Life is what you bake it!
Meet Faenia Moore – the unsung heroine behind the nation’s favourite TV show
Get ready for Bake Off! Here’s the hero from behind the scenes
Let’s be honest, most of us would be the size of a suburban semi-detached if we worked on The Great British Bake Off. Woman cannot live by bread alone – and she doesn’t have to when there’s peanut salted caramel and chocolate tart going begging! But the truth is, you can have too much of a good thing. Take it from Faenia Moore. She has the definition of the perfect job, if you want a licence to stuff yourself silly. For almost eight years, she’s been home economist on the nation’s favourite TV show. Not a post for the fainthearted, it takes military levels of organisation and knockout baking know-how. And it’s not, apparently, work you can do while in a carb coma!
That’s why Faenia rarely, if ever, eats any bakes on Bake Off. ‘Well, I might if it was bread week, but it’s a rocky road,’ says the 35-year-old, who lives in Bristol. ‘I’m not really into sugar, and I’m already oversaturated with sugar, butter, eggs and flour from casting the contestants, because I have to taste what they make. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate what’s baked on the show. What the bakers create is really amazing. And everything is eaten – there’s plenty of crew and they’re locusts!’
Faenia favours lighter bites while on set. ‘Ryvita, tomatoes and avocado is my staple food. If you’re working 16 hours a day, I found out the hard way that eating carbohydrates at lunch is not a good idea – all my energy was zapped.’
Here, Faenia whets our appetite for Bake Off’s return with a look behind the scenes…
‘Thousands apply and, first of all, we carry out phone interviews. You immediately get a feeling if someone knows what they’re talking about. I start meeting people with the casting team in December. Each potential contestant brings a
sweet and a savoury bake. My job sounds like one of the most wonderful in the world, but when you’re meeting 50 people at a time, tasting 100 things over 10 hours, the novelty can wear off.
We see hundreds over a couple of months and I have to keep up my energy. It’s like marking an exam: you want the first person to receive as much attention as the last, so there’s a lot of digging deep and palate cleansing. I take minuscule bites, but I can kind of tell just by looking at a bake if it’s going to taste amazing.
DING, DING – ROUND TWO
Next, they bake something. This is to see how they cook and if they’re going to be comfortable in front of the cameras. If someone’s shy but their food is astonishing, then fine. People like this can gain confidence. It’s up to the big bosses to choose the final 12 and it’s totally based on ability. That’s why the programme is a success. It’s not about filling demographics or choosing someone with a sob story – all the contestants can bake.
Before filming, I spend a month organising wholesalers and checking equipment. You have to be organised. There’s a team of three home economists and we’re a pretty slick unit at this stage. Each week during filming, I have my office day, then an on-site prep day in the kitchen. We decant ingredients into jars and put fruit in bowls – it’s got to look pretty, and we dress the tent to make sure it looks nice. The night before filming, everything is put in place: contestants have a fridge shelf with their picture on it, plus everything is labelled and their specialist equipment is ready. By the next morning, we’re good to go.
STANDING THE HEAT
We buy new ovens every series and these are calibrated by the people who make them. If you set one to 180°C, then it heats to exactly 180°C. A sponge is baked in every oven before each episode, so that we know that nobody’s has a hotspot. Those cakes are then used for dressing the set. All tasks need lots of equipment. For the technical challenges, everything has to be identical. If one baker had a disaster while another did well, one might say: “But she’s got a different whisk…” It sounds ridiculous, but it might happen.
THE VITAL INGREDIENTS
I source and order all the ingredients for the show. We get a lot delivered at once to be as environmentally friendly as possible and try to buy large quantities wholesale, so we don’t have to buy five million packets of something. If a challenge involves a 1kg of ground almonds, for instance, that could mean buying 10 packets from a supermarket, so we buy in bulk instead.
Our eggs come from a local farmer, our flour from a local mill and our butter from a local dairy. Contestants might say: “I’d like tinned peaches from Tesco” or “I’d like Waitrose Strong Flour” because that’s what they’ve used to prepare for the show. It makes a difference, so we go with it.
I’m pretty good at resolving issues, so nothing has been detrimental to filming so far. In the second series, the freeze-dried raspberries didn’t arrive in the post. My assistant and I ended up buying 30 packets of Special K cereal and picking out the freeze-dried raspberries!
THE CHALLENGE OF CHALLENGES
Food producer Lucy has to come up with The Challenge Grid this year with judges Prue and Paul. It gets harder each series. You want familiar bakes, but also new things to test people. You don’t need too many prinsesstårta, though. That was intense! With 124 ingredients, it’s the most complicated bake we’ve done. That was a long prep day. I thought: “Can we not do beans on toast? That’d be a great technical…” Next series, maybe.
KEEPING UP WITH TRENDS
Bakers have requested lots of flaked coconut this year and they’ve been using airbrush guns, for which you need special paint. We have somebody using a spice called Grains of Paradise, too – it’s a bit like peppercorns. I source ingredients like this from specialists online.
We have somebody on standby at the supermarket in case we need anything during filming. We buy so much at a time. Whenever supermarket staff ask: “What are you doing?”, I make up stuff. I once said: “I’m cooking for the village fair…” Another time I said it was for a surprise birthday party for my sister. We never say it’s for Bake Off.’
Paul Hollywood, Faenia and Prue Leith on set