John Whaite - Great British Bake Off winner opens cookery school in Wrightington
PUBLISHED: 11:43 21 March 2016
Introducing our new food and drink columnist John Whaite. Emma Mayoh went to meet him at his new cookery school
The pressure John Whaite felt when he took part in – and eventually won – The Great British Bake Off is nothing compared with the tension building at his family home in Lancashire. This Easter, the whole family will be battling out to make the best food for the holiday celebrations.
‘It is like being back on Bake Off,’ John said. ‘Everyone thinks they have made the best cake. My sister says she knows hers will be the best. She’ll say “I don’t need to have a competition, I know mine is better”. But I secretly know mine is.
‘We always try to make an occasion of our family get togethers. We have Sunday roast together as much as possible and Easter is great fun. ‘
Although he had originally planned to become a lawyer – he was sitting his final exams at University of Manchester when he won the BBC television competition - food has been his love supreme. From his childhood, growing up on a dairy farm in Wrightington he has been surrounded by British produce and he has learned the importance of local producers from mum, Linda. His first job was at his mum and dad’s fish and chip shop in Eccleston where he used to peel potatoes aged just ten. Before that he showed signs of wanting to make a living from food selling pick and mix to his school friends, under his teachers’ radars.
After winning Bake Off, John, now 26, made the inevitable move to London to keep up with the demands success brought. His weeks are often spent doing interviews, recipe development, television and food festival appearances as well as his regular spot as resident chef on Lorraine. He also spent time studying at Le Cordon Bleu. But next month he will move back north with partner, Paul Atkins, a designer also from Lancashire.
Not only will it mean he will get more time to spend with his family – a big reason for moving back to Lancashire – but it also means he has lots more time to focus on his new cookery school. He’s spent two years converting a 400-year-old listed barn on his family’s farm with the help of local contractors and his brother-in-law, Stephen. He launched it at the beginning of January and within a few days of being open, his cookery classes and lessons were getting fully booked.
John is offering everything from baking and cookery to chocolate and patisserie – the afternoon tea course is the one in most demand. He’s running it with one of his sisters, Jane Tasker, who is kitchen manager.
‘People love hearing the banter we have between us,’ he said. ‘It’s a fun way to spend time with my sister too. We call each other Maureen and Maud and it seems to have stuck.
‘People want to hear about Bake Off, of course, but that’s nice because that’s been a big part of what’s happened for me. My original plan was to have the cookery school in the house but then we started looking at the barn. It’s where my mum used to store her hundreds of bottles of Flash cleaner. Goodness knows where it is now.
‘The cookery school is all about learning how to cook but also learning how to enjoy it. I want other groups to use it too, organisations like the Clandestine Cake Club and other local groups. I knew it would be popular because there isn’t really anything like this but I didn’t imagine just how busy we would be.’
Next month he will also release his third cookery book, Perfect Plates in Five Ingredients, which focuses on pared back cooking using easier to follow methods. In April, he will also be on a new television programme, The Chopping Block, with Rosemary Shrager.
‘For me, food has gotten a bit complicated over the past few years. You don’t have to have a big list of ingredients to create delicious, fulfilling plates of food.
‘This book is about allowing the ingredients speak for themselves. It doesn’t take trickery or molecular gastronomy to prepare good food.
‘I’m really excited about the book. But also about moving back. I’ve really missed Lancashire and I’m looking forward to getting back here.’