Great British Bake Off: Could it be inspiring the pastry chefs of the future?

By Emma Eversham

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Pastry chefs, Chef

TV show The Great British Bake Off could be inspiring a new generation of pastry chefs, but will they understand the true pressures of the professional kitchen? . Photo: BBC
TV show The Great British Bake Off could be inspiring a new generation of pastry chefs, but will they understand the true pressures of the professional kitchen? . Photo: BBC
The nation's new obsession with home-baking, inspired by the hit TV show Great British Bake Off, could be helping to drive up the number of pastry chefs entering the hospitality industry with colleges reporting an upturn in the number of students enrolling on baking and pastry courses. 

More than 8.4m people tuned in to watch the last episode of the fourth series of Great British Bake Off on Tuesday making the show BBC2's most-watched programme since the current ratings system was introduced in 2002. 

While the show has been popular with viewers, it has also inspired a new generation of bakers and patissiers, with student numbers on University College Birmingham's (UCB) bakery and patisserie courses rising more than 60 per cent since the first series aired in 2010.This year, enrolment numbers have passed 100 for the first time. 

Bake Off effect

The university has even launched a new degree course - Bakery and Confectionery Technology Management - to run from next September, which will include artisan bread making, advanced confectionery and chocolate and product design and development and has received huge interest from potential students already, which Dawn Gemmell, UCB assistant dean and head of bakery attributed to the 'Bake Off effect'. 

“Bake Off has had a massive impact. The show has introduced young people to the subject and reignited older viewers’ passion for making bread and cakes," she said. 

“Back in 1998, we had just 10 first-year students on the course. Last month, 107 enrolled at UCB." 

Gary Hunter, head of culinary arts and hospitality, food and beverage service at Westminster Kingsway College, said he had also seen 'a significant increase' in student numbers on all pastry courses offered at the London college over the last three years with 200 people studying to be pastry chefs this year and agreed that Great British Bake Off was helping. 

He said: "The Great British Bake Off is an excellent programme with a high credibility value among the general public and national media. I think that home bakery had been a largely forgotten past-time until the programme established itself. Now people are realising that perhaps they can make a career out of being a pastry chef, baker or even opening their own small business in this area.

"I also think that chefs such as James Martin, Richard Bertinet, Raymond Blanc and Will Torrent are successfully championing the cause for pastry chefs too. Many of our Professional Chef Diploma students are inspired to seriously consider becoming pastry chefs as a career option when they specialise in their final year with us."

Hard work

While TV shows like Great British Bake Off are inspiring a new generation of pastry chefs and potentially helping the industry find its future talent, professional pastry chefs say there is still work to be done to improve recruitment and retention within pastry. 

"Yes, Bake Off is great and hopefully we'll see an influx of young people going to be pastry chefs but we as an industry have to make it clearer what the next level is and how you get there," said pastry chef and Waitrose consultant Will Torrent. 

"With all due respect to the winners of Great British Bake Off, there is a danger that shows like that are becoming the X Factor of the food industry. Winners get a book deal and are set up for life, but the reality is that it takes a lot of hard work and skill to work as a pastry chef and we need to make it clearer how people can reach their goals." 

Both Torrent and Graham Hornigold, group executive pastry chef at Hakkasan, believe a TV show which shows the professional side of bakery and patisserie, in a similar style to MasterChef: The Professionals, could help promote the industry better and demonstrate the hard work involved. 

"A series like a fly on the wall 'day in the life of a pastry chef' may inspire (like Kings of Pastry) or a format like MasterChef: The Professionals could better demonstrate and motivate young pastry chefs rather than an influx of home bakers," said Hornigold. 

"Chefs coming into the industry must see it for what it is - very hard, demanding, professional and a lifestyle choice, not just a job or somewhere where cupcakes and sticky buns are made. Kitchens are intense and rewards are great should you achieve the level."

Training gap

Martin Chiffers, president of the UK Pastry Team, agreed that while the interest was positive, more work was needed to promote careers in pastry and improve the link between training and jobs.  

"The pastry industry is definitely growing in the UK. Pastry chefs are now becoming more famous, before it was all about the head chef, but we are still far behind countries like Japan who put a lot of effort into their pastry industry and there needs to be a lot more focus on building links with colleges and promoting pastry as a career," he said. 

Hornigold added: "Young pastry chefs are there, however the training received at college does not seem as intense and there is not enough time dedicated to the practical side.

"The best scheme for me is the Westminster Kingsway College PPS pastry scholarship but this is only made truly great if the chef whom is participating has the full backing of their employer. At Hakkasan we ensure all our chefs have a good solid foundation, all potential chefs interview with me and then I offer a trial, we test the basic skill and the trial becomes increasingly more complex dependent on position."

What do you think? Could the Great British Bake Off be helping the industry fill its pastry chef positions, or do we need to show the reality through improved links with colleges and industry and a TV programme about professional pastry chefs? Leave your comment in the box below. 

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