IN SOUTH Africa for less than 48 hours, Tonight managed to bag some time with John Whaite.
He was more than understanding of my nasally voice as he was also trying to shake off a cold.
He laughs: “If I’m sniffling, you know what that’s about.”
A laid-back and unassuming guy, he encompasses that well-worn cliché, “Never judge a book by its cover”.
Whaite might have walked away with the title of the third season of The Great British Bake Off, which is undoubtedly one of the most successful shows for the BBC Lifestyle channel, but not many are aware that he did so while doing his law degree at the University of Manchester. And this was after declining a spot at Oxford University.
Added to his resumé are his Lamda and Rada acting qualifications, not forgetting his diploma in patisserie from the revered Le Cordon Bleu School of Culinary Arts.
With such diverse interests, what attracted him to cooking/baking?
“As a young boy with my family, we spent all our summer and school holidays in the kitchen. I just found it so relaxing and comforting. And then I became obsessed with food in general. I found you can express yourself in the food you create.”
As for his other qualifications, he laughs: “Yeah, they are fallback options. I mean, I enjoyed acting when I was younger. As for the law degree, it was a rule in the family – you have to go to university. I chose law because it has direction and there was a result at the end of it.”
Of his experience on The Great British Bake Off, Whaite recalls: “Even though it was tense and frightening at times, I found it quite enjoyable. I enjoyed how pressurised it was and how it made you feel alive. It was difficult doing that at the same time as my degree. It wasn’t easy, to say the least. Sometimes the most difficult things are most enjoyable.”
Challenges aside, especially when he made the Torte Noir with Boozy Cream in episode four, he did take a few tips from judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood.
He shares: “I learnt all sorts of technical things. I also learnt that even though you are passionate about food, sometimes you don’t have to take yourself so seriously. I realised I can be a bit of a control freak in the kitchen.”
And he has had his highlights along the way.
“My sweetest victory was my Gingerbread Roman Colosseum. That was a difficult thing to do. I had over a 100 pieces to assemble.
“Other fond memories were going out with my good friend Cathryn, from the competition, for a few drinks afterwards.”
And his victorious streak continues as his exclusive artisan chocolate shop, The Hungry Dog Artisan Chocolates, opened earlier this year.
“It’s doing well. I think I have created a monster. I get e-mails from people who can’t get enough. The name ‘Hungry Dog’ was something my granddad used to say. He was a farmer – a man of the countryside. Whenever I was struggling with a decision, he used to always say: ‘The hungry dog, hunts best’. It means, if you know what you want, you go out and get it.”
To the new batch of contestants in season four, he says: “If you do get on, make sure you enjoy it. Do lots of research and practice.”
On the indulgences of the chocolatier himself, he confesses: “I like my Black Dog chocolate, which is a mixture of Guinness stout, blackcurrant puree and dark chocolate. It is so satisfying.
“Comfort food? Obviously, I like cake. If I’m hungover, a dirty pizza is always good for me.”
Before saying goodbye, he notes: “I will definitely come back, but in the summer. It is freezing here right now.”
A warm person with a refreshing personality. A winner in every way that counts.
• The Great British Bake Off season four starts on Tuesday, July 29 at 8pm on BBC Lifestyle (DStv channel 174).