it from there. But also, do the things you actually want to eat! If you don’t like choux pastry, then don’t make chocolate éclairs; if you love bread, then make some burger buns or something.
▮ We have to ask, is Bake Off as stressful as it looks?
Well, I was known for being the stress-free guy! But, yeah, it’s stressful. It’s exactly how you see it on the programme. You really do walk into the tent and get stuck in. If you want to go to the toilet, you have to run out of the tent, go across the grass and go to the loo. And no-one stops the time for you – that’s your time you’re using up! And if something starts going wrong, no-one can help you. So, yes, it’s definitely stressful. Oh, and you have to remember, as it goes on week after week, you’re becoming more and more sleep-deprived [not getting enough sleep]. Seventy thousand people applied and I was only a reserve, so I was brought in last-minute anyway. I think for that reason, I really did just enjoy each episode and also, I think I was philosophical. I was like: “Well, I can only do what I can do. There’s no point stressing about being better than I am!”
▮ Matt Lucas is joining the Bake Off this year – how do you think he’ll fill Sandi Toksvig’s shoes? Do you think he’s a good fit?
Yes, definitely. I love Sandi! I’ve watched Sandi on telly since I was a kid. She was the most special person I met on Bake Off. As soon as I saw Matt Lucas’s name, I was like: “He is so Bake Off.” The only thing I worry about is that Noel Fielding is as crazy as he appears, so I just wonder how the producers are going to keep control of both of them!
My First Cook Book by David Atherton, with illustrations by Rachel Stubbs, is out now