Male chefs. It would seem we can’t get enough of them. I’ll probably get guillotined by the Sisterhood for writing this, but there is something strangely exciting about seeing a man mixing up batter in a glass bowl. Particularly when what he is mixing is destined for the tea trolley. An irresistible combination of muscle and marzipan, as it were.
And if you are seeking the perfect symbiosis between baking and brawn, look no further than the comfortingly broad form of Paul Hollywood, chief (and indeed, only) hunk on The Great British Bake Off.
Here we have the marvellous spectacle of Hollywood, wide of shoulder, Scouse of accent, greying of goatee and azure of eye, gruffly inspecting tiny fairy cakes while a triumvirate of women in aprons twitter around him. You have Mary Berry (cooking’s official Granny), Mel Giedroyc (maternal and jokey), and Sue Perkins (smart and sardonic). So, most female bases covered there. Besides these three, there is a legion of women on Twitter itself. He has 25,000 followers, but says he never bothers tweeting.
Never mind. Fans, who include Fearne Cotton and Arlene Phillips, still send him pictures of their baking. I wonder how ardent these can get. Does anyone ever send photos of themselves holding the bread in the buff, as it were?
“No. At least not that I would remember,” says Hollywood, in a sort of silver-foxy, amused-but-not-surprised manner. “And I think I would remember. But I get asked to a lot of cake meetings. And open bake offs.”
For anyone out there hoping to impress Hollywood, here’s a tip. Try your hand at soufflés.
“If you can bake a soufflé, you can bake any cake on the planet. It means you understand about batter and the folding of a cake. On the other hand, if you can make a wholemeal loaf outside a tin, then you also go up a few notches. It means you understand consistency, kneading and the key thing, which is the shape of a loaf.”
Of course Hollywood, 46, who is married to Alex and has a son, Josh, was an expert on raising agents way before he was a broadcasting sensation. Apart from a brief foray into art school (where he specialised in sculpture), Hollywood has been a baking pro since he was a boy, sugaring doughnuts and rolling out the pastry on Saturday mornings and then working at Bread Winner, his father’s chain of instore bakeries in the North East.
He then became Head Baker at the Chester Grosvenor, then the Dorchester, followed by Cliveden. After which, in a sort of knight’s move career moment, he and Alex went off to Cyprus in order to teach the Cypriots how to make croissant and brioche. He was discovered when a TV crew working with Thane Prince on the island rocked up, interviewed him about bread and realised he was a natural. Then, it was a short stint on the Good Food Channel in the marvellously entitled Use Your Loaf, before arriving on The Great British Bake Off and into millions of front rooms across the nation.
“Television was accidental,” he says. “I am an evangelist for my trade, showing people how easy it is, and how great it is.”
He still has a wholesale baking business in Kent and prides himself that he can knock out a better loaf than any electronic breadmaker on the market. He admits, in a gruff sort of way, that a man who can cook does have a kind of allure.
“If any bloke cooks or bakes, he is onto a strong wicket. Because if you can do something in the kitchen, even just one thing, then you will have some ammunition.”
But many men simply stay around the barbecue and roast dinner domain. Baking is a much harder playing field and consequently much easier to mess up. What, in his view, are the three golden rules? “First, equipment. Use digital scales. Then make sure you have consistency in your ingredients; the same flour, the same recipe, the same oven. All the time. Until you get it right. And third,” says Hollywood, “passion.”
You see? He’s sexy, even when he’s thinking about digital scales.