While Mary Berry and co take a break, the search is on for Britain's best bakery – and it's going to get heated!
22:00 GMT, 23 November 2012
For those left with a gaping hole in their lives after John Whaite’s magnificent Heaven and Hell cake brought the curtain down on the latest series of The Great British Bake Off, there’s reason to rejoice.
Hot on its heels comes a new baking contest, a cross between Bake Off and The X Factor, which sees 36 bakeries from around the country putting their shops, their signature buns and their speciality cakes up for inspection by two judges in a bid to be crowned Britain’s Best Bakery.
But Peter Sidwell, the Lake District baker who first starred in Lakes On A Plate on Channel 4 two years ago and shares the judging duties with celebrity cake-maker Mich Turner, is keen to stress that although the show’s all about baking, Britain’s Best Bakery is dealing with people’s livelihoods rather than their hobbies.
Judges Mich Turner and Peter Sidwell join an epic search to crown one British bakery the best in the country in a brand new national baking competition
‘We’re different to Bake Off in that our bakers throw every hour of the day into their work and, with their reputations on the line, were desperate to win.
'We visited different regions of the country to pit three local bakeries against each other, judging not only the contestants’ skills, but their businesses too. We marked them on appearance, atmosphere and produce, and then asked them to bake their speciality for us.’
His co-judge Mich Turner runs couture bakery Little Venice Cake Company, which has created cakes for the Queen, Madonna and the Beckhams, among others.
‘When Mich and I met we instantly hit it off,’ says Peter, ‘but we have totally different styles of baking. She works in London’s posh Marylebone at the very high end, decorating cakes for privileged people. She’s very methodical and delivers a perfect product, whereas I’ll open a cupboard, grab anything I can find and throw a new dish together on the spot.
'So we didn’t always agree with each other’s verdicts and some of the closest calls ended in hours of fierce debate, because we knew just how devastating it would be for some of these bakeries not to win.’
Peter, who lives in Cockermouth, Cumbria, with school teacher wife Emma, 35, and children Poppy, four, and Thomas, nine months, might never have been anywhere near a muffin tin if it hadn’t been for a near tragedy at the age of 15. ‘I was playing rugby for my county and dreaming of a professional career.
Shaun and Chrissy Bryant of the Broughton Village Bakery
'Then I fell off a balcony on holiday in Germany and fractured my skull so I had to give rugby up. I was utterly lost without it, and to be honest I could easily have gone off the rails, but my mother stepped in and made me ask for a job in the local pub kitchen. It turned my life around.’
He now runs his own cookery school and restaurant, and full-blown TV stardom beckons as the nation falls in love with baking. ‘It’s the new rock’n’roll,’ says Peter.
‘With more people learning how to do it, expectations of what they want from their local bakery are higher. Bake Off has had a huge effect on people. We met several bakers who’d never baked before they saw that show – then threw in everything they had to start a bakery.’
One such couple are Shaun and Chrissy Bryant, who decided on a whim to sell everything and open a bakery. ‘Shaun worked in the prison service and I worked in a school, but we both felt our jobs were going a little stale,’ says Chrissy, 44, without a hint of irony.
‘Then we heard about a bakery and caf for sale. Shaun once read a book about baking bread, so we thought, “Why not” We were living in our dream house, a beautiful three-bedroom bungalow in Kendal, but we had to sell it. We came down to Broughton in Furness last October to the Broughton Village Bakery and Caf – and I remember thinking, “What have we done We’ve sold our entire lives!”’
The couple moved into a tiny apartment above the bakery and set about learning how to bake. ‘To begin with we worked 16 hours a day, with Shaun throwing himself into the baking and me learning to manage the books,’ says Chrissy.
‘We went from dabbling with a couple of loaves at home to suddenly producing hundreds of loaves and cakes every day. We had a few disasters, but no matter how exhausted or disheartened we feel, we wake up the next day and look forward to baking.’
Another Best Bakery hopeful is Duncan Glendinning, 30, from Bath, who was a successful web designer when he baked his first loaf five years ago. ‘I haven’t looked back since,’ he says, ‘I became hooked on trying to cook the perfect loaf. I had a 30,000 salary and lots of spare time, but I realised baking was what I wanted to do so I gave it all up to work six days a week, from 5am every day, setting up the Thoughtful Bread Co.’
So why didn’t he simply apply to The Great British Bake Off ‘The contestants on Bake Off are amateurs who’ll simply go back to their day job if they don’t win. We’re an established bakery with everything to lose if we don’t come across well.’
As for Peter Sidwell, with his TV profile set to rise faster than one of his loaves, how would he feel if Britain’s Best Bakery started to earn him the sort of admiring female attention Paul Hollywood’s been getting
‘I’ve met Paul and I don’t think I’m anything like him,’ Peter says flatly. ‘I’m no heart throb. I’m just passionate about food and baking.’
Britain’s Best Bakery, Monday to Friday, 4pm, ITV1.