Diary

Demo stages, trestles tables, tents and a bus!

I remember my first ever stage demonstration. It was at the Surrey County Show which is local to me, about 6 years ago.

I thought it would be a good way to let the people of Surrey know about my bread making courses in the area, but I must admit I hadn’t taken the time to really think it through properly. I don’t mean the demonstration itself, I’d done them before and it was well planned out, it was more about the fact that I’d be up on stage in front of a ton of people. That was the part I hadn’t thought about, and when it was time to go on, I just did not want to get up there!

Woking Food Festival

I can’t remember what I made, it was certainly bread, but what I do remember is getting heckled by two men in the middle of the audience who had clearly enjoyed too many pints of Hogs Back Ale. I got through it and fortunately, as I was about to learn, things like heckling tend to go down quite well with the audience…

Since then, live demos on stages all over the country have become my favourite part of what I do. I have been to food festivals all over meeting tons of people, both in the audience and backstage, demonstrating on trestle tables in the rain, huge stages like Countryfile Live last week and even this time last year on a super cool and super intimate vintage bus (not moving).

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I love being up there. I love chatting with all of you in the audience and I love it when there’s time for tasters (see Foodies Festivals!) and questions at the end. However long my slot is, for me it’s always too short, I could chat all day.

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There have been a few mistakes over the years, there’s bound to be right? Like the time I forgot my dusting flour and had to send the compare out to get some from a nearby creperie while I accidentally knocked my microphone pack with a doughy knuckle turning the volume up way too loud! I did my best to keep the audience entertained while holding the microphone at arms length from my face until she returned with the flour and fixed my mic.

Or the time I accidentally put a demo dough into what I thought was a fridge ahead of a demonstration, only to pull it out on stage for shaping to find it was frozen solid.

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But all these things are fixable and the magic part is that all of these things go down quite well. There’s something special about being up there, having so much fun, and really interacting with the audience that I’ve worked hard on for so long. And there’s something about making a mistake and being honest about it that brings us closer together.

I realise in this post it sounds like every time I demonstrate there’s some kind of disaster, but there really isn’t. Those experiences came from the olden days of Bake with Jack. The days when I’d wake up at 1:30am three days in a row to bake bread ready for a show. The days when I would unload my gazebo and trestle tables from the Bake-with-Jack-mobile to set up my stall so I could sell all the bread that I’d made. I used to man my stall all day long and chat to all of you about the courses I was hosting locally. I used to sneakily make bread dough at my stall and stash it under the table to be ready and puffed up for the “here’s one I made earlier” moment later when I popped out to go on stage. Most of the time, I never even had time to have lunch, so I think it is fair to say I was a little tired and probably not at the top of my game.

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I used to pack all my gear back up each day, back into the car and head home in the evening ready to do it all again tomorrow. And the next day. There was even a time in 2017 when I Vlogged the whole thing (and yes, you can still find them buried deep somewhere on the Bake with Jack YouTube channel).

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Looking back, I guess this is part of what it took to make Bake with Jack what it is now, although at the time that was never the reason why I did things that way. I intended to do the thing that I liked at the time. I intended to work hard and do something I thought was right, to enable me to move forward. I intended to have fun and I did, and still do, although things go a little differently now.

From wet trestle tables of the olden days to the huge Le Creuset cookery theatre at Countryfile Live last week I love a good food show demonstration, and I’ve met a lot of you along the way. Some of you may even remember the days we used to chat at my stall, that might even be where we met! I have a lot to thank you for and I’m glad I hit the stage at that first show six years ago, despite what the butterflies in my tummy were saying.

There are still a few more shows left for this year, if you’d like to come along to see me in action (and not making mistakes) you can find the dates here.

Butter papers: A lesson in less waste

There was a time in the olden days when worked in a Michelin starred restaurant. It was a short time, and a very hard time, but I’ll tell you about that another time, because the story is LONG. For now I want to talk about butter papers.

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I learned a lot it my short time at what we will call “The Michelin Restaurant”. A lot of cooking and preparation skills, a lot about discipline and also how to clean windows properly, at 1am. But I also learned about waste.

You see we kept the butter papers. Every time we finished a packet of butter the paper was wiped and stacked in a pile to keep for service. Then, when a piece of fish needed to be steamed we’d put it on a butter paper instead of a fresh slice of parchment. Or if a small piece of meat needed something to cover it, or something between it and the tray it was cooking on, it was half of a butter paper and the point of all of this is coming soon I promise.

Disposable plastic piping bags are a thing by the way. They come on a roll. You tear one off, fill it up, snip the end, pipe your choux buns and toss the spent bag into the bin. Here at The Michelin Restaurant there was just one. One single disposable piping bag hanging up to dry because it was used over and over again and washed up in between.

Are you getting it yet? One more…

We had chef jackets too. One each. We wore them for the day and popped them all in the wash at night before we went home. Then the following day we’d wear it again straight from the machine. No laundry service, no man in a van, no pickup, no drop off, no starch, no hot press, no nothing. Simple.

This was a while ago, like 13 years ago, but the principle holds true that sometimes we don’t need to “use-up” a lot of things. If we are clever about it we can keep things simple and waste less at the same time, and it’s not even hard to do.

At this point in time we are ALL trying to use less plastic. Because it has been made more obvious that it’s important. That everything ever that was made of plastic is still somewhere NOT biodegrading. Just sitting in a pile, or floating in the ocean, or buried in a hole in the ground or whatever. Everyone is talking about it and it can’t be missed.

There have been times in my life and career when I’ve been in the habit of using-up things without even thinking about it. Like rolls of clingfilm, piping bags, blue gloves, food bags, even disposable aprons (a legal requirement in some places!) because it’s easy and that’s just the way things are done. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The remnants of some of these habits that have remained become very evident when I’m in class, doing what I do, with people around me, watching. In that scenario, I’m very aware of them. And so, I’ve started to use more containers and less bags, parchment paper can be folded and re-used, epecially if it’s only been used to bake biscuits or bread, and even cling film used to cover you’re bread dough can be dusted and folded ready to use again next time. I spoke about that in a recent video.

Sometimes it takes others to point out the things I no longer see. Things that have just become “normal” and could be made better if only I’d noticed. And sometimes a 13 year old memory about butter papers might pop into my head with a very important lesson buried inside it that I hadn’t noticed at the time, and prompt me to question “why” I do things the way I do them. And whether they are really necessary.

So thanks to those that have pointed out the seemingly obvious because often things aren’t as obvious as they seem. I continue to try to look at things with fresh eyes and make small changes as I go along that make a big difference. That’s the new normal.

I’m not saying save up your butter papers but take this as an example to think about. If we use one disposable piping bag ten times, we’ve just saved nine piping bags from going onto the pile forever. Multiply that by your lifetime, and that’s a lot of plastic saved, so why not use that bag twenty or fifty or a hundred times? Just imagine the power of that one decision, and the size of the difference you could make on the world from one simple change. It’s huge by the way…

I hope this thought remains present and as important as it seems now for the rest of our lives. Then the small things will continue to change the world forever, for the better.

Oh, and I cleaned the windows with old news papers by the way. It’s the proper way.

Why bread?

Why bread?

Somebody asked me this at the school drop off the other day. Why bread? Why is that your thing? Why did you make it your job?

It’s something I get asked a lot and it’s a question that I always struggle to answer off the cuff, and I guess it’s because it was never really about bread in the first place...

Making it work for live TV...

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So London called...

It said “hey man, we’ve been looking for a bread expert to come and chat with us on Sunday Brunch on Channel 4 and hey presto, we came across this chap who’s made 100 videos on YouTube...”

Ok, so that’s not EXACTLY what they said but it is pretty much the gist ;-)

I was delighted! Not nervous. In fact, I was a little delighted but as with all things in “showbiz” these things come and go. I had been so close to being on TV before for a different show, literally prepped and ready to go the day before filming and the phone line went dead, only to receive an email two weeks later saying sorry but I didn’t make it. And so, without feeling negative about things, when the call came in I guess I felt a bit nothing really. After all things don’t happen until they happen and I knew that. This time things were a little different though, I was asked to come to London to meet with the producer and that hadn’t happened before…

So here was the deal, I would talk through four breads I had made, people (celebrities) were going to eat and share their opinion of my homemade bread live on Channel 4 before deciding which was their favourite and then telling the world. No Pressure. That meant that the bread had to be as close to fresh as possible at 10:33am on Sunday morning, and they were sending a car to pick me up at 6:20am.

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The plan was to bake everything on Saturday evening to various stages of “baked” then finish it off in the studio prep kitchen moments before going live, easy. But I was already booked for a private bread making course in somebodies home on the Saturday, leaving at 1pm and likely getting home at around 8pm. Not ideal. Here’s how I made it work…

I decided on the recipes early on, four breads that were good for beginners: black olive fougasse, seeded sandwich loaf, “no-knead” focaccia and hot cross buns since it was nearly Easter. I had a small window on Saturday morning to make the dough and a small oven to bake one or two before leaving the house for the day. I made all four of my doughs that morning.

Fougasse only needs a single rest, there’s no need to prove them up them up again after shaping and before baking, I was making six, and could part-bake two at a time for 10 minutes each before cooling and wrapping ready to finish off at the studio. Sorted.

If one of the breads was to be fully baked it would be the sandwich loaf as the size and shape of it would allow it to hold the moisture the best of them all for the longest, so in theory the fully baked loaves would still be relatively fresh the following day. I baked them fully on the Saturday morning. Two down, two to go.

The other two doughs I stashed in the fridge to chill and tick over nice and slowly for later while I was out for the day.

Now, if I returned home from my private course at 8pm and removed the dough from the fridge it would have taken a good 90 minutes to come back to room temperature before I could shape, prove and bake them. Then we are talking shaping at 9:30pm, baking two batches at 11pm & 11:45pm, in bed by 12:30 at night to wake up again at 5am to get ready, pack up and leave to go live on TV. Again, not ideal.

I did some maths and my wife and I had a chat.

If she could remove the dough from the fridge at 6pm while I was out teaching, it would be ready to shape upon my return shaving two clear hours of my evening bake making bedtime a far more sensible 10:30pm and that’s exactly what we did.

The following morning, I woke with nothing to do but to get ready and double check my packing list. The car arrived at 6:20am to pick me up, I loaded my things and spent the next 45 minutes chatting to the driver and getting increasingly nervous.

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The show was great! I had an hour and a half in the prep kitchen to finish everything off, cut tasters and dress the display before wheeling it to the studio and putting everything in place super fast during the ad break. Then 3, 2, 1, GO!

I was so nervous but it could not have been better. Everybody I came into contact with on the day was so lovely. There is a ton of work involved in creating a show like Sunday Brunch both on and off set, so many people involved, and as corny as it sounds they are like a big family. Even if somebody spent 40 seconds attaching my microphone to my jacket they would introduce themselves, ask me how I was and how I was feeling about going on. They really looked after me and the feature was a great success.

A whole day in preparation for 8 minutes on TV and it felt great. You guys across social media went ABSOLUTEY CRACKERS with your support. Thank you so much!

The reality is that the whole day I spent in preparation is nothing compared to time spent working hard since the day Bake with Jack was created. So really, that one day becomes 6 years in preparation.

Actually, you could say that without such a disjointed restaurant/hotel/event chef career, then Bake with Jack would never have been created in the first place. So then, perhaps we are 16 years in.

In fact. Without the slight disinterest I had in academic studies then perhaps I would have never put on those chef whites in the first place. I said I was playing the long game in a post last year. I said that I used to get laughed at when I dreamed of being on TV, and here we are, 32 years in and I made it to the slightly-bigger-than-your-telephone screen. YESSSSS!!!

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If you missed the show, I think it has disappeared now from All4 but at the time of writing this you can still catch up on my second appearance featuring a few of the breads from the new Summertime and BBQ bread course. If you are in the UK Click here to watch it in Episode 16 and scroll forward to 58 minutes in, after the Bake Off Professionals clip.

I said on Instagram that I hoped this could be the beginning of something great, and if it wasn’t then that would be ok too. It’s what I have been working towards for so long, for the most part without even knowing it, and when I look back on the past 6 or 16 or 32 years I realise that surely everything has been, and continues to be the beginning of something great. Even if it didn’t feel like it at the time.

Thank you all so much for watching and for your support before, during and after. I spent the next whole week after the show answering all of your comments, emails, tweets and messages on Instagram and Facebook and I hope I got them all!

Thanks for being part of this massive milestone with me, here’s to whatever happens next…

Bake with Jack on Sunday Brunch  Instagram