How we cast The Great Canadian Baking Show from lockdown
The producers of The Great Canadian Baking Show explain how they auditioned this year’s crop of bakers
Nothing has been normal this past year and The Great Canadian Baking Show is no exception.
One of the big things that changed was our casting process. How do you cast a baking competition when you can't taste anything that's being baked?
It turns out if your culinary producer is good enough, they can tell a whole lot from a video chat.
The Great Canadian Baking Show producer Marike Emery explains the Season 4 audition process.
When did you realize you weren't going to be able to audition people as usual, and what was your initial response to that?
We realized in March that our in-person cross-country audition process would need a full overhaul.
Normally, we'd travel to regional centres and invite anywhere from 20 to 100 hopeful bakers for interviews and in-person baking. Our culinary producer Melanie Stuparyk usually travels with our casting team; in a normal year, she would chat with the bakers about their baking know-how and taste their food. Due to COVID-19, all of this went out the window.
We drilled down into what we'd need to know about the bakers to properly evaluate their potential for the competition, and thought about how we could find this out with a combination of Zoom calls and assigned baking challenges.
Explain the remote audition process. How was it designed?
We created a multi-staged audition/screening process that would allow us to get a well-rounded understanding of the bakers' skill, ambition, creativity and technique.
The first step was to fine-tune the application form. Our casting team used this document to identify people who wrote passionately, eloquently, funnily, charmingly or smartly about their love of baking.
From there, interesting candidates were selected for a video call and bake presentation. This was a five-to-ten minute chat and the bakers were asked to show us some of their own baking. It didn't need to be fancy, just something they'd recently made. Keep in mind that we were doing this during the national lockdown, so everyone was home and baking regularly.
From approximately 2,000 applicants, we did about 200 video calls.
After the video calls, we did a third round of internal screening to get to our final stage: the invitation-only video bake-along.
Fewer than 40 bakers were invited to this stage. It was very competitive. Bakers were assigned a brief and had to follow the instructions provided. They had to bring a prepared bake and also bake live with one of our casting associates, myself and culinary producer Melanie on the call observing their baking skills and technique.
What were you looking for from the bakers?
We look for that well-rounded baker who has mad skills, crazy ambition, wonderful attitude and true passion for baking. We want someone who tells great stories about how and why they created their bakes. We love baking nerds. We wanted a curious baker, an experimenter who wanted to understand what worked and to try again when it didn't.
During the pandemic, people really needed the feel-good vibes of The Great Canadian Baking Show. We have a lot of superfans out there!- Marike Emery, producer, The Great Canadian Baking Show
How can you tell if the bakes tasted good?
Watching someone bake is actually more revealing than you would think. Their skill level is pretty easy to see as they get into their baking techniques.
Our culinary producer was invaluable in extrapolating from ingredients, recipes and technique to gain an understanding of how a bake tastes. The bakers themselves tended to be quite critical of their own bakes.
What was the most surprising thing from this process?
A few things. First, it was such a pleasure to meet and talk to so many Canadians, from one end of the country to the other, who just love the show! During the pandemic, people really needed the feel-good vibes of The Great Canadian Baking Show. We have a lot of superfans out there!
Secondly, there are a lot of super-talented bakers in Canada. We have a wonderful diversity of flavours and talent and the audition process revealed the degree to which people really take their baking super seriously.
And third, in some ways not being able to travel allowed us to audition people who we may not have met otherwise. The Zoom calls didn't disadvantage anyone who didn't have the time or money to travel. For the first time, we have bakers from Winnipeg and Quebec City, both are cities where we haven't held in-person auditions before.
The Great Canadian Baking Show returns to CBC and CBC Gem on February 14.