Last Thursday I got a call back saying I had been successful, and was invited to the next stage which was to be Tuesday (yesterday) in London. I was told I needed to take two samples of my baking with me, one sweet and one savoury.
After pulling my hair out over the weekend whilst trying to work out what to bake (many thanks to all those that sent me recipes, especially Ghis who sent me so many I think I could now open a French Patisserie!) I decided to keep it simple and do what I know best. A loaf of bread and a chocolate orange loaf cake. Two things I know will come out correct every time! And after all, to me it wasn't about going out to impress, I just wanted to be me and see what the response was.
So Monday afternoon/evening I baked. The bread didn't get as long as I would have liked to proof (flippin' unreliable freecyclers!) but I was pretty happy with the way everything turned out.
It was the loaf on the right that got selected to join me on my journey, and after an early rise the next morning I had everything packed in an Abel & Cole box and a ticket to get me to London Town - destination, Holborn!
I had chosen a 'slot' of midday, which meant I could miss rush hour and hopefully have a nice relaxed day. The sun shone, and Arlesey train station almost looked pleasant. You can't get away from the token wierdo who thinks he has to try and flag down every passing choo-choo. And they wonder why people don't use public transport!
I got myself into town in good time, made the short tube trip to Holborn, and found my way to the venue.
The note on the door gave me confidence I had found the correct place.
I went in and was seated in a little waiting area with a few other applicants. Firstly I had to plate up my food. Whilst waiting to be seen by the judges we got chatting and it became apparent I was not taking things as seriously as others! Some people had spent hours on their baking, producing some gorgeous looking cakes and pies ... and one guy had even flown over from Belfast!!
The format was that the judges would meet you, taste your food, and you would then get a yes or no. If you got a 'yes' then you hung around to do a piece on camera, and if it was a 'no' you could get into the pub a bit sooner!
It became apparent that you would actually be seen from the judges from the show, however having never watched the programme this didn't really matter to me. It would appear Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood (Mary especially) are quite famous ... however I have just looked on Wiki to get their names, that's how much I know of them! lol. Someone also dropped in that Paul was a bread person ... this gave me some hope as I know I can bake a loaf.
My time came, and I had a great time. Its only brief, but Paul liked my bread. He asked how I got into bread, and I told him my story ... which concludes with Alfie's allergies etc. Paul jumped in with 'but is he allergic to wheat' and I went off on a mini rant about the shite they put in bread these days and how Alfie is fine with my bread. He clearly liked what I had to say, and was extremely complimentary about my loaf and also our approach to allergies. And to top it all Mary really liked the cake, saying that is was beautiful and moist and didn't need anything else. I have modified the recipe a tiny amount, but its pretty much a Nigella recipe so maybe I should pass the praise on to her!
I came out of that room and was immediately told 'Paul really liked you', and shortly after was asked if I could hang around to do my piece to camera. I had made it past the second stage :o).
The piece on camera was basically a short chat about me. I guess its just to see if you are comfortable on camera. Not really a problem for me, and when I found out the lady I'd be speaking to was 6 months pregnant I was full of confidence. A stay at home Dad talking to a pregnant lady - I was never going to be short of stuff to say! After waiting an age my time finally came, and everything went as I planned. We had a LONG conversation about baby related stuff, and a short chat about baking.
With that done it was now gone 3pm. I thought the day would take me an hour, but it had taken nearly 4! I made my way home, expecting to be met at the station by an enthusiastic and proud family. Instead I was alone as they were caught in traffic. Even in the sunshine Hitchin station struggles to look except boring!
After a few minutes my ride home arrived, the occupants overjoyed to see me!
Overall I had a fantastic day. It was really nice to receive compliments on my baking from two people who are very highly regarded, and I met some great people during the day. Now I just wait on a phone call to see if I have progressed. Part of me thinks I'm in with a really strong shout, but part of me really doesn't want to - at £30 a trip it's gonna start getting expensive. Oh, and I am nowhere near good enough to win!