by Ariel Kanter
If you weren’t always a fan of The Great British Baking Show, you likely are now. While many of us are home, searching for new things to watch on TV, there’s nothing quite like the friendly competition where sweet British bakers are fighting tooth and nail for...a cake stand. Unlike American competition-based cooking shows, there’s something refined about GBBO, as bakers sip tea between challenges and run to each other’s aid when they’re in need of assistance. It’s simply delightful.
Perhaps only because London just went into lockdown, I was able to chat with one of last season’s finalists Alice Fevronia. One of the season’s most animated contestants, Alice was always clad in color with large earrings, a long ponytail, and a smile—her parents are dentists, after all! Her bakes were beautiful and meticulous, from the adorable chocolate and coconut illusion lamb cake to a gilded gingerbread fruitcake wreath.
Read on below for the surprise surgery that got Alice into the kitchen, some inside tidbits about baking in the tent, and Alice’s tips for new bakers.
(photo courtesy of @alice.fevronia)
How did you get into baking?
When I was little, I often baked with my grandma, but I didn’t do much baking in my own home until I was older. When I was 15, I had a back operation that made it impossible to do sports. I lost a lot of weight, and it affected my mental health. That’s when I started baking. Being in the kitchen wasn’t dangerous. It got me into eating. It was something I could share with my friends. And I never really looked back. Now it’s my happy place.
What was the application process like for GBBO, and how did you react when you found out you made the show?
The application process is intensive. There’s a long form and a series of rounds where you bake and do screen tests. All of it was so surreal.
I had actually applied two years before, and I didn’t make it. So I went back to uni, got trained to be a teacher, and then took another shot. I did not expect to get on. When I found out that I did, I was like, “Are you sure?” At that point, you can’t turn back!
What was it like being on the show?
It’s really nerve-racking and really, really hard work. All throughout the show, I was also teaching. So I’d teach during the day and come home in the evenings and bake for six or seven hours. I don’t know how I did it! I think I’m tired now, but back then, I’d do a whole week at school and then bake until one in the morning.
Who cleans the workstations on GBBO?
Whenever I’m baking at home, I make such a mess. But on the show, as soon as time’s up, you have to leave. Then you watch as 30 people descend on the mess. Runners and producers appear with trollies of cleaning stuff. Within 20 minutes, it’s sparkling clean. It was one of the best things about being in the tent.
Any surprising logistics about being on set?
One of the things that struck me is that there are hours between when the bakers finish and when their bakes are judged. They film technical and signature bakes on Saturdays and the signature on Sunday. So you just hope whatever you’ve done is still standing!
What is the allure of Paul Hollywood? Why is he so fun to watch?
Paul is lovely. Though he can be quite harsh. Was he horrible? No. Was I scared of him? Yes.
One thing he would do that you wouldn’t see on camera is: While we waited for cameras to start rolling, he would walk the length of the tent and stare at the bakes without looking anyone in the eye. He’d just look at the bake, and you’d have to watch.
You mentioned on the show that your parents are dentists and didn’t really allow sweets in the house. Did you ever get anything sugary?
Probably because they were dentists, my parents actually received a lot of chocolates as gifts. They put it all in this one sweet box. We also had to put all of our Halloween sweets and Christmas sweets in there. Every Wednesday, we were allowed to have two sweets from the box. That sounds terrible, but it wasn’t really that bad.
Now that you DO eat sweets, have you noticed a change in your teeth? Is there a possible told-ya-so to your parents?
I think they’re okay! I haven’t had a checkup in a while.
(photo courtesy of @alice.fevronia)
Are there any baked goods you don’t like?
Oh, I absolutely hate licorice. I also can’t eat anything with gelatin in it anymore. I used so much of it on the show that now the smell of hot gelatin makes me feel sick!
Do you cook?
I do, especially since being home, but I don’t think I’m that good. Because I’ll spend so long baking most days, there’s always so much to clean. So when it comes to making dinner, the thought of going and making another mess fills me with dread.
What’s your go-to takeout order?
I love Thai food. There’s a place near where my boyfriend lives that has my favorite takeaway ever. I always get pad Thai.
Lots of people have turned to baking as a form of comfort during COVID times. Since baking was already something you enjoy, have you gotten into any new pastimes?
For a while, I did lots of drawing. I did try cooking and didn’t do very well with that. With my spare time I’m just cleaning out my cupboards. I cleaned out my baking cupboard, and I have so much of everything. It’s under my bed. It’s in my wardrobe. You really shouldn’t open the wardrobe and find cake tins.
For people who have zero experience baking, what should their very first bake be?
I think something that you enjoy. Even if it doesn’t look great, you’ll still enjoy eating it. Pick a flavor of cake you like, and you can’t go wrong. Taste is all that matters. Don’t be scared to try. Just go for it.
What’s one piece of baking equipment you can’t live without?
My KitchenAid stand mixer. I use it all the time. I actually only got one just before I applied for bake off. My mom got it for me for Christmas. I don’t think I would’ve gotten through bake off without it.
Is Henry Bird as precious and pure as he seems?
Yes. He really is so lovely. He sends boxes of chocolates for no reason. There’s no one else like him. All of the UK tabloids say that we’re dating—they’ll take anything and run with it—so I always joke that he’s my ex-boyfriend. [Note: Alice has a boyfriend who’s a doctor!]