Photo courtesy CBC
It started with his wife seeing an ad for a new CBC network amateur baking contest, says local KPU physicist, James Hoyland, “My wife said I should put in an application. I didn’t think I was actually ready for it but it came along.”
After that, CBC invited him to an audition in Vancouver.
“I brought along some cake I made,” says Hoyland. He says applicants were then, “Set a little baking challenge in the audition.”
After that, “They gave me a call and said that I was in. That was a bit of a surprise.”
His family long big fans of the Great British Bake-Off, a ratings king for many years in the the UK, Hoyland says the CBC show, “Follows very closely the format of the British version.”
A group of 10 amateur bakers start the weekly competition. Each episode, the person with the lowest score, based on three baking tasks, is asked to leave while another is named star baker for the week.
“Until three are left standing for grand finale,” says Hoyland.
The show was taped this summer outside Toronto and, as with the British show, shot in a bucolic setting with a large party tent set up with individual baking stations.
“It’s a very picturesque location. We shot in a tent, a beautiful pavilion that’s true to the original. It’s equipped with fairly typical appliances that you’d find in the kitchen in any home kitchen.”
So, was it like baking at home?
No, says Hoyland, “It was like baking boot camp. It’s very different baking for your family and friends compared to baking for a couple of professional pasty chefs. With your family, they’ll forgive your little errors or whatever.”
Besides, he says, “They don’t necessarily know what it’s supposed to taste like. The judges are professionals who know, and can spot all the little flaws.”
Each week, the bakers are set three tasks. One is something that Hoyland practiced at home in Steveston, the Signature Challenge.
“When practicing, before the shoot, my daughter was getting very used to having cake for breakfast every morning. She’s four and now that’s stopped, she is a little disappointed,” says Hoyland.
Another bake is the technical challenge, a previously unseen recipe, where good baking theory and technique is a must.
Hoyland says, while baking is more chemistry than physics, “Certainly there is quite a bit of science to it. You can get away with a certain amount of artistry but the core of baking has to obey certain rules. If you want bread you have to treat it one way. If you want pasty you have to treat it another. It’s the same ingredients but you have to treat them very differently, right down to the way you handle the dough. It’s kind of a nice mix of science and art, kind of like being an engineer.”
Hoyland’s career choice mixes the two disciplines.
“I could never decide if I wanted to be an engineer or a physicist so I do applied physics. It’s a technical application of physics, like sensors for the food industry for detecting bacteria in the food. I also now work on bioapplications with sustainable agriculture, developing detectors for the age sector,” he says.
The third part of every hour-long episode of The Great Canadian Baking Show, the Showstopper Challenge, is the bakers’ chance to produce something spectacular along a theme with a certain set of ingredients or type of bake, like a square, a birthday cake, something with beets, or a meat pie.
Asked if there was anything he wished he done differently while on the show, Hoyland replies, “I can’t answer that without revealing anything.”
As The Great Canadian Baking Show taped last summer, how hard is it keeping the results secret? “Extremely hard! I’m very glad that it’s finally coming and people can see,” he says.
What parts of the experience did Hoyland enjoy? “Pretty much the whole thing. It was a fantastic experience from beginning to end. It was a lot of fun to be kind of stretched to maybe try things I might not have tried if I was just baking at home. It’s a bit more high-level than baking for friends and family.”
He also said a good part of the fun was meeting all the other bakers with a similar passion for baking.
“We all got along fantastically so that was a lot of fun.”
Were there any bitter rivalries? “We were all kind of in it together to some extent.
You are more about competing with yourself to do the best you can,” says Hoyland. He remarked that all 10 contestants made fast friendships that will last a lifetime.
Asked about the experience, Hoyland says, “It was kind of unreal. I think everyone, all of the bakers, were nervous to go, to be the first one into the tent because it was very surreal to kind of know we were actually going to go in there and actually start baking.”
Such a big fan of the British show, Hoyland still finds his CBC taping time unbelievably marvelous, “I still don’t 100 per cent think it was real. It was a long time before I got over the idea it wasn’t just some hoax by a friend.”
Is he sick of baking, “No,” he says, “Though I have gotten back more to baking bread. That’s my favourite thing, baking bread.” And what did he bake for Halloween?
“Nothing, but we are going to have a little party with friends to view the first episode so I’ll probably bake something for that,” he says.
Any advice for others contemplating entering for next year?
“Give it a go. What’s the worst that can happen?”
“It’s a lot of fun. Even just going to the audition was fun.”
He finishes with a smile, “You don’t know whether you’re good enough until you try.”
The 8-part series The Great Canadian Baking Show begins broadcasting Wed. Nov. 1 on the CBC TV Network and streaming video through cbc.ca.