Tell us about the new series. What can we expect to see you doing? We’ve heard rumours of solo karaoke…
(Laughs) Yeah, there was a bit of that! I’ve often thought about going to Japan, especially when friends who have already been have told me stories about it.’ Everyone I’ve ever met who’s been to Japan has always said it’s an amazing place, and I really should go.
Since being there, I definitely regret not going earlier. It was an incredible place in so many different ways. The food, the people, the views, the scenery, the cities, the respect they show each other is just staggering – they are such lovely people. I found the whole experience thoroughly enjoyable, I really loved it. I’m going to have go back. The series is all about me getting down to the nitty-gritty of Japan, finding out all about their food, their culture and what makes them tick. I really enjoyed it.
Tell us about baking in Japan – did anything particularly surprise you?
I was surprised. Based on the fact it’s a rice based culture, along with China and a lot of the Eastern countries - how wrong was I?! Whatever Japan does, they like to become the best. And sure enough, that’s what they did when they moved into the baking side of things. I was eating white bread which was some of the best white bread I’ve ever had. Also, I’d be eating cakes, doughnuts at a really high standard – everything they do, they do exceptionally well. The pastries, the cakes, the breads, the rolls were good. It’s quite breathtaking because I didn’t expect it and that’s the thing that really surprised me.
We were in Tokyo when I first visited a bakery, and everything was just stunning. I even got hands on helping them out. Baking has become quite a popular thing there. It is amazing, we stopped off every time we saw a bakery. I’d always say to the crew ‘let’s pull over and check it out’ and we were constantly amazed.
What was the best thing you ate whilst in Japan?
For me, the best thing I ate was the Kobe beef, the Wagyu, which was grade A5. It was the best Kobe beef I’ve ever had, and it was part of the street food in Osaka. I’ve had Wagyu before, but this was stunning – he cooked it on a hot plate about 1/2 mins on each side, left it to rest and then did beansprouts in this sauce released from the steak itself, with shitake mushrooms, and then he literally dropped his knife through this steak, cut it into cubes, then each corner of the cube was given ten seconds on the hot plate. A couple of cubes were put on my plate with a bit of the beansprouts and it was honestly the best food I’ve ever had in my life – just on the streets. I mean it cost a fortune, but it was stunning, the most amazing steak I’ve ever had.
… And the worst?
I don’t like tofu, I can’t see the point. There’s no flavour to it. I’ve tried tofu and there was an English lady living out there who tried to introduce me to it. It’s not that I hated it, I just didn’t see the point. Some of it was soaked, some fried, some boiled – it’s just nah. I just didn’t get it, so tofu is probably at the bottom of my list.
Tell us about your adventures in Tokyo with Ladybeard. It’s hard to choose between which looked more fun – the puppy café or go karting tour!
The go kart was amazing, I’m a bit of a racing driver myself so I really enjoyed thrashing round the streets of Tokyo. Ladybeard is amazing, he’s such a character. He’s a wrestler from Australia and dresses up like a Japanese schoolgirl – it’s the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen. He was screaming his head off all the way round Tokyo. I had such a laugh with him, he’s such a nice bloke and he’s very famous over there, everybody knows him as this crazy guy.
To be honest, he really went quiet when we went to the puppy café – I had more fun there then he did for sure. He’s got a real aversion to dogs and I was trying to calm him down. I was loving it, I was in my element – a café, great drinks and the whole place was full of all variety of puppies. Such a great idea.
Will we be seeing Japanese week on Bake Off any time soon?
We have done something similar – we’ve dabbled in Japanese culture in the past, but I’d like to think one day.
Why do you think so many people have turned to baking whilst in isolation?
It’s affordable and it’s easy – get a good recipe and good stable oven and it’s easy for anyone to do. I’ve been doing a lot of baking since the lockdown and I’ve really enjoyed it. Some of it I’ve filmed, some began from my Instagram, some on my website paulhollywood.com, I’m enjoying sharing baking tips.
Flour is the issue though – I’ve got baking powder which I was given by a neighbour, but I must admit I haven’t got any plain flour! One of my favourite things to bake at the moment is banana bread. I haven’t made it for about 12 years when I used to supply it to hotels, but I had to do it with strong flour which is all I had. I improvised, baked it, carved it up, put a little hint of butter on it, had it with a cup of tea and it was delicious.
What’s been your lockdown snack of choice?
Is there anything else you want to add?
This series features the real me rather then the guy people normally see on TV. The person that viewers watch on Bake Off has to be opinionated and give constructive feedback to bakers. In this series, I was like a kid again trying to learn new things and definitely having fun. I hope that comes across, I think people will definitely see a different side of me.
Thank you very much Paul. Or should we say domo arigato?
For more information, please visit www.japan.travel/en/uk