Over the past few years, I have developed a talent for finding binge-worthy shows on Netflix and getting the rest of the family sucked into them. Often, the only result is hours of entertainment, but my recent discovery of “The Great British Baking Show” has led to tangible benefits for my 20-year-old youngest brother.
If you have not had the pleasure, “The Great British Baking Show” features a dozen talented amateur bakers vying to be named the U.K.’s best. Each week, the show’s judges, renowned cookbook writer Mary Berry and top artisan baker Paul Hollywood, assign a new set of challenges to test the bakers’ skills.
With the exception of the final week of competition, which is among three remaining finalists, one competitor is eliminated each week and one earns the distinction of being that week’s star baker. The tension is diffused by the wonderfully dry observations of hosts Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc.
What makes “The Great British Baking Show” so delightful to watch is the attitude of the competitors. Though all of them want to be the last baker standing, they want to win because they baked well and proved they deserved that honor rather than because others baked poorly and were eliminated.
There seems to be a genuine air of camaraderie among the bakers. They cheer each other on, sincerely compliment each other’s work, offer comfort over the judges’ criticism and even lend a hand if someone else is in trouble. It’s quite refreshing, especially when you’re used to competitive cooking shows like “Hell’s Kitchen.”
When I first began watching “The Great British Baking Show” on Netflix, there were no takers among the family. I eventually converted Mom, who found it absolutely enchanting after she realized it wasn’t an instructional cooking show.
Enter youngest brother, home from college on his winter break and looking for quality time with the family and a quality viewing experience. Quickly swept up in the British baking awesomeness, he found one competitor particularly impressive: Andrew, a 25-year-old aerospace engineer.
In the course of a single episode, Andrew modified his rolling pin to achieve a more uniform thickness of dough, used the word “tessellate” properly and constructed a three-dimensional gingerbread scene according to detailed schematics he drew up himself, accompanied by a checklist that allowed him to track the status of all his gingerbread components.
Youngest brother, a second-year electrical engineering student, was inspired.
It must be said that youngest brother is no stranger to the kitchen. He started cooking as part of Boy Scout camp-outs in elementary school, and in high school, one of his merit badges required him to plan and prepare three days’ worth of meals for at least two people.
I was one of the beneficiaries of the fruits of his labor, and I still remember the tuna salad he made that had shredded cheese and raisins in it. Youngest brother, please consider this my official request that you make this again the next time you’re home.
His cooking skills fell by the wayside during his first year of college due to his dining-hall-based meal plan and adjusting to the rigors of the electrical engineering major, so last semester was his first time being responsible for his own meals. Regrettably, he wasn’t able to do much advance planning on that front and ended up getting by on cereal, instant ramen and smoothies purchased at a beverage stand on campus.
When he came home for winter break, he had hopes that perhaps he could recalibrate and get organized enough to eat better next semester, but given how stressful his course load was looking, he wasn’t very optimistic.
And then, he watched Andrew bake a set of savory, hot-water crust pies inspired by a da Vinci spiral. The gear-shaped pies were of different sizes and presented on a series of platforms in such a way that when he turned a mechanism, the pies all rotated like an interlocking set of gears – and they tasted wonderful, too.
If Andrew could accomplish such an incredible feat of pie engineering, why not youngest brother? At the very least, he felt confident he could manage more than instant ramen and was excited to explore the possibilities.
It helped, too, that Mom and Dad were supportive of his culinary aspirations. A few days before he went back to school, they reminded him of a cookbook of simple recipes they had given him when he started college and took him to Costco to stock up on easy-to-prepare staples like tuna fish and oatmeal.
Youngest brother expressed a desire to pick up some ingredients for baking, so Mom suggested they stop at Sauders in Seneca Falls, New York, on the drive back to school. It was his first time in what is essentially the Mennonite equivalent of Walmart, and he was astounded by the variety of spices he could buy in bulk – and their very reasonable price tags. He may be the only student on his campus whose post-vacation move-in involved huge sacks of flour and brown sugar and a tub of apple butter.
Cooking has now become part of youngest brother’s daily life as well as one of the ways he manages stress. In addition to making his meals, he’s made apple streusel muffins for his friends and a pumpkin Swiss roll for a party. He’s become quite popular at his on-campus job (everyone loves a good and generous baker), and his roommate even bought him an apron.
Should anyone try to convince you that there are no benefits to binge-watching a TV show, please feel free to present youngest brother as a binge-watching success story. Thus far, there have been no negative effects.
Well, except for his tendency to refer to cookies as biscuits and cakes as sponges, but that’s a consequence we’re willing to live with.
Tete-a-tete runs the first Thursday of the month. Teresa Santoski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via www.teresasantoski.com.