What’s Missing from Season 8 of The Great British Bake Off
The finale of the new season was last week, and intrepid fans can track down many of the episodes on YouTube. If you don’t, there’s a chance you’ll never see this new version, kitted out with a new judge, two new hosts, and the same Paul Hollywood. PBS is not sure they’ll air these new seasons, and may air an old season instead (Americans so far have not had access to a few earlier seasons of the Great British Baking Show; again, you can scoop these up on YouTube).
The new hosts are great. Prue Leith is a gem. The episodes are entertaining and eerily similar. There’s a feeling like really nothing has changed: The setting is the same, the cast is full of standout characters, British bon mots and good bakes are still thrown around like so much loose flour.
But still, there’s a loss. Change is weird and hard and inevitable. Sometimes you need to reflect on the past to barrel ahead into the present. Before we’re handed our fresh hosts and judge, what will we remember of the originals? What have we learned from Mary, Mel, and Sue?
Mary Berry: A Field Guide to Authentic Kindness and Work Ethic
I want to be way, way more like this person.
Work: Baking, particularly in this context, is a process with no shortcuts. Thoughtfulness and time management are critical. You can’t just make a good sponge cake; you must make good use of time, temperature, and attention. Mary Berry’s love of a solid work effort is shown through her appreciation of “layers.”
Yes, she says the word in a truly scrummy way, but the focus is on being focused. You have to really pay attention to what you’re doing; you have to really do it right to get perfect layers. She offers bakers this challenge: I trust that you are not only proficient enough to do this, but proficient enough to do this well. I’ll be looking for those crisp layers.
Take a lesson from the maestro of British baked goods: Pay attention. Tune in. Have the vulnerability to try to make the perfect layers that you know you’re capable of making. Show yourself your power and mastery, and then eat it with your hands.
Have the vulnerability to try to make the perfect layers that you know you’re capable of making.
Kindness: Do you ever think all that motivating with a carrot versus a stick stuff is ridiculous and we would all do well if we wrapped our minds around just being kind human beings? If, instead of manipulating the people around us, we simply took criticism with compassion and our praise with sincerity?
Mary Berry never snaps or shames. She always looks for something kind to say and it’s sincere. A falling-apart cake will still be praised for its flavor, a flavorless biscuit commended for its snap. This is what it looks like to be an optimist, to be sincere. To expect the best, and to nurture the people in your care to be their best. There’s no drama in her instructions. Unlike Paul Hollywood, who will periodically employ loaded looks and pauses, Mary Berry comes right out and says what’s on her mind.
It’s refreshing to watch contestants on a show not be abused for entertainment. I can barely watch shows in this genre, because there’s usually so much “Here’s a million ways to call you, a very nervous person who probably hasn’t slept or had a proper meal in a few days, a terrible failure with no hope at all. Go home and live your miserable life. Godspeed.” Who wants to deal with that? Aren’t we watching a variation on this play out politically every single day? (Mary Berry for Cake President of the Universe.)
Mary Berry respects contestants. She nurtures them. She offers thoughtful advice. She doles out sincere compliments. There is no manipulation, no push and pull. It’s like observing a good professor interacting with her students in a lab. She’s as hands off as she needs to be, and knows exactly how to jump into the process. It’s delicious to watch.
Mel and Sue: Masters of Entertaining
Everything you need to know about hosting a party you could learn from Mel and Sue. Show up wearing something striking and deeply you, or don’t be afraid to be silly. They kicked off challenges by trumpeting the word “Baaaaaake,” and bandying warm and nonchalant repartee. It put a room full of tense bakers at ease.
From the first episode to the last, they talk to everyone as though they’ve known them for years. They find the weakest links, the bakers who are struggling the hardest, and jump into the action to help them out. They pat backs, whisper encouragement. They crack jokes and dip their fingers into various sauces and chocolates.
Which is to say, when you are a host and you want everyone to have fun, I have to recommend being a little messy. Popping in and out of conversations, letting a little flour get on your outfit, cracking jokes whenever you can. Keep it loose. Put people at ease. Bolster the nervous, flame the fun energetic fires of the outgoing. Start little jokes between friends. Make everyone feel like they’re part of a team, one that’s in good hands. Maybe throw on a blazer.
There’s also something about the way they say goodbye: sincere and firm. Seems like a solid way to get people out of your house. “I hate to have to do this, but you really need to leave,” delivered with fetched coats and hearty hugs.
Don’t worry — there’s more Mary Berry and Mel and Sue on the horizon, just not on the Great British Baking Show. You’ll be able to watch Mary Berry’s judging magic on her new show, Britain’s Best Cook. And Mel and Sue will be lending their hosting prowess to a reboot of a game show called The Generation Game. Both shows will appear on the BBC.
What was your favorite lesson from the grand dames of the Great British Baking Show?