Bake Off The Professionals

Q&A with Benoit Blin and Cherish Finden - Bake Off: The Professionals

Category: Interview, Press Pack Article

Bake Off: The Professionals is back – you have worked together since the first series, have you developed a shorthand between you now?

Cherish:  I really enjoy working with Benoit and I love his sense of humour.  He is a very talented and charming man.  We complement each other very well, and I pick up on his body language and facial expression during judging even before he starts speaking! 

Benoit:  Definitely, I have known Cherish for many many years, for about 20 years now.  I completely know what she likes and what she doesn’t like, and the same for me.  Matcha tea is not one of my favourite flavours, but Cherish loves it.  We know each other’s foibles and it works well!  Cherish might kick off if the precision isn’t correct, and sometimes she tells me off for eating too quickly, we play opposite each other and enjoy each other the more we understand each other.   I think we complement each other really well.

What you admire about each other?

Benoit:  To be honest, she has such a great sense of humour, and I love that.    She can be portrayed as tough and mean sometimes but she is a lovely lady with a kind soul.  She is a perfectionist but that’s in her nature and really she is always trying to look after everyone on set and make sure everyone is ok.

Cherish: I am very similar to Benoit as we are very passionate about Pastry. I was very scared of him the first time I met him however the more I got to know him, the more I understand him. We understand each other’s strengths and we respect each other. Benoit always teases me by recognizing my body language and knows on a judging that I am thinking  “This tastes horrible and I would not want to pay for it. I want a refund.”

If something goes wrong – breaks off or melts down – how bad do you feel for the teams?

Benoit:  You just hope that they are going to progress, some teams are stronger than the others, and you want them all to aim for the final.  I like to think we have a tough love with constructive criticism.   When it does go wrong we give them a lot of feedback, sometimes you don’t see it on tv, but if they feel they have failed and their pride is dented we try our best to give positive feedback -  as we are all pastry chefs and brothers in arms at the end of the day.  We all have the same love and passion for what we do.

Cherish: One showpiece collapsed just before judging and my jaw did drop when I came to their table – I really felt for them. The chefs are very emotional this year and there is lots of drama.  I keep trying to whisper keep on trying, and do not give up.  We both try our very best to encourage the teams and sometimes I just want to put on my apron and jump in and help them, but of course I can’t!

How hard is it for the teams this series?

Benoit:   It’s always hard, that’s the nature of the competition!  They might be good in their own kitchen but they haven’t done it in a studio.  It’s a race and a competition, and there is very little room for mistakes.  You get exposed very quickly, and it is hard but any race is a difficult one but if you organize a good strategy and follow it through you will succeed.  Throughout the competition every team will have a bad day.  But the thing is - you can’t have two bad days back to back, as then you will be out.

CherishWe never make it too easy for the teams as the challenges are to see how creative, knowledgeable, innovative and how organized they are.  Some challenges might appear simple but they are not, and that’s where the cracks start to show!

Is there a Secret Challenge again in this series?

Benoit:  Yes and this year it’s going to be just as tough for the teams.  We provide a small part of the recipe for them, but there is plenty of room for it to all go wrong….

Cherish:  There was certainly a nervous feeling in the air around the secret challenge.  We have something up our sleeve this series,  and without giving too much away, it will be different from last year.

Some interesting Showpieces? 

Cherish: There are some exceptional showpieces. The skill and technique the chefs bring in this year is fantastic. I could not imagine that they could produce such great work.  I felt for the chefs when on the odd occasion we were going around they did not produce what they wanted because of the time restrictions, my heart goes out to them when this happens.

Benoit:  What I find really interesting is that you get some fantastic Showpieces at the beginning of the series as well as towards the end.    Some of the teams didn’t have great experience with sugar work, but they adapted their skills to make it work.  What I really enjoyed this year was how they tried to play to their strengths and what they were able to accomplish.

A third series of working with Tom and Liam, can you explain the dynamic!?

Benoit:   It becomes funnier each series, those guys are so good with each other, they have a comedy shorthand.  We often go out for dinner as we like each other’s company.  I think it works so well as we are from different backgrounds but it just works and we have a good laugh and there is a lot of teasing going on.  Consistently a real pleasure, Liam helps me how to work my phone, and he is a star at social media. 

Cherish:  The energy and dynamic are very natural and genuine. We enjoy each other’s company. We are all very different, but we respect each other’s talent.  We all come from different walks of life, but it all comes together on set.  Liam is still very cheeky he is still pranking everyone which lightens the mood on set.

How would you describe your role in the series?

Benoit:  I like to think that I am trying to mentor the teams to succeed and to show us some beautiful work.  I really enjoy doing it, and we may be tough with them when we criticize their work but it’s to get them to be the best team possible.

Cherish: I am a Judge and mentor and I hope to help the team so they are able to progress throughout the show.

What are the best bits to look forward to on this series?

Cherish: Dramas all along the way from the beginning, but it is definitely the final as we had created an exciting challenge for the chefs.   I promise this will be a challenge you have not seen in the history of the series so far, it’s very exciting and dramatic.

Benoit:  There are of course some breakages!  Everyone hates to see it go wrong but at the same time we are fascinated by it.  It makes great television and keeps you on the edge of your seat.  There are also some fantastic pastries to look at, with some highs and lows, drama and catastrophe - put that together and it’s a pastry drama!

Benoit, where do the teams come from? Who are they?

A: Each team has two chefs ranging from larger organisations to smaller ones and bespoke set ups from all over the UK.    The teams come from a range of locations and cultures and hopefully we show a diverse representation of the pastry world around the UK.

Cherish,  how does it work with the semi final and the final then?

A: There are two rounds of heats. One team is eliminated in each episode up to Episode 6.  Episode 7 combines the best three teams from each heat, and then one team is eliminated each episode until the final where three teams remain, and that’s very intense and exciting!

Are the teams as precise as previous years, what’s the level of expertise this time?

Cherish: The standard this year is fantastic, I can honestly say there are some exceptional teams.  Some of the pastry I tasted this series was the best I have ever come across. The chefs are very competent this year, and it’s interesting to see how they strengthen in their prowess as each series goes on.

Benoit:  They have a great deal of skills this year, and throughout the series we try to bring a different set of skills, so each team can show off what they really enjoy doing.  On precision, I leave Cherish to get her ruler out as usual!

Cherish - Craziest think you have ever made?

A Langham Express Train Showpiece for Christmas which we had in front of the restaurant for about 6 weeks  - 1.6m tall and 2 meter wide. It had 6 reindeers, 1 polar bear and 1 giraffe.   It took a long time to make but it was a wonderful project to work on and full of magic. There were around 8888 sweets on the train and carriage -  I wanted to create a piece that would put smile on people’s faces.

Have you ever cried if a creation went wrong in the series?

Benoit:  I don’t think I have ever cried on set,  but I have to say internally I have been very emotional.  Sometimes it catches you off guard when you see someone else crying. 

Cherish: The only challenge I cried at was in Series 1  when at the Final Episode  - one of the team’s sugar showpiece completely collapsed.  That was heartbreaking and I was really upset.

How difficult is it being a Judge?

Benoit:  It’s not that difficult as long as the creations are beautiful to eat.  My only complaint might be that you have to watch your weight, so to eat 12 desserts back to back sometimes is a lot to get through.   The difficulty is giving the right level of feedback which will be positive for the team to take away.  You don’t want to be mean for the sake of it, you want it to help as a fair comment for the Teams.

Cherish: It is difficult being a judge but I always want to be fair and speak from my mind and sometimes the truth can hurt.  But I am honest and faithful to my patisserie passion, so I think whatever decision Benoit and I come to eliminating a team is the true one.

Have you ever disagreed on a judging?

Benoit:  Yes we have, as we see pastry in a different way.   90% of the time we agree, Cherish has a style and I have my own.  But we have acceptance on both sides, we have a different approach and yet we always come up with the right judgement call, and we do that together.  This year it has worked especially well.

Cherish: Yes definitely we disagree sometimes but we always come to an agreement, sometimes we agree to disagree!

Any Patisserie regrets?

Benoit:  As a younger man I would have loved working for a MOF  [Meillure Ouvrier de France] – they are at the top of their game – that was something I always wanted to do, but I feel I have achieved similar with the people I have worked with throughout my career.

Cherish: I don’t really have any regrets but sometime I tell myself you are not working hard enough  or achieving enough. I am tough on myself but it’s always because I want to improve!

Are you the ‘mum and dad’ to Tom and Liam?

Benoit:  Sometimes you do feel that you are the different generation  - but when we go out and have dinner and relax - we are all the same age.

Cherish: Liam definitely is my Bake Off son, and a bit cheeky, and Tom is just there to make us laugh.  They are both very kind and caring.

What would you have taken up as a career if you didn’t do Patisserie?

Benoit:  Academically I could have carried my studies further, but for me It was always Patisserie there was no other option from when I left school, it was what I wanted to do always.

Cherish: I was very keen on Science when I was young and wanted to be a doctor. However, I like to think of myself as Doctor Pastry now,  If your bake did not turn out well I could examine and analyse what went wrong and then prescribe a medicine and a solution to the bake!

Patisserie moment you have been most proud of in your career?

Benoit:  Achieving the MCAs – you don’t win them lightly – my medal was given to me by Prince Charles, so a very proud moment in 2005.

Cherish: Culinary Olympic Competition in Germany when Singapore Pastry National Team, came in Overall winner.

Favourite pastry as a child?  Best childhood memory?

Benoit: There are so many!  I always had such a sweet tooth child as a child.  I have always loved the Financier the rich sponge almond cake with vanilla and rum, it’s a fabulous combination it’s like gold dust you can’t resist it.  I loved as a child going early in the morning to the bakeries to get them, and I still love them now, but I can’t eat them every day now!

Cherish:   A lovely childhood memory of mine is going shopping with my mum to Pasar Malam a night market in Singapore,  and she would hold my hand.  We would buy Kueh Tutu  a traditional Singaporean steam delicacy which has rice flour, grated coconut and peanut powder.  Delicious.

What’s next for you both career wise?

Cherish: I am joining  a new hotel opening - the Pan Pacific London - as their Executive Pastry Chef. It’s a very exciting move for me and I am hugely looking forward to it.

Benoit:  I am Chef Patissier at the Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons working closely with Raymond Blanc, and continue to enjoy the challenge of creating different desserts, bakes and  pastries there.   I am also chairman of the UK Pastry Club.

This year is a very challenging year for everyone in the country and we are going to have to support everyone in the industry.  We are going to have to fight for recovery but we can do it.