Yorkshire’s Great British Bake Off winner David Atherton recalls his top cooking triumphs - and disasters

Yorkshire’s David Atherton, the 2019 winner of Great British Bake Off, shares his culinary recollections with Ella Walker after writing his debut cookbook for children.

David Atherton. Picture: Walker Books Ltd/PA.

We’re still watching this year’s batch of Great British Bake Off contestants staring into the depths of their ovens, while trying not to burn caramel.
It must be a little bit of relief, at least, for 2019 winner David Atherton – even for someone who might just be the calmest champion in Bake Off history, the feted tent can be a tough place to be.

The Whitby-born health professional has been busy since becoming the ultimate star baker, writing his debut cookbook for children, My First Cook Book: Make, Bake & Learn To Cook, which has been illustrated by is friend Rachel Stubbs.

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We caught up with Atherton, 37, about his food memories.

Atherton says his earlier memory of food is probably of baking bread.

“Cutting off bits of dough and thinking I’m making a rabbit, when actually, by the time it’s risen and come out of the oven, you can’t tell the difference between the other bread buns,” he says.

Atherton says the first time he cooked for people and felt a rush of pride was as a child when he was so happy with what he had created, he even dressed up for the occasion.

“I remember making a lasagne and thinking it was the most technical thing ever, and I made it for my family and was very, very proud of it,” he says.

“It was before I was a teenager, so I was probably like 11 or 12. I remember because I remember wearing a bow-tie to serve it as well, as if I was a waiter.”

But he says it hasn’t always been plain sailing in the kitchen, with one memory particularly standing out for the wrong reasons.

“It sounds really silly but it still scars me. I went to get a thing of icing sugar but I dropped it; it went over everything in the kitchen, it genuinely took days to actually clean it because still like two days later, it would still be sticky. That annoyed me the most.

“But in terms of food, it’s probably that I don’t really like timers. I have a thing where I claim I just know when things are ready, and I go out to the shops and come back and things are totally burnt.

“I’m much better at cooking than baking. Like on Bake Off, I was terrible at setting timers. I think I was just lucky.”

There are no surprises about what his culinary high point is though - last year’s Bake Off triumph.

Atherton made history as the first person to take the Bake Off crown without having been named star baker during the programme after a fiendish final challenge involving making an ‘illusion picnic basket feast’.

“When we got the brief for that, we were just like, ‘Whoa, this is actually impossible’,” he recalls. “And then, when I look back now. I kind of seem to make it look easy, even though it didn’t seem easy at the time.”

Since his triumph, in addition to releasing his first book Atherton has also started writing a column for The Guardian newspaper, sharing healthy eating tips with readers.

He explained last year that experience of “life or death situations” in his role as a health adviser for Voluntary Service Overseas - helping impoverished communities and suffering malaria in the line of duty himself - had helped him keep a cool head in the Bake Off tent.

“I’ve been in life or death situations when I’ve been treating children who are seriously ill with malaria,” he explained.

“I was able to keep things in perspective and kept reminding myself that even if my pastry was soggy, or my cake didn’t rise properly, I’ve coped with much more serious situations.”

My First Cook Book Make, Bake & Learn To Cook is written by David Atherton and illustrated by Rachel Stubbs. It is out now, priced at £14.99.

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James Mitchinson