I was a runner-up on season 12 of ‘The Great British Bake Off’, also known as ‘The Great British Baking Show’ in the US.
I had an amazing experience participating in the baking contest series, but it came with some ups and downs.
Being on the show is a foodie’s dream
People often ask me what skills are needed to get to the iconic white tent, but I can’t say for sure. I applied not expecting to do well on the show, then ended up in the finals.
All I know for sure is that you don’t have to have a ton of experience – I had only cooked for three years before I was on the show, but I have had the best time of my life because I’m obsessed with food.
I sincerely believe that if you have a genuine passion for food and baking, you will thrive in the “Bake Off” environment. You spend every day cooking, testing recipes, talking about pastries, and eating them.
It can be emotionally and physically draining, but if you’re a real foodie, you’ll push past the stress and be truly in your element.
The unsung heroes behind the scenes made the experience wonderful
On screen, all you see are 12 nervous bakers in a tent, two intimidating judges, and hilarious hosts Matt Lucas and Noel Fielding. But there’s a much larger group of people working behind the scenes to make this show happen.
My family and I were so nervous when the show sent a crew to film my first “story” at home. We were expecting a strict, scary bunch of people with cameras, but lo and behold, this was the friendliest crew. They made my first TV experience so enjoyable and easy.
Those times when I talk about the inspiration behind a pastry or the memories of my late grandfather, I wasn’t really talking to myself (although I tend to too). I was talking to a big story producer who was behind the camera and asking me questions.
We also worked with a stellar team of pot washers, who cleaned up our mess (especially my); home economists, who made sure every ingredient we wanted was available; the runners, who helped us with almost anything; and our “care bears”, two adorable producers who took care of us as bakers.
The show gave me incredible opportunities
I’ve always dreamed of having a career in the restaurant business, but until “Bake Off” it seemed out of reach.
I am grateful that the show has opened so many doors for me and led me to incredible opportunities that were unthinkable a year ago. I’ve cooked live on daytime television in the US and UK, met Prince Charles, walked on a catwalk to open the premiere of “Bridgerton” and even interviewed for Vogue.
Most importantly, I’ve built a supportive community on social media that reminds me every day how much I love what I do. It is so rewarding to read the positive and warm comments from my followers and to see them recreate my recipes.
On the other hand, it was hard to see someone leave every week
Even after the first two days in the tent, the 12 bakers had become such a close unit.
That’s probably partly because we were in a COVID-19 bubble – for my season, which was filmed during the coronavirus pandemic, we all stayed in the same hotel and didn’t return home between cooks to security reasons. So we ate together, cooked together and even went for walks together.
It’s a competition and we knew someone had to leave, but we didn’t want them to. “Bake Off” is the least competitive competition because we help each other out and really want everyone to succeed.
We even tried to come up with a new concept for the producers, where the 12 bakers stay the whole season and collect a score at the end of each week, and at the end, the person with the highest score wins. They didn’t buy it.
When every person left, it was heartbreaking. We huddled around their car, wiping the tears from our eyes and saying goodbye to them as we drove away. At least we’re all together now!
Imposter syndrome is hard to deal with
It was a dream to be in “Bake Off”, but I didn’t think I was close to the level required to be part of the series.
I was more of a cook than a baker, and all I really knew was how to make basic cakes with piping techniques I had recently learned.
“Bake Off” isn’t just about baking, though. You need to be smart enough to design creations, imaginative enough to come up with wild designs, and collected enough to handle pressure.
The application process was very intense with multiple rounds of interviews and a ton of forms to fill out, so I decided (with lots of encouragement from my family) that I would apply three times. I thought that on my third attempt I would have more experience under my belt and a better chance of making the series
But my first application resulted in a phone call from the showrunners, and ultimately I managed to get through every round of the casting process. I was excited but freaked out because it wasn’t what I had planned.
I was terrified of the outcome of my baking, especially when I saw the summaries of the challenges. Anti-gravity cake, interactive toy cookie, layered Bavarian dessert surrounded by a Mona Lisa print, I didn’t even know what half of those things meant!
When I got to the tent and saw the caliber of bakers I had to deal with, I called home and told my family, “I’m going to be home in a week. I felt so out of place and incapable.
My family helped me fight impostor syndrome by reminding me that I was there because I loved cooking and needed to have fun and enjoy the experience.
During the semi-final, I experienced another episode of impostor syndrome. I felt like I didn’t deserve to be there and was the weak link of the four remaining competitors. But again, thanks to my family’s words of support, I cooked like it was my last time in the tent.
I ended up with a signature handshake from Paul Hollywood, the title of Star Baker and a place in the final.
Never, ever make a sugar dome
I couldn’t write this whole post and miss one of the most stressful moments in the tent, could I?
The highlight of Caramel Week was making a sugar dome, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, not even my worst enemy.
It’s very hard, you don’t even end up eating it and you’ll probably lose a pound of weight in blood, sweat and tears doing it.
And if you feel like ignoring my unsolicited advice and exposing yourself to the horrors of making a sugar dome, I strongly recommend that you don’t put it on a sticky surface. It will jam and break almost entirely.
Been there, done that. It made for some good TV, though.
Crystelle Pereira was a finalist for season 12 of ‘The Great British Bake Off’. You can find her on Instagram @crystellepereira.