Italian Week – or “bootcamp for bakers”, as Yan called it – was a Bake Off first designed to put the bakers through their paces like never before. To make for an authentic experience, temperatures in the tent just so happened to soar to Mediterranean levels, resulting in a sticky mess for more than one baker. Sadly, Yan’s sfogliatelle showstopper ended in meltdown, and so we had to bid her arrivederci. Though Biomedical Scientist Yan grew up in a Chinese family that favoured steaming over baking (the family oven was used as a storage space), she began to bake a decade ago while in-between 24 hour shifts working for the NHS.
We caught up with her for a proper send-off.
Hi Yan! How do you feel about leaving the tent?
“From the very moment I stepped into the tent and started competing against so many great bakers, it really lifted my game. It’s about making yourself better, and we all wanted to nurture our talent collectively.”
How did the challenges match up to your culinary culture?
“We don’t have Fortune Cookies in Hong Kong, it’s an American invention, so the Fortune Cookie was something I had never cooked. Of all of the bakes I made in the tent, the mango steamed pudding is the closest to my culture. A lot of the time I see myself as British because I’ve lived here since the age of two, but I respect my culture and I do go back to Hong Kong regularly. I do cook Chinese at home, and a real treat for us is to go out for Dim Sum with the family. I bake every other day using my Muvver sourdough bread starter – I called it that because she is the mother of all my sourdoughs.”
How much did you want to impress the judges?
“It’s not about impressing the judges, it’s about surviving. I researched that Prue liked a bit of spice so I was able to introduce the flavours I like – garlic and chilli. And Paul? Well, if you want to impress the master baker you have to get your breads right. I got great comments from both Paul and Prue, and what I liked about them both is that if they had negative comments, they would always follow them up with useful advice.”
You’ve earned yourself a bit of a Twitter fandom – what’s that been like?
“Everything I say just comes out spontaneously, my family call them Yannisms. The phrases that I said on the show that I don’t really remember saying now have become some kind of a hit on social media. Every time I reference a movie or something obscure, Twitter goes mad – it’s a whole new world to me – but I am enjoying it.”
Let’s talk about your ‘pies’ and ‘doughs’, starting with the positives…
“My best moment was the Hollywood Handshake in pudding week for my mango pudding. I was so surprised and you can see it on my face, I just wasn’t expecting it. The collective best was the whole experience of being in the tent – it was an overwhelmingly positive experience.”
… and what about any dough moments?
“Even the bad moments are good because I felt was really learning all the time. I took something away from every bad moment. I learned in Italian week that I am not Italian! I think Italian food is amazing but unfortunately I couldn’t replicate it.”
Are you feeling proud of yourself to have made it so far in the show?
“To get through to seven weeks is an amazing achievement. I really thought I was leaving on Caramel Week in week 4 so I was so pleased that I got to week 7. It was the hottest day of the year, and it was the longest day of the year… in more ways than one for me.”
How would you describe your Bake Off journey?
“I loved the whole baking process but overall I loved the fun and the laugh of it all. It’s about wanting to take it seriously but at the same time having a good laugh. I probably forgot at times that it was a competition, and I really liked helping my fellow bakers as they had become my friends and I felt that we were part of a family. That’s the whole nature of the show.”
Goodbye, Yan – the tent won’t be the same without you.