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So you want to be a (great British) baker? Tips from inside the kitchen

 

As the country immerses itself in the latest series of The Great British Bake Off, meet two chefs who are not only inspired by the programme but are an inspiration themselves.

The oven gloves are off as contestants compete in one of the nation’s favourite TV cooking competitions: The Great British Bake Off. As the 7th series of the hit show hots up, wannabe pastry chefs are already planning their careers in the kitchen.

Baking and baked goods have always been part of the British culture, but the BBC 1 programme has sparked a surge in interest in baking in the U.K. One fan of the show is Beth Douglas, pastry chef de partie at Crieff Hydro, part of Crieff Hydro Family of Hotels. She admits that TV cookery programmes and Pinterest provide inspiration for her. But her interest in baking goes back much further than The Great British Bake Off.

Beth shone in home economics at high school in Crieff, Perthshire but it wasn’t until she started helping out in the kitchen at Crieff Hydro – where she was also a part-time waitress – that she saw the possibility of a career in the kitchen.

Realising a love for baking, she is now the youngest of an all-female team of pastry chefs at the luxury Perthshire hotel. Now, as pastry chef de partie, she works in the main kitchen making cakes for the Wintergarden Café, one of six eating places in the resort. She also occasionally helps prepare food for fine dining restaurant Meikle, and for functions.

“It can seem intimidating as this is a very big hotel,” says Beth of a resort that includes 200 bedrooms and 50 self-catering units. “But the kitchen is split into little teams so that makes it easier.” Teams are arranged according to sections of the kitchen, each called a partie, in a system that dates back to the late 19th century.

Last year Beth was given the challenge of creating a selection of cakes and baked goods from scratch; up until then the Wintergarden ordered in cakes from an outside supplier. But it’s a challenge this young chef has relished.

Beth isn’t college trained. Instead she learned as she went along, by watching her fellow pastry chefs and by developing her own ideas. Experimentation is key when you’re a pastry chef and Beth says she’s lucky to have the backing of a kitchen and an executive chef that gives her creative space. “They give me a lot of scope to try things out and follow through different ideas,” she says.

That’s how executive chef Bruce Price operates – by trusting his brigade of 45 chefs to do their job, and giving them flexibility to put their own stamp on dishes.

And it’s how Jen Thomson, head chef at The Park Hotel in Peebles, a sister hotel to Crieff Hydro, works too. “Being a chef is all about being creative, and in my mind that’s not something that should be stifled in any way. That said, of course we have kitchen rules to adhere to, and the traditional hierarchy of the kitchen. But within that, I’m open to ideas from my brigade of chefs.”

Like Beth, Jen and her staff get inspiration from TV programmes like The Great British Bake Off. Says Jen: “Our customers are watching these TV shows too, so in a way having all of professional cooking and baking on TV, and the spin-off cookery books, raises the bar for us. It’s raising customer expectations and in a customer service industry that’s only a good thing.”

The Crieff Hydro group of hotels is open-minded when it comes to their new chefs’ qualifications. Although Andy Brodie, group executive development chef with the Crieff Hydro group of hotels, sees the benefit of young chefs attending a catering course at college, he says it’s not for everyone. “Beth has a talent for picking things up quickly. A college environment would be boring for her. In her case there’s more to be learned by going straight into the kitchen environment.”

Ask her what she loves to bake and Beth says simply: “Anything that makes people say wow.” The wow factor isn’t easy to achieve, however, as The Great British Bake Off has shown. Contestant Louise Williams’ gingerbread church fell apart last week during the Showstopper challenge and she was shown the door. This week, Val Stones’ Showstopper, an elaborate bread Noah’s ark, drew criticism for its apparently unrecognisable ‘animals’.

As for the future, Beth hopes one day to open her own “little tea house – with good food and home baked cakes”.

[Beth’s piece of advice]

‘Get yourself into a kitchen’

Beth’s advice for future chefs is this: “Get yourself a decent collection of cookbooks to look through, watch cooking programmes, and experiment at home. Then go for it! Get yourself into a kitchen for some work experience and just take things from there. So long as you’re interested, passionate and enthusiastic about food I personally don’t think going to college is completely necessary.”

  • Catch The Great British Bake Off every Wednesday at 8pm on BBC 1.