Bread's my nememsis says Essex Great British Bake Off hopeful James
PUBLISHED: 19:00 04 September 2017
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Essex baker James talks about his rhubarb addiction, his nememis bread and what it's like in the Great British Bake Off tent.
James blames his dad for his passion for baking, describing his rock buns as the gateway drug to hardcore carb addiction. He’s still James’ official taste tester.
“He worked nights so the weekends were when we got to spend a lot of time together and he has a sweet tooth so we often made cakes and bakes. Rock buns are his staple, followed by crumbles, bread puddings, bread and butter puddings, vinegar fruit cake and pies. He is also a big jam maker and we still swap recipes and jars of jams and chutneys.”
An allotment owner, James uses seasonal, fresh and local ingredients. He has a great selection of soft fruits and rhubarb which often find their way into his bakes.
“I’m addicted to rhubarb, to me that is the sign summer is on its way. Rhubarb is quintessentially British and when it is in season I can go a little crazy on it, from crumbles, compotes, filled biscuits to tarts, cakes and curds,” says James, who’s lived in Essex and East London all his life apart from a few years when he moved to Chicago for work.
“Having an allotment it is often feast and famine, so by late summer we are often overrun with produce as we always plant too much. That’s when we have to get creative - courgette and lime cakes, beetroot and chocolate brownies and the one I have not cracked yet, a fennel and citrus cake. By late summer my dad starts his jam and chutney making and it does get bizarre, his favourites being runner bean chutney and marrow and ginger jam.”
Born in Barking, growing up in Ilford and buying his first flat in Goodmayes, James finally settled in Brentwood. He jokes he’s gently moving east until he hits the sea. His family egged him on to enter this year’s Great British Bake Off.
“I am so glad I applied and the whole family are so proud of me. I love spending time in the kitchen baking with my two boys, passing on what knowledge I can, just like my dad did to me. They now also have the bug, maybe they’re the next generation of Bake Off bakers in the making. I love competition with camaraderie and I wanted to push my baking forward so I thought why not do that on the biggest baking show in the UK. Hmmm, maybe I should have thought this through a bit more before I applied.”
He’s loved the show since day one and his biased family thought he could knock out a decent biscuit. Bread, however, has always been his nemesis.
“As a child I remember baking a loaf of bread with my dad that was as solid as a house brick. When we threw it out in the garden all the birds tweeted with a lisp for months after trying to peck it. I am sure it is probably still in the garden like a lump of granite. So all through my life I avoided making it. I have now become passionate about making bread and can now make an excellent sourdough loaf. At last I can put my nemesis behind me.”
Being in the tent was everything James imagined and more. It’s exactly as you see it on TV.
“The first time I walked into the tent I was grinning like the Cheshire Cat. It took a while to sink in that I was on a programme which I had followed since the first series and had fallen in love with,” he adds.
“Stepping behind a pastel bench and tying the apron for the first time was nerve-racking and exciting. Everyone was so friendly, helpful and most importantly fun which put me at ease. It truly is a large family, I do not think I have ever laughed so much. I enjoyed every minute.”
James says new hosts Noel Fielding and Sandie Toksvig were so warm and friendly, adding they loved a good natter and were exceptionally quick witted and hysterically funny.
“They were always there to pick us up when needed and have a laugh and a joke with us. I just wish they would adopt me. Prue (Leith, who replaced Mary Berry) is a legend and has a phenomenal depth of knowledge, her wit is also as sharp as a tack. I loved her style in providing direct and very fair feedback. She just wanted us bakers to learn and improve and I always took the feedback in that vein. To have the opportunity to get feedback from Prue and Paul is priceless.”