Interview: Liam Charles and Tom Allen on Bake Off: The Professionals
Fans of The Great British Bake Off are in for a treat this weekend as Channel 4 resurrect it's pro series Bake Off: Creme De La Creme - in a brand new and much more entertaining series, Bake Off: The Professionals.
Great British Bake Off star Liam Charles and comedian Tom Allen are your new host, providing baking insights and lols respectively. Here, they tell us what we can expect...
Describe your role in the series and why you wanted to take part in the show.
Tom: I am co-presenting the show with Liam Charles who is a very nice young man, and I have loved doing it, it’s been a dream job for me, I have always watched Bake Off and I love the almost camp sense it has, of making something seemingly frivolous quite important. I have really enjoyed working with Liam who is so energised, such an enthusiastic person. Liam was in Bake Off, but I am new to the whole thing, so I have tried to be like a viewer who hasn’t seen it before. I am asking the questions that they would want to ask. It’s been a lot of fun!
Liam: Co-hosting with Tom Allen, well that has been sick, sick, sick. I guess our roles are comforting the chefs, and even though they are in a very competitive environment there is also room to be human as well, to have a laugh when you need to step back from it. And we are there to help that.
Liam, what was it like to be the other side of the work station?
Liam: I would say that the first week was overwhelming and it did seem strange. I was used to the competing, but to be on the other side was weird. To be talking to the chefs when they probably didn’t want to talk at that particular time, as they were concentrating, was a bit strange at first. But after week 2 it was sound, as I knew when to talk to each team. I have loved it, I loved both sides of the work station in fact! And for sure I can relate to what they are going through.
Tom, Is it tough when you can see one of the teams struggling, do you want to help them or hug them, especially when Cherish says something like ‘This is completely unacceptable!’
Tom: You try and get the teams to talk through how they are feeling so they don’t bottle it up. Cherish has an expression ‘Cha la la’ and that means she really doesn’t like it, and can be a bit harsh. But the judges want the best from the teams. The chefs never take it personally, they know the judges really want the teams to do well.
Liam: You try and give the teams as much support as possible. The judges want them to excel themselves so they do push them to do their best. We chat to the teams and keep encouraging them.
Tom, you and Liam are a presenting double act on the show, how does that relationship work?
Tom: I met Liam at the beginning of the year, I had of course watched him on Bake Off and like everyone else in the country thought who is this guy, he is so lovely and adorable, such a nice person and a shame that he couldn’t have been in the competition longer. We did a screen test together and he was so easy to talk to, so it’s been great to work as a team throughout the whole series, making each other laugh and it’s been a huge learning curve for me. It’s the first time I have co-hosted a series and I have learned so much from Liam’s natural enthusiasm. I always try and make it funny so I have done that as much as possible, and we both make each other laugh, so I hope that comes across on screen.
Whilst Professionals still has the warmth and humour of GBBO, it is different, can you describe the vibe of the show, what do you think makes it work?
Liam: It’s pretty much the same format as Bake Off – having the judges and presenters – and it’s the chefs who are from such completely different walks of life, that all bring something to the show. Even though Benoit and Cherish are there to critique they also bring such great personalities to the show. Added to the mix are the teams who are all at the top of their game, they produce such insanely amazing pieces, they bring such an added spectacle to the series. I would call it the Willy Wonka of pastry world, I think that’s why it works and I hope it’s fun to watch.
Tom: It’s a heightened version of Bake Off, the standard is much more exacting I suppose. The teams put themselves under so much more pressure. They are doing something that they have built their whole careers and life around so there is that added element to it. You learn so much more about them as people, it’s lovely to watch their journey. It has all of that warmth and human interest, the high falutin patisserie side is there, but you also get to see the humour, which is a coping mechanism. I call it Bake Off’s bitchy older sister who has been away at university and comes back with a lot of knowledge and a bit of attitude. Passions run high. It’s got that added edge and drama to it.
Professionals is distinctive from other foodie shows where chefs compete against each other, in that you get to see teamwork and the artistry of pastry at its best. Was there a lot of pressure at the start of the series, and intense moments as the rivalry hots up?
Tom: Well of course there is a competitive edge to the show as it’s a high end patisserie competition, but what I thought was lovely was that there was also this great element of support to a disastrous moment. It’s a rollercoaster of a series and there are disasters that happen along the way but everyone felt for the team that suffered and they all learned from each other. They were all going through the same experience.
Liam: There was a different form of tension for me throughout the series, the first couple of weeks it was a learning curve for us, and for the chefs involved. And then as you get towards the end, there is a different kind of tension as you know you are approaching the final, and that’s a big thing.
Were you surprised at the overall expertise of the professional pastry chefs this series, and what is a stand-out moment for you in the series? What have you learned from the show?
Liam: I knew they were all going to be really good as they are professionals by trade, but some of the things that they came up with were so unbelievable. A stand out moment was in one of the earlier weeks and one team in particular were outstanding, I spent a good 5 minutes looking at their showpiece as it was so spectacular. I learned so much more about patisserie equipment, there is some crazy snazzy stuff out there. In terms of ingredients I learned about flavour profiles, what flavours match best. The chefs show some massive triumphs and it is very emotional.
Tom: Well, before I started filming I didn’t even know what an entremet was, and I have also learned how to taste and appreciate patisserie. Benoit explained all the different parts of your tongue that experience the savoury or sweet side. I have learned what makes a particular piece of patisserie outstanding. I think what is interesting is how each team want to try for the best, and push themselves just that little bit further all the time, challenging themselves. I was inspired by the chefs and learned from their dedication. Even when they are up against the wall they still keep excelling themselves, pushing onto the next stage, and then they really shine.
The Showpiece Challenges are so intricate and delicate, everyone must be terrified of going near them whilst the chefs are assembling, do you worry you might knock something over or cause one to collapse
Tom: Liam became almost reverential when the Showpieces were out! It does command a bit more respect when you get to that stage, and we were very careful around them.
Liam: I was SO careful on the set, especially when the Showpieces were all on display. In the earlier part of the recording you can play about more and be more relaxed, but when it comes to the final judging you are very aware of what is on the table.
Personally, do you prefer sweet or savoury?
Liam: I am definitely a sweet boy, 100%. Even my savoury has to be sweet, I like sweet potato chips, or sweet and sour chicken.
Tom: I am a bit of both actually and I particularly like the pastry side.
What is your guilty pastry pleasure ?
Tom: I would say a crispy Tarte au Citron.
Liam: Mine is a hot chocolate brownie, with ice cream, and it has to be caramel sauce on top.
On a foodie desert island what would you take with you and why?
Liam: Tuna pasta bake, just like my mum makes – she makes the best tuna bake – and it’s got protein, carbohydrate, some veg in it. That would keep me going.
Tom: A chicken – it could lay eggs?
Do you bake and do you have your own signature bake
Tom: I think it has to be a Victoria sponge sandwich – it’s easy to bake and most people like it, and you can dress it up a bit if you want.
Liam: It has to be doughnuts, made with fresh yeast, I LOVE to make doughnuts, and eat them!
Biggest influence or mentor in your life?
Liam: My uncle Robert – he has got a creative mind so he really gets me. Even before Bake Off he was helping me come up with ideas, he has always been there for me, he is a great support.
Tom: Sarah Millican – she is such a craftsperson – she always pays such attention to detail. I have supported her on tour and she can also make a good cake!
Liam, best moment in the Bake Off tent for you?
Liam: When I got Star Baker that was such a lovely mad feeling. I went into the tent that week thinking I really have to smash it, as I hadn’t done so well the week before. The hot water crust pie, my nan’s pie got me Star Baker, that was so cool. My mum, Dad and Nan are all so proud of me. I sometimes look back and think I can’t believe that I did that, I am only 20.
Tom, Stand up or TV presenting - which is tougher?
Tom: I think they are both interesting and similar skills, because you are responsible for the audience’s experience. Obviously with live gigs you can see how it is going but with TV, you have to wait until it is transmitted. You just hope you have done a good job and they both rely on playfulness.
Tom, Best and worst gigs?
Tom: Live at the Apollo, it felt like such a big thing. My parents and friends were there and I felt very nervous but it did go well, and it’s a lovely feeling when it pays off. It was 2016 and a bit of a turning point for me. And the worst gig was for a Mayoral event, and I was on in the middle of dinner but the guests hadn’t been served. So they were very hungry and a bit grumpy. I ended up directing the waiters to tables, it was a bit of a nightmare.
Baking terminology is like a whole new language, are you now an expert on what the different baking techniques are?
Tom: I thought lamination was a form of protecting documents. I know my entremet from a petit gateaux now.
Liam: No way! I’m still learning. There are some words you know, crème anglaise, crème pat, but there’s been a lot in there that is completely new to me.
What else is happening for you this year career wise?
Tom: My tour dates have been extended into the autumn which is exciting. I have a show ‘Are You Ready or Not’ for BBC1 on Saturday evenings this autumn.
Liam: I have got a cookery book coming out later this year ‘Cheeky Treats’. I am still at Goldsmiths College, and trying to juggle everything!
Bake Off: The Professionals starts Sunday 6th May at 8pm on Channel 4