Nouse interviews former York student and Great British Bake-Off contestant Rowan Claughton


Nadia Sayed interviews York alumnus and 2023 Great British Bake-Off contestant Rowan Claughton.

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Image by Mark Bourdillon Channel 4

By Nadia Sayed

The Great British Bake-Off returned to Channel 4 on Tuesday, 26 September. One of this year’s bakers included a former English Literature student at the University of York, Rowan Claughton. This year, the series saw Alison Hammond as the new co-host alongside Noel Fielding. Hammond re-placed Matt Lucas, who, said to theBBC "his three-series stint had been a "delicious experience" but the time needed to oversee bakes alongside other projects was too much.” Hammond’s participation on the show as co-host was well-received overall. Nouse reached out to Rowan to find out more about his experience on Bake-Off and what he thought about his time as a student in York.

To begin with, Nouse asked what originally determined Rowan’s choice to study at the University of York. Rowan replied, “I live in Leeds and was desperate to move far away and start a new life elsewhere. What better city to choose than twenty minutes down the road.”

Given Rowan’s familiarity with both baked goods and the city of York, having graduated from the University in June this year, Nouse asked Rowan what his favourite cafes in York were. Rowan replied with the list: “Piccadilly, Fossgate Social, Rise for brunch and Lucky Days.” He then went on to explain how he first got into baking. “I was never a footballer like the other lads at school (shock), so my thing was always baking. Yeah, they could kick a ball in their spare time, but at age 12, I could make a wedding cake.”

Upon recounting his excitement about getting on to the show, Rowan told theYork Press: “Getting the call to say I had achieved that dream, I did the only thing appropriate – I slid to the floor, screamed down the phone and ran to the shops for a bottle of Prosecco, all before getting back to join the group wash-up in my uni house. Classy."

When asked, ‘What is the best thing you have baked so far?’ Rowan replied it was the wedding cake he baked himself for his 21st birthday. “It was huge and apparently tasted amazing. I wouldn’t know, I was too pissed to cut it myself.” The cake Rowan is referring to was made of three tiers and had a total of 12 layers.

Nouse then asked if Rowan had a baking disaster story he could share. He stated this occurred during his practice for pastry week (week 5,) or in Rowan’s terms, the “week [he] got the boot”. Rowan explained, “My AbFab pies just kept collapsing, but I got them to work once, and they were great. My biggest disaster was in the tent for millions to see.” Given the recent death of the in-famous campus duck, Longboi, Nouse felt it was only right to ask Rowan how he felt about it. “Devo’d [devastated]. Like a punch to the stomach,” Rowan said. The Indian Runner duck-Mallardcross was often spotted around Der-went, which Rowan told Nouse was the college he was a part of during his time at York.

Rowan also remarked that being part of Derwent college contributed to his overall experience at York, mak-ing it an “amazing Uni to study at” and the “not-so-far-away move” even more worthwhile. Rowan then humorously commented: “Derwent till I die x"

In response to the question: What was the process of getting onto Bake-Off like? Rowan replied, “It was long but so worth it.” He continued to explain, “There were casting calls, camera tests, live baking tests in London. Basically, every stage was to make sure we had a personality and could bake. Somehow, I ticked both boxes.”

When prompted with the question, Who was your favourite judge on Bake-Off and why? Rowan replied, “Paul is lovely, and has such a good heart. He cares so much about the baking, and it was refreshing to see him away from the lens and just in person. However, the Dame (that’s Prue Leith) is just a hoot. She’s funny, kind, honest... Just a joy.” Nouse jokingly asked if Paul Holywood had a particular scent, to which Rowan replied, “Roses (the Yorkshire one).”

Nouse wanted to get Rowan’s take on some of the best traditional dishes in the region - as a Yorkshire local. Rowan began by telling Nouse “I want to be different and say a YorkshireGin, but I’ve lost most of my life-long reserves of dignity on that. So I’ll say Yorkshire Puddings. Stunning stuff.”

Rowan then summed up some of his highlights from the show. A key thing Rowan noted was the fact that experience has allowed him to learn to do things that scare him. “I don’t think too deeply about things which might seem intimidating because I’ll always find a way to get out of doing them.” Despite throwing himself into this experience and dealing with the pressure of the Bake-Off tent, Rowan stated he would never do the ITV show ‘I’m a Celebrity Get me out of here.’

To end the interview, Nouse asked Row-an if he could share any advice for budding bakers. His tips were: “Find a recipe, follow it, eat it, improve it. It’s good to learn as you go along in the kitchen, and baking, even if it goes wrong, is most of the fun.”

Although the 21-year-old was the youngest of this year’s twelve contestants, he is certainly not the only baker to have been the youngest of their cohort in the tent. Freya Cox, who appeared on the twelfth series of the show, broke the record for being the youngest contestant to enter the tent in 2021, at age 19. Freya is also a York alumna and was also the first Vegan baker to appear on The Great British Bake-Off. Since Bake-Off, Freya has released her own recipe book: ‘Simply Vegan Baking: Taking the faff out of vegan cakes, cookies, breads and desserts.’

The winner of this year’s series was announced on 1 December as 28-year-old Matty Edgel, who the Guardian describes as having “come from nowhere to triumph.”

If you are also interested in showcasing your baking skills, applications for next year's show are now open! To apply visit: The Great British Bake-Off 2024