We sat down with finalist Crystelle for a quick bite and a chat about her time in the Tent. Here’s what Crystelle had to say:
We filmed this series in a COVID-secure bubble again this year, how did it feel to be meeting and living with your fellow bakers?
I was actually worried about meeting new people because I had barely been out for over a year and hadn’t seen many people – I didn’t think I’d be able to socialise like a functioning human. HOWEVER, the moment I arrived at the filming location and met the other bakers, I just couldn’t stop talking (shocker). It was an incredible experience – it felt like a part holiday / part intensive baking camp, and living with the bakers just meant that we became so, so close. I wouldn’t change a thing.
What did you enjoy most about being in the bubble and what did you miss most about being away from home?
I enjoyed how personal it felt being in the bubble. We just clicked as a group and became so close almost instantly. It was so great to be able to bake in the practice tent and help one another, which is something you’d never experience during a non-COVID year. What I thought I’d really miss was my parents giving me a hug when I was feeling low, or my sisters slapping me and telling me to pull myself together when things weren’t going well. But I was so relieved and surprised to find that the bakers all filled those roles so perfectly and naturally, so I pretty much felt at home all the time.
Did you pack a lucky item for your stay?
Not so much a lucky item, but I did take my rosary with me to remind me to trust in God to keep me going. I also packed little photos of my three late grandparents, who are like my guardian angels.
During the filming time when you were away from home, where did you say you were to friends?
Oh this is hilarious – most friends think I had work exams and was stuck at home revising (they’ve been calling me a massive loser and telling me to get a life). I was so stressed out about lying so I just stopped replying to my messages. (Hopefully they’ll understand in retrospect… love you all).
Can you describe the bakers as a group this year, and are you all on a WhatsApp group?
Eccentric, incredibly talented, beautifully diverse, a HUGE LAUGH and just genuinely fantastic people, every single one of them. We are indeed on a WhatsApp group that is constantly popping off as if we’re childhood friends who have known each other for years. It’s fantastic.
How nervous were you when Paul and Prue started judging the first Signature challenge and how does it feel when they are judging the Technical challenge when they don’t know who has baked which item?
I felt so sick with nerves. I couldn’t get over the fact that Paul and Prue were actually going to try something that I had baked. It was just unthinkable (and still is). Judging the Technical challenge is hilarious and also terrifying – mainly because you’re trying so hard to keep a poker face and not reveal your true emotions.
Having watched Bake Off in the past, was the first day in the tent what you expected?
I genuinely walked into the tent like a complete fangirl and shrieked, ‘OMG THIS IS ACTUALLY THE TENT’ and just couldn’t believe it was everything that I had watched on TV. The one thing you don’t expect to see are the hundreds of cameras everywhere, but you soon get used to that; and the production team are so lovely, which makes you feel so comfortable.
Are you a messy or tidy baker?
HAHA… I wish I could say tidy but, unfortunately, I just can’t seem to keep my bench clear for 20 seconds. I’m a complete mess. Sorry, Mum.
Who is your baking inspiration and what age did you start baking?
So, baking is relatively new to me; I started baking very basic things about three years ago (e.g. biscuits for my dad and birthday cakes for my sisters), but it took off about a year ago when my family got me my first stand mixer for my 25th birthday. I have, however, been cooking from a young age; I started watching my mum in the kitchen when I was around 6 years old, and gradually learnt how to cook as I grew older, and that naturally expanded to baking. So my inspirations are a mixture of cooks and bakers – Nigella has got to be up there, as well as pastry chef, Dominique Ansel, for his immense creativity and innovation. And of course, my Aunty Hazel, who handed down all of her piping nozzles, which are now my prized possessions!
The Bake Off family is a very exclusive club, how do you feel being a new member?
It feels pretty crazy and very humbling to be honest. It’s strange because I genuinely think so highly of all the past bakers, and would be fangirl-ing like CRAZY if I saw them on the street. They are so incredibly talented, so it’s a complete honour to now be joining them.
The warmth and love you get in the Tent is a very special feeling, what is the nicest thing in baking you have done for anyone or given them?
I actually rarely bake for myself, as I find that baking for other people is so gratifying and just such a fun way to show love, as cheesy as that sounds – such as edible Christmas presents or cute birthday hampers for my friends. I’ve been doing a lot of baking for my parish priest – he’s been a huge support and has been following my Bake Off journey too.
What is the cake you get asked to make the most for friends and family?
It would have to be my chai sponge – I genuinely think that my family can eat their weight in it.
If you were a cake what would you be and why?
A fruit cake – it’s filled with booze, has a long shelf life, and you’ll always find it at a wedding but never as the bride (story of my life).
In three words how would you describe yourself?
Loud, dramatic, waffler.
Are there any bakes or flavours that you really dislike and why?
Gosh you know what… I’m really not a fussy eater (to my mum’s delight) so I actually can’t think of a flavour that I don’t like. The only thing I’m not a huge fan of is cucumber sandwiches… very bland and the texture is just wrong. Making choux pastry is also my arch nemesis and I’ve been tempted to frisbee it out of the window several times.
When baking at home what do you have on in the background – music/TV/podcast/radio?
I always have a mood-dependent playlist – I’ll have some reggaeton music blasting if the sun is shining, some chilled R&B if I’m doing some late night baking and occasionally a musical soundtrack when I’m home alone and just want to belt my heart out.
Does it all seem a bit surreal that you have joined The Great British Bake Off family?
Of course – it all feels completely surreal. My sisters often have to stop and shake me to remind me that I was part of GBBO; I don’t think this will sink in for a very long time.
What do you feel that you have learned the most from your experience in the tent?
I’ve learnt to believe in myself more, and that setbacks aren’t the end of the world! If things go wrong (which is very common), just try again, stay positive and you can still achieve what you want to achieve if you focus and work hard.
Overall what was your best and worst moment in the Tent?
My best moment has got to be the handshake from Paul for my Pastry Week Showstopper (not that I remember it really because I was in so much shock – I’m sure my body partially shut down so I don’t even know if I actually shook Paul’s hand). It meant so much because it was such a sentimental bake for me and my family, and I was desperate to show authentic Portuguese-Goan cuisine through my bakes at least once.
Probably not a surprise but the worst moment was definitely when Paul cut into that final focaccia during my last ever Showstopper… and then I saw Prue’s face and my heart just SANK. Raw dough in the Final – that has got to be a Bake Off first! Never forget, but at least I went out with a bang…? (Please don’t try that at home, folks).
What’s next for you in the baking world?
Who knows! I would absolutely love to showcase more Portuguese-Goan cuisine because it’s something that I genuinely love and am so passionate about. India is a huge country, and I don’t think we appreciate how much the cuisine varies as you travel between different states and cities. I also love trying different cuisines and experimenting with my flavours, so it would be amazing to travel the world (once COVID allows), try new whacky foods, and document the whole journey.
Favourite challenge overall and why?
Pastry Week Showstopper – this wasn’t even my favourite because it’s the one that got me the handshake and Star Baker (even though that was madness), but it’s the one that I was looking forward to the most. I was so determined to come on Bake Off and cook a curry, and the fact that it was my late Lily Nana’s recipe and dedicated to her just meant the absolute world to me.
Worst challenge and why?
Apart from every single Technical challenge (shocker), Week 4 Showstopper (Joconde Imprime) was my worst – this was my worst only because it’s the one that stressed me out the most. It went wrong every single time I practiced at home. I remember during one practice, I removed the acetate collar and a WATERFALL of unset lime jelly starting gushing out from the joconde sponge, all over the kitchen worktop and floor. It was mortifying. So, going into that Showstopper, I was just full of pure fear and dread.
Funniest moment in the Tent?
Caramel Week Showstopper – when I turned to Lizzie with about 7 minutes to spare and asked her to help me make a sugar dome… that was sheer and utter madness. And THEN, after the trauma of making it, I momentarily put it down to give her a hug and almost broke it AGAIN! Honestly, that felt like a near-death experience for me.
What will you take away from your experience on Bake Off?
A few cuts and burns on my hands, the realisation that I really suck at Technical challenges and a life-long phobia of focaccia. On a more serious note, I am taking away a new group of 11 incredible friends, and I think I’ll actually believe in myself more (despite the above). So many of us tend to be self-critical and focus on negatives, and I’ve been guilty of doing that my entire life. But I think I can finally look back on those ten weeks and think, ‘I am pretty proud of myself’.