Kerry Vincent – dubbed the “Simon Cowell of Cake” for her baking masterpieces – is the no-fuss expert judge on Channel Nine’s new cooking show The Great Australian Bake Off. Each week, contestants will be faced with challenges in Signature Bake, Technical Bake and Showstopper Bake categories, and the last person standing is set to be crowned Australia’s Best Home Baker. We asked the self-taught cake designer and talented author about the most common baking missteps, and her upfront judging style on the show.
Q: You’ve been called the “Simon Cowell of Cake” and the “Dominatrix of Decorating”. What’s behind your honest and upfront style?
As the old adage says, honesty is the best policy and it holds true here. Strict judges are often described as mean. Wrong, they are simply being honest and straightforward about the work – it’s never personal. Competitors need to know exactly where they go wrong. Coddling doesn’t make them better bakers (this holds true for any field in life). A consistent, “Oh la, you were all wonderful every step of the way,” doesn’t do them any favours, fair evaluation does. If contestants choose a national platform and put themselves out there, it becomes a very public thing, and for some, a little humiliating if they are caught lacking, but the smart ones respond and do it better. Ambition plays a big part. No-one has held a gun at competitors’ heads insisting they must compete; they know what they are getting into and should be prepared to take the risk and the criticism. Show formulas are no secret. The audience wants to hear the truth. If I started lying about, or sugar-coating an evaluation, they would catch on very fast and hammer me about being too soft. That said, I am also a chip off my father’s block – he never minced words!
Q: You’ve seen great saves and greater mistakes across lots of cooking competitions. What are some of the more common missteps amateur bakers make, and what makes a winning entry?
Amazingly, competitors rarely read the rules in-depth; they skim them quickly and think that is enough. Massive mistake! I have judged many competitions where the competitors were required to provide client satisfaction, a component with lots of points to award. The requirement was totally ignored by the competitors and even though their work was sublime I had no choice other than to score down. Losing 10 points for nothing is crazy. Many “wing it” and do not prepare properly. Meticulous preparation is the key to competitive success.
Q: After so many years baking professionally and judging competitions, are there still times you go home and bake for friends and family? Is there one recipe you always come back to?
Oh, of course many, I cook savoury every day and try to make sure that when I cook desserts, pastry and cake that I have friends around me and share the wealth so I don’t end up eating it all by myself! At my age, I love my cake and want to eat it too, sadly moderation is truly important. I often say, I might just as well rub cake calories straight into my thighs, eat too many and pay the price! To compensate for the occasional indulgence I walk every day. Believe it or not, after forty-three years away from Australia, I always have old-fashioned favourites Anzacs, gingernuts and melting moments in the freezer. Meringue in any form is a personal weakness. I often make the ubiquitous pavlova with different incarnations: a dacquoise, floating island custard, or lemon meringue pie. My cakewalk no longer includes macarons and bread pudding – the market is simply in a state of saturated overkill!
Q: What three words best describe Australia’s Best Home Baker?
Talented, determined and engaging – and bonus point for entertaining!
We’re giving away a Profiline PushPan bakers’ set and a copy of The Great Australian Bake Off cookbook as part of our fantastic PushPan prize pack competition. Take a look and enter to win here.