The Bake Off boy yearns for Cornish pasties and cider
Su Carroll talks to John Whaite, who gave up an Oxford degree to bake...
John Whaite's life changed forever last summer when he lifted the trophy as the winner of the third series of the BBC's Great British Bake Off.
Having given up a place at Oxford to study law at Manchester University, here he was, doing what he loves best. His victory means he can turn his private passion into a profession.
"I'm immersed in food now and able to make a living. I just want to survive and have a comfortable life doing something I really want to do. I have a lovely family and a partner and anything else is just... the icing on the cake."
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Since Great British Bake Off, he's certainly been busy. He's written a book – John Whaite Bakes: Recipes For Every Day And Every Mood – launched his website and given cookery demonstrations on TV and in public.
On Wednesday he heads from his home in London to Cornwall to take part in the Eden Project's first-ever Celebrity Chef Week, which begins today.
It's part of the five-week Harvest season which runs continues until October 13. Eden will be hosting talks from local chefs and food producers as well as food and drink sampling. Eden's chefs and horticulturists will also be on hand to talk to visitors and there will be special food-themed displays across the site.
John, 24, is certainly excited about taking part.
"I can't wait. I'm really looking forward to going to Eden. I've never even been to Cornwall before. I'm looking forward to having a real pasty and some cider, then I'll be a happy chap."
John seems like a fairly happy chap anyway, despite his parents' early divorce.
"I suppose the best thing to come out of it was a profound love of food," he says. "I had two houses, two sets of families and a real passion for food. My parents owned a fish and chip shop and were busy, so from 13 or 14 I would be making my own tea.
"I was never very good – I was always a bit impatient. I'd buy braising steak and not bother to cook it slowly.
"Then I dropped out of Oxford and moved home and discovered cooking, I suppose to make amends for disappointing them.
"I became a bit more patient. You have to understand food and I was learning much more about what to do."
Like many of us, he loved The Great British Bake Off and "obsessively watched" series one and two.
"When it ended at 9pm, I'd be out in the kitchen making what they had made. When the second series was on, I applied. It was in the middle of my degree and I was procrastinating.
"I didn't expect to even hear from them, but I got a call the next day.
"It's changed everything. It's certainly changed my perspective on food. I go to a nice restaurant and I'm riddled with thoughts about the flavour combinations and the beautiful aroma. I can't shut off.
"And I do get a few enquiring glances into my trolley... where they might spot the ready-made pastry.
"The success of Great British Bake Off has been a real surprise. You don't expect big, butch, burly builders to be interested in it.
"The baking – and sewing – traditions are really rather entrenched in our society and culture since World War Two when people were making carrot cakes to create sweet things when sugar was rationed. That feeling has started to re-emerge, which is nice.We've been in a bit of darkness as far as baking is concerned for the past 50 years.
"Food on TV has been dominated by cheffy and professional programmes and then along comes a show filmed in a tent with pastel colours everywhere and little kitchens.
"It's reassuring and comforting. Something people can emulate in their own kitchen. They might not be able to do the complicated stuff, but you can knock off some fairy cakes."
Does John still tune in to Great British Bake Off?
"I am obsessed," he laughs. "I'll watch each episode two or three times.
"If you described the idea of the programme to someone, it would sound quite dull. But it's fascinating to watch. We used the call the tent 'the vortex' because all the reality is sucked out of there."
Of this year's batch of bakers, he likes Kimberley, Frances and her mad-cap cakes and dark horse Howard. "He has a lovely voice. I'd just like him to read me a bedtime story."
John bakes every day. Today he's travelling to a wedding, and dinner will be some home-baked sourdough bread, goat's cheese and maybe some grapes.
At Eden he'll be showing visitors how to make pesto, garlic and Parmesan bread. "Great with a nice glass of sauvignon"... or some cider, perhaps?