Baking, it's not just for girls
The all-male final of Great British Bake Off is a signal that attitudes to baking are changing. This can only be a good thing.
By Chris Pople 17/10/2012 11:42
So finally, sadly, series 3 of The Great British Bake-Off - otherwise known as The Only TV Cookery Show It's OK To Like - is at an end. And from the first all-male final we have our second male winner, John Whaite. If this had been Masterchef, the fact that so many star bakers were male would not even have registered as newsworthy, so what is it about baking in particular that means it has traditionally, in this country at least, been considered 'just for girls?'
As recently as the 90s, the UK's favourite cook was Delia Smith, who spoke softly to camera in the manner of a kindly aunt, gently advising the best way to get your sponge cakes to rise. In many ways, the nation's attitude to the gender politics of the kitchen hadn't moved on much from the image of the post-war housewife, lovingly preparing dinner for her working husband.
"Until recently baking was relegated to the odd occasion Mr Celebrity Chef would deign to make a dessert"
Then, brilliant and charismatic chefs like Marco Pierre White and (a little later) Gordon Ramsay burst onto the scene, transforming dinner into a testosterone-fuelled battle and the chefs themselves into rock stars. Delia, bless her, never seemed quite sure how to react to this shift, and was last seen attempting to convince an incredulous nation that opening a pack of potato wedges was cooking. The nation, quite rightly, thought otherwise.
"...this isn't Baking Made Easy or A Hundred Loving Closeups of Cupcakes, but a real grown-up approach to a serious and noble profession"
Until recently then, baking, associated as it was with homely, safe, feminine pursuits, was relegated to the odd occasion Mr Celebrity Chef would deign to make a dessert, and even then they seemed slightly embarrassed about it amid all their blokey swagger. Even now you are far more likely to see the willowy Lorraine Pascale make a chocolate cake than any TV show fronted by Gordon Ramsay or Jamie Oliver.
What's unusual about the Great British Bake-off is that not only are men seen baking, but that the process is shown to be difficult, stressful, skilled and demanding work - this isn't Baking Made Easy or A Hundred Loving Closeups of Cupcakes, but a real grown-up approach to a serious and noble profession. Which it always has been, of course, it has just taken this long for TV to realise it.
So, with any luck, the legacy of this year's Great British Bake-off will be to raise the profile of baking to the level where dessert isn’t an afterthought and the skill of the pastry chef is measured alongside anyone else in a kitchen. And then maybe, finally, we can leave the gender politics of the kitchen behind.
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