Winner of The Great Irish Bake Off on TV3 Killarney Lady Tracy Coyne has a chat with us about what it was like for her to participate in this challenge in front of the eyes of the nation. She also tells us about Tracy at home as a mum and how she juggles work, home and now the title.
Tracy I always think cooking or baking is something that’s handed down from generations is this so in your case?
My Mother is a fabulous cook and a very capable baker, as well as being a trained butcher…she could skin, bone and roll a chicken in 90 seconds flat! She hasn’t taught me that trick yet but she taught me how to feed a family well on very little, and how to make meal-times family-times. The kitchen was the heart of her home growing up with her three sisters and it was the heart of our home growing up with my three sisters. For us, baking and cooking is about more than the food, it’s about who you are doing it for and why…this is the greatest lesson I learned from my Mother, and hers…the Kitchen is only a Stage!
I always think there is a difference between being a cook and a baker is this so? or are the two linked? Would you be more comfortable cooking dinner for ten people, or making that all important desert dish?
I’ve always been more of a cook than a baker…! The dinner party is something I could do with one hand tied behind my back, where the baking I actually have to give some thought to…! From the moment I went to college, my house became the To-Go-To place for student friends, and their friends whose money had run out before the end of the week! Dinner parties are definitely my thing.
Tell us about being a contestant on National TV?
Being on the show was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I treated it as such…so few people ever get a chance to do something they love with like-minded people without the distractions of daily life diluting it…the absence of phone, work, email and family was novel and a little disconcerting at first but actually quite liberating as it allowed us to focus on the job at hand and be the best bakers we could be in the moment. Another thing that struck me is that we all get tested in our academic, sporting and work lives, but not so much in other spheres such as hobbies, or obsessions like baking is for the twelve of us, and many others I’m sure! The other contestants were fabulous – when I landed in first to the hotel, I was a bit nervous initially as the other contestants seemed to have so much more technical knowledge and confidence…at that stage really all I wanted was to get through the first episode and not make a show of myself! Actually, as the chatter went on between the contestants, I discovered that I definitely had as much knowledge as the rest, but I mightn’t have had the correct French name of the techniques they were describing..! In the end, I think we were a fairly evenly matched bunch of bakers, and that what separated us was our ability to be daring without risking everything, manage our time with absolute precision, stay organised while working in a space that was two foot by two foot, and keep our heads when things didn’t go exactly to plan…
The judges were super nice to us and while I’ve been following the twitter ramblings about the harshness of their critique, truly their judging was fair and honest and nobody viewed it as anything other than that… The editing certainly steered the shows towards dramatic TV but really, what we all wanted was a really good and watchable TV show and that’s what the editing suite gave us. Biddy and Paul are both gentle people and it took a lot to make them look harsh, but what we saw both in the tent and the hotel were closer to benevolent parents than critical judges!
Anna of course was the star of the show…she’s such good fun and used her neutral position to tension bust when that was the order of the day…her witty little jibes were what put the smile on your face when your buns were doughy or when you burnt your nuts…as Alex so famously did…twice!!
Ali Baker will probably be one of my best friends for life, and Alex Baker has promised to have my sons train under him when he is an acclaimed French Patisserie…and Elaine Baker was my greatest loss in the tent, I was really shook when she was eliminated as I thought she and I would journey together…which would have been epic!
Any surprises out of the Bake Off?
Well I didn’t think I would win it, for sure!
The things that surprised me most were the ease with which the production crew managed the whole filming aspect. I supposed that if you put a team of professionals – the TV crew, together with a team of amateurs – the contestants, that you would have trauma induced mayhem for the duration… In fact, in the whole four weeks of filming and managing the production, I never saw even a glimmer of a scowl pass over the faces of the floor manager, producers or director – despite contestants wandering off set as the cameras were about to roll, going missing between shoots, getting shirty about publicity material or the myriad of other daft things that throw a spanner in the works… I guess that underlines what consummate professionals we were working with really; it was a pleasure to be a part of the team for the short while we were there.
I’m not sure that I learned too many technical skills while filming the show as the focus was not really on mentoring from the judges. I did develop an absolute confidence in myself as a baker in that I didn’t faff any of the technical challenges too badly despite having never made any of them before, and not having even heard of or seen some of them..! I placed first in three, and second in two of the eight technical challenges which was a pretty good result overall. Prior to participating in the competition, I think there were many of those bakes that I might have avoided for being either too complex, or too time consuming. Actually, now I’m much more inclined to believe I can accomplish something rather than not which is a long way to come for a time poor home baker.
How do you manage the kids, full time job and still manage to bake…
It was the fact that I travel so much for work that started the baking in earnest really…I was leaving three small children at a crèche daily and Mother’s Guilt was starting to bother me seriously. I remembered spending hours in the kitchen with my own Mother, in addition to the memories of coming home from school to the smell or freshly baked queen cakes or chocolate fudge straight from the oven. It was at the table after school, eating freshly baked delights, which we four girls chatted with Mum about the dramas and laughs of our day at school. This was where we learned to share stories and tears and laughs and I wanted that for my children in some way. While times change and the demands of our daily lives are different, I knew that by giving them those moments in the evenings or the weekends, I could make precious memories for our family and they were easy to achieve with a bag of flour and an oven. Thus was the start of the baking, and as you know, children are demanding in lots of ways and soon, old fashioned queen cakes were not enough…they were asking for novelty cakes and chocolate brownies and we had to expand our repertoire to keep up with the times.
Once school lunches started, I embraced bread and tried to make alternatives to sandwiches for the lunchboxes. Some of these were featured on the Bake Off episodes like the Picnic Pie and the Indian Street Roll Bread both of which are regulars in our house. These bakes mean that I was all done for the lunch boxes in one go and that I’m not buttering sliced pans and making sandwiches before work in the morning – sometimes we do that, but mostly I try to give them something homemade if I can. I guess I believe that anything you make yourself is better than anything that comes from a factory so work with that philosophy when I can.
How important is it that kids should be educated to food from an early age?
I think children should understand where food comes from and that food, in its natural form, doesn’t come cling wrapped. Baking is a kind of ancient magic that we still practice and hopefully always will in the world. Who would ever think looking at flour and water that it could be made into something as perfectly delicious as crusty bread..? I am very conscious of the amount of nasties in mass produced food, the additives and preservatives, sugar and salt that are present and I wanted to arm my lot with something better. There’s a place for modernity in food but where we can, we try to live by a philosophy that takes the best ingredients we can afford to buy and do as little as possible to them…sometimes it’s a struggle but there’s a recipe for every set of ingredients that will yield something wholesome and delicious… all supermarkets now run weekly offers on fresh veg so there’s no reason not to put on that pan of Sunday Soup! One of our Sunday rituals is to make Super 6 Soup which is never the same; it usually goes to school in flasks.
What now for Tracy?
I’ve already been rewarded for my success in the Great Irish Bake Off in the way it has allowed me to show my children that anything is possible if you want it enough and work hard enough to make it happen!
I have a blog with some of my favourite recipes on it which I would love to grow and develop a little more…and who knows, maybe there’s a book in it..?! My friends regularly moan about not being able to turn ordinary ingredients into extraordinary dishes and I seem to have a knack with that little bit of magic that evades most people…I’d like to share the secrets and the skill or intuition that makes that easy for me…Having a bake shop where people can eat good things and take some time to simply take some time would be a dream…
Since the show has ended I have already done some pretty exciting things and there are more in the pipeline…I was invited to demo at The Taste of Dublin in the same tent as two of my absolute food heroes, Darina Allen and Clodagh McKenna – I have the full range of Darina’s Simply Delicious cook books which were the first I’d ever owned after Deirdre Madden’s All About Home Economics and I got a selfie with Clodagh! There are similar events around the country in the pipeline so it’s been really positive so far. I am currently working with Garvey’s and Supervalu on some special evenings so keep an eye out , I will be at the Dingle Food Festival’s Taste Trail in October with some special recipes to tantalise the taste buds!
The traffic to my twitter and website has increased even though both are embryonic so that’s inspiring in that people appear to be attracted to my style of food – that’s the real reward I guess, and validation that other home bakers understand what I do and are prepared to try it too.
If you would like to see more of Tracy’s recipes log on to www.TracysKitchen.ie or follow her on twitter @TracysKitchenIE