Master of precision, crafter of chocolate wells and raider of hedgerows, Ian Cumming flew the flag for Cambridgeshire when he reached the final of The Great British Bake Off 2015 last month.
Ian began his culinary journey by winning Star Baker three weeks in a row early in the competition, and we’re unlikely to see the likes of his fully-operational chocolate wishing well, or Victorian ‘roadkill pie’ (hmmm) in the Bake Off tent again. In the final, his iced buns reaped mixed reviews from the judges, and despite feeling “comfortable with jam”, his millefeuille displayed unforgivable gapping. Nonetheless, his giant, cascading carrot cake showstopper was hailed “one of the best carrot cakes I’ve ever had” by baking behemoth Paul Hollywood himself.
The photographer from Great Wilbraham took a few moments out from his busy post-Bake Off schedule to tell us what it was like to be part of one of the nation’s best-loved and most-watched programmes.
Q. Firstly, Ian, where did you watch the final?
A. I watched the final at home with the family and a whole load of friends from the village.
Q. It was your wife who encouraged you to apply, so that she could go to the post-show tea party at the end. Did she enjoy it?
A. No – she was far too stressed!
Q. What did your family make of it all?
A. The family were very supportive but none of us expected that I would go that far.
Q. You seemed to take everything in your stride – did you ever feel out of your depth?
A. I guess I felt more and more out of my depth as the weeks went on. However, chocolate was something I had never tempered before GBBO, so I felt like a real amateur there. The cream horns might have been the most nerve wracking, as I got the timing so wrong.
Q. Do you feel that Nadiya was a deserved winner?
A. Without a doubt!
Q. How hard was it keeping quiet about who won?
A. It has been tough keeping secrets for so long. We weren’t supposed to tell anyone apart from close friends and family, and I told no one about who won. Many people asked, but always in good humour. I told them even my own brother didn’t know!
Q. Did you get to know Mary and Paul much over the series?
A. No, Paul and Mary were strictly there as judges. But Mel and Sue were another matter – we had lots and lots of chats with them.
Q. Tell us something about the show which viewers don’t get to see…
A. The washing-up all has to be done out back by hand, as a machine was too noisy. We never saw the washing-up area. But they deserve prizes!
Q. How is your own kitchen looking, incidentally?
A. [Laughs] Still a mess! I cooked the colossal carrot cake again for a party last night and I still haven’t tidied up all the piping bags, etc. Plus I am bending more bits of metal into interesting-shaped pastry moulds, so it’s full of far more bits of metalwork than when they filmed here.
Q. Tell us about the cake you made for the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday…
A. It was a mango and cardamom cake with lime curd in the middle and lime icing. I used moulds I’d made so that it was the shape of a lotus flower (Tibetan auspicious symbol) when viewed from above.
Q. How did you come to be his official photographer?
A. It came about after I’d made multiple trips to Tibet, then photographed him in India, so I was in on the Tibetan ‘scene’ here in the UK and it went from there.
Q. Did photography or baking come first for you?
A. Photography definitely came first. But I’ve always liked puddings – no meal is complete without one – so just enjoyed them. When family came along I just liked to provide good food for them. And I like the creative outlet.
Q. Do you have any baking projects coming up?
A. Nothing definite, but a lot of unpredictable things have happened this year, so goodness knows what will happen next!
Q. What’s been your most unusual encounter as a Bake Off ‘celeb’?
A. I’d say, bumping into Alan Carr yesterday, backstage at An Extra Slice, and him saying “Hello, Ian. I suppose you do know me…!”
Q. Finally, what did you learn from your Bake Off experience?
A. If you want to make something of life, you have to take a risk and think differently in order to stand out from the crowd.