COOKING has undoubtedly been one of the pastimes that people with the time and resources have returned to in the wake of the lockdowns and self-quarantining that have emerged all over the world due to the coronavirus. Baking, especially bread, seems to have emerged on social media as the staple that most people, particularly in North America and Europe, have turned to. While I am certainly not a baker, I have found one foolproof way of connecting with the many people who choose to use the quarantine as an opportunity to bond with their loved ones in this manner, and that is through my bingeing of the BBC baking competition show, “The Great British Bake Off.”
Now, let’s be real. Everyone loves reality cooking competitions. There is just something about the idea of chefs hustling and rushing to cook large batches of visually appealing and delicious food while operating under a short duration of time and with ingredients that they may or may not be familiar with. Anyone who has seen “Chopped” or “The Final Table” knows that someone’s dream can come to an end just because he or she used too little salt or left something cooking for a few seconds longer than it needed to. In cooking competitions, the stakes are high and the tension is real. This is a part of what makes “The Great British Bake Off” so appealing to me, but there is no doubt that there are some other particulars that set this show apart from others of its kind.
“Bake Off,” for example, seems to thrive on being regarded as a good-natured, happy, humorous version of other TV shows where competitors may become manipulative, nasty, or cutthroat in their attempts to win. On the contrary, based on the episodes that I have seen, “Bake Off” often features a cast of diverse bakers who almost always seem to represent the very best in people. The bakers are often kind, helpful (going so far as to aid their competitors when they are running out of time or having a meltdown in the middle of a competitive session), and, most importantly, they always keep the mood of the show light and funny, filled with warmth, a variety of puns, while presenting the viewers with a visual representation of what it means to be determined and perseverant at something that you truly love and are passionate about. Without a doubt, unlike other shows, “Bake Off” is shaped by the people it invites on to the show rather than the format of the show, and this is important because it does seem that the appeal is determined by the competitors, the people who come from everyday walks of life, and not necessarily by the machinations of producers and ‘TV people.’
Then there is the matter of the food. The show has presented a variety of delicacies and, being a complete foodie, this pleases me. Furthermore, “Bake Off” has been truly educational to me in the sense that it has taught me about the many different things that can be made using flour. Additionally, I now have the ability to tell when someone has presented me with pastry that under-baked just by looking at it, along with many other baking-related tidbits of knowledge. The show has also got me thinking about cuisine as art, particularly after seeing how much artistry (sculpting, painting, building) goes into creating everything on the show, from pies shaped into Rapunzel’s tower to a collection of cupcakes that came together to form a sea monster – all truly astounding stuff.
While, I have not been inspired to bake, myself, and I am perfectly content with watching other people make delicious food, I can say that right now I am living through this particular television show in the same way that one lives through “Game of Thrones” or “Killing Eve.” I feel the clock ticking away. I am there with the bakers when they make a mistake or spill something. I feel their emotional reactions when a cake falls or a bun fails to rise, and I also have my own personal favourite bakers to root for. It really is like watching any other TV show.
So, while the world continues to wait out this current situation, and many people choose to bake with their families, or with their cats, or by themselves, I am definitely okay with watching “Bake Off” until everything in the world is resolved. Catharsis, the purging of built-up emotions within the individual, happens in several ways. One way is to cook, to make food. Another way, my choice, is to watch TV shows so I can escape through the lives of the characters and, in this particular case, the charming, talented, and intelligent bakers who appear in “The Great British Bake Off.”