New Baking Show hosts dish on holiday plans and the best cheesecake ever
The new hosts of The Great Canadian Baking Show on having a weird Christmas and life in the tent
It's the most wonderful time of the year, pandemic or no pandemic. So we sat down with the brand new hosts of The Great Canadian Baking Show, Ann Pornel and Alan Shane Lewis, to talk about Christmas baking traditions, how they're celebrating this year, and what it was like to be the new kids in the tent.
What's the one baked good where, for you, it's just not the holidays if you don't get to eat it?
Alan: My mom's homemade bread. No wait! Scratch that. Bake. It's this West Indian dish called bake. You have it with saltfish, and every year my mom makes a whole bunch of bake and saltfish, and it's just like, that's Christmas morning. You put a little bit of pepper sauce on there and eat it all up together.
OK, so describe bake to me a little? I'm not really familiar with it.
Alan: It's a dough, and you can either make it in the oven or fry it. You can do different things with it. She makes a coconut bake sometimes. It's a handheld kind of size, and you put a bunch of fish and stuff inside. You can have bake and shark, bake and crab.
Ann? How about you?
Ann: To be honest, this isn't really a baking household. Can I just say chocolate?
You can just say chocolate.
Ann: Chocolate. If I'm the controversial host, so be it.
Given the pandemic and everything that's happening right now, how are you celebrating the holidays differently this year?
Ann: Definitely not seeing any other family, other than the ones I live with, is the biggest thing. And because there are those limitations as to what we can do, the fact that it will just be the three of us — my mom, my dad, and myself — we're probably gonna go all out. Like go even bigger. My dad is already planning to make all the Filipino foods, and I'm like 'Dad, are any of us gonna eat that!? There's only the three of us,' but he's on this huge kick like 'I'm gonna make this and I'm gonna make this and I'm gonna make that!' And I'm like 'OK, Lorenzo. We'll see about that.'
Alan: It's gonna be a weird year, because usually my sisters and my brother-in-law and the kids all come and spend time at my mom's house and we just ham it up, so this year that's all gonna be digital, on Zoom. But we'll still get to see the kids get their gifts and freak out. They're so easy to buy for, you just get 'em Pokemon cards. So it's gonna be a different time, but the love and everything is gonna be there? Question mark? Hopefully. Also, usually we watch Christmas movies — Home Alone, Scrooged — so hopefully we can get some sort of watch party going.
I was like 'Give me all of this happiness! Give me all of this kindness!' And it'll last me through the winter. It was so wonderful.- Ann Pornel on finding much-needed positivity in the baking tent
How was the experience of hosting The Great Canadian Baking Show match up to your expectations?
Ann: I didn't know what to expect, honestly? When you're in TV and film, you know what you see on screen isn't what happens backstage or behind the scenes. So when I was watching as a fan of the show I was like 'Oh, it's so heartwarming, it's so sweet, it's so kind, everyone's so supportive. Great job editors!' But then when we got there, it was so life affirming to see with my own eyes to see that positivity, that support, the feel good-ness of it all, is there in the tent as it's happening. It was such a wonderful way to come out of quarantine, because it was my first job after all the lockdowns and during all of this. So I was just there sucking up these wonderful positive vibes like I was some kind of sick vampire. I was like 'Give me all of this happiness! Give me all of this kindness!' And it'll last me through the winter. It was so wonderful.
Alan: I gotta say, it is super intense in that tent. Just watching those bakers work and seeing legit panic on their faces as they're trying to get things out. You feel it. You feel it with them, because you're so invested in their happiness and success. At the same time, you have to remember that you're also hosting a show, so you have to have that balance of being a fan, but also answering the audience's questions about the show. Sometimes I felt nervous! Like, I see you baking, but also I have to ask you some questions! So that was interesting to make that feel more natural as time went by. It was amazing watching those bakers bake. I learned so much, and hopefully I'll incorporate that into my own baked goods. Probably not, but we'll see.
Do either of you bake now?
Alan: I haven't baked yet, but I will. I've got Bruno's book right here. My girlfriend and I are gonna try something one of these days. I've been doing a lot of Uber Eats-ing. I ordered a red velvet cupcake last night. That counts right?
Ann: I have nothing to do, so Bruno, lovely Bruno, posted a recipe for blueberry cheesecake on his Instagram, and I was like 'Oh! My parents love blueberries, I'll try that!' And it took me a day. It took me a day. I don't know if it's supposed to take that long for a cheesecake, but I'm such an inefficient baker and I got so frustrated. But it turned out really good. So if you're looking for a really good cheesecake recipe, go to Bruno Feldeisen's Instagram, because he has one there and it is [kissing sound] chef's kiss, and I am not a good baker!
What was your favourite part of the Baking Show process?
Alan: Interacting with everybody. Hanging out with the bakers, the judges, the producers. Especially having been in quarantine for so long and then being put into this world of the most supportive, funniest people and just having really funny inside jokes and hanging out day to day. You make these new connections with these bakers, learning their stories and sharing your own story.
Ann: Yeah, the same thing. Getting to know the bakers, getting to know the judges, getting closer with Alan, and getting to know the rest of the crew was so delightful. Just such a wonderful group of humans, especially the bakers. It's so stressful to be in that tent and do what they do, and yet they maintain their positivity and their good-naturedness. Because the show asks a lot of them and it's quite demanding, and to see them do it and almost always succeed is mind boggling. Because I took a full day to make a cheesecake! You only put cheese in a bowl and it took me five, six hours! So to do what they do, and to do it so charmingly, the fans and the viewers of the show are gonna see how wonderful the bakers are, and I'm so excited for Canada to meet them.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Season 4 of The Great Canadian Baking Show starts Feb. 14 at 8 p.m.