Eastern Eye (UK)

Fresh new talent rises up on reality television

THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF FINALIST CRYSTELLE PEREIRA RECALLS HER EXPERIENCE OF COMPETING ON THE HIT SHOW

- By PRIYA MULJI

THE Great British Bake Off has become one of the most popular reality TV shows on the planet and the recently concluded season 12 had a strong British Asian presence, with Crystelle Pereira and Chigs Parmar coming runners up.

Client relationsh­ip manager Crystelle used her brilliant baking skills to reach the final and became a firm favourite with millions tuning in each week.

Eastern Eye caught up with the finalist to discuss her amazing The Great British Bake Off journey and future plans. She also gave baking tips.

What first connected you to baking? I’ve loved cooking from a very young age. I used to watch my mum in the kitchen cooking, while she would feed me extra food on the side, which is where I learnt the basics of cooking. However, as time went by, my sisters (who both can’t cook but convenient­ly love carbs and sugar) started demanding cake and bread from me. So naturally, my cooking expanded, and I started to teach myself the basics of baking.

What drew you to The Great British Bake Off? I’ve always been a huge fan of the show, but never ever envisaged myself being a part of it. As I started to do more baking, particular­ly over the past year, my sisters began paying attention to bakes I would be whipping up and started telling me to apply for Bake Off.

What was your initial reaction? (Laughs) I just said ‘no way José – have you seen what they make on Bake Off?’ But then they said to me ‘Crystelle, have you seen what you make? So that’s when I started to consider applying. I then had a chat with my dad, who really inspired me to apply. He chased his dreams at a really young age, arriving in the UK from Kenya almost penniless and just worked incessantl­y until he managed to start his own business. So, he just told me to do it and stop waiting around for the ‘perfect moment’. I realised that I had nothing to lose and should just pluck up the courage to apply.

How was the experience of being on the show? I can say with confidence that this has genuinely been the best experience of my entire life. I like to call it ‘partly a holiday, partly an intensive baking camp’. I am taking away a group of 11 new friends who are such special people to me. Additional­ly, food is such a huge part of my life, and being able to spend so many weeks in the Bake Off tent, living and breathing all things baking, was quite literally a dream come true for me. I will be eternally grateful for the opportunit­y to do what I love, and on such a big scale.

Was there any aspect of the show that you found challengin­g? I think almost every single technical challenge! I consider myself a planner; I love having timetables and itinerarie­s for everything and hate the unknown. So, naturally, I knew that technical challenges would throw me. The worst of the pack was probably those dreaded ciabatta breadstick­s where I stupidly

convinced myself that a ‘long prove, short bake’ strategy was the way forward and boy, was I wrong? I can never look at breadstick­s in the same way again.

Have your baking skills improved throughout the show? Absolutely! I have really surprised myself with how much I have learnt throughout the process. My baking skills were pretty basic before applying, and I got my first stand mixer for my 25th birthday last year. So, if you told me this time last year that I would be making entremets, layered bavarois desserts, and cakes that defy gravity, I think I would have just laughed hysterical­ly!

Why do you think the show is so loved around the world? I know that, as a viewer, Bake Off and particular­ly the final episode, would always give me a lump in my throat, because it was just so emotional. I think, as viewers, we find ourselves becoming so attached to the bakers because everyone wears their heart on their sleeve, and that’s what makes the show extra special.

What else makes it special? There is just something so wholesome about Bake Off, isn’t there? The camaraderi­e between bakers and the friendship­s that form amongst us, the diversity amongst the bakers (which means that every person in that tent brings something unique and true to them), and the almost magical setting of that iconic, white tent, all work in harmony to create such a special show.

What was the experience of being in the final like? Honestly, I cannot explain the feeling of shock. I never in a million years thought I would make it into the tent in the first place, let alone make it through week one or the damn final. I never mentioned the final in the run up to Bake Off and didn’t think about it. It was just so unattainab­le, and the prospect of getting there was so unrealisti­c, so I just focussed on having a good time and doing my best. The Bake Off final is one of those iconic moments I have watched on TV for so many years, and being a part of it was beyond my wildest dreams. The feeling was surreal and pretty magical.

What has the experience of being in the public and press eye been like? It’s crazy, but a lovely sort of crazy. It sounds strange but I often forgot that other people in the country were watching me on TV and following my journey. I’ve never met anyone with the same name as me, so even hearing my own name on TV has been mind-boggling. I’ve had quite a few selfie requests on my way to work, which has been lovely but bizarre. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that.

What about any negativity? To the extent possible, I’ve tried to avoid certain social media platforms like Twitter, which are more prone to negativity. It’s easier said than done, but I’ve always tried to not take any negative comments personally or seriously. As long as my family, friends, and more importantl­y, myself are proud of what I have achieved, then I’m happy.

What is the secret of great baking? I don’t have years of experience to be able to give you the best technical tricks of the trade, but what I will say is, bake from the heart. I love feeding people! Having friends and family over and making them a feast is my way of showing love. You’ll have probably noticed that during the competitio­n, where I dedicated most of my bakes to family members. For me, my family are the easiest place to draw inspiratio­n from, and when you are baking with someone in mind, you will always put in a little more effort to make sure it is extra special.

Would you give us a top baking tip? I would just say don’t give up. Things rarely go well the first time you try something out, and the more you practise, the more you will learn about the art and science of baking. And don’t be afraid to push the boat out with flavours too!

What about tips for a novice baker? There are so many different aspects to baking, and you’re definitely not expected to master them all. Start with basic recipes in one discipline (like cakes), and as you gain more confidence, you can start exploring other discipline­s like bread, and you’ll soon find out what is your favourite discipline, and own baking style too. Don’t try and do everything in one go!

What is the plan after Bake Off? I love my day job but would love to showcase more Portuguese-Goan cuisine because it’s something I am so passionate about. India is a huge country, and I don’t think we appreciate how much the cuisine varies as you travel between different states and cities. I love trying different cuisines and experiment­ing with my flavours, so it would be amazing to travel the world (once Covid allows), try new whacky foods, and document the whole journey. I would love to do more with food, whether that’s more baking and cooking, recipe developing or educating people about my cuisine.

I’ll just take one step at a time and see where that gets me.

‘My baking skills were basic before’

What inspires you? My inspiratio­ns are a mixture of cooks and bakers – Nigella has got to be up there, as well as pastry chef Dominique Ansel for his immense creativity and innovation. And of course, my aunty Hazel, who handed down to me all of her piping nozzles, which are now my prized possession­s.

 ?? ?? BEST BATCH: Crystelle Pereira
BEST BATCH: Crystelle Pereira
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 ?? ?? SWEET SUCCESS: Crystelle Pereira at The
Great British Bake Off
SWEET SUCCESS: Crystelle Pereira at The Great British Bake Off

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