Swapping a building site for the soufflés and soggy bottoms of the Great British Bake Off might seem like a cakewalk, but as tradesman and contestant of the hit BBC show, Richard Burr explains, combining builder, baker and cake maker can be a challenging mix.
When the fourth generation plasterer and bricklayer is not busy on extensions and refurb jobs across the capital he can invariably be found in his kitchen, and it’s that baking prowess that earned Richard Burr a place on a show that now attracts 10 million or more viewers – GBBO.
“When I was too young to come and work on site I had a Saturday job in a baker’s doing the washing up,” explains the north London tradesman. “We’d start at half past four, and they’d let me decorate the Danish’s every now and then, so I’ve actually been baking long before I started on the tools. As a consequence the family had been on at me to go on Bake Off for quite a while, and to be honest in the end I put in the application just to get a bit of piece of quiet!”
The successful family business of R.H. & P.R. Burr might seem a very long way from the Bake Off tent but the baking builder found that many of the same skills and experiences were applicable when cooking competitively.
“Bake Off was surprisingly similar to being on a busy building site,” explains Richard. “There’s trades all around you, like carpenters, as well as all the production crew and cameramen, with everyone getting on with their particular job, and I think that suited me more than some of the other guys, who might have been used to working in their own private, quieter spaces.”
“In fact, almost everything I did Paul Hollywood praised me for my builder-like precision, and it became a bit of a standing joke when I’d get back to the day job on site. Whenever I had to work with icing or it would be because I was a builder, for instance. I accidentally had a pencil behind my ear the first day, and after that the film crew were asking me before we started to make sure it was in place because it became a bit of a trademark builder thing.”
The BBC One programme was actually filmed over the summer and Richard found that, although hugely rewarding, juggling the demands of the day job with baking stardom proved difficult. “The episodes were usually shot on a weekend, but sometimes during the week as well, which made it hard for work, but luckily the old man was pretty understanding, but when you come home you’re getting the kids into bed and then practising your bakes till late in the evenings.”
“On the days of the shooting we’d all be up at 5.30am to be at the location at seven and filming would go on pretty late. Because they put us all up in the same hotel we did have great fun though, and there was real camaraderie between us all. I must admit there were a few occasions when we’d be back in the next day a bit bleary eyed after a few beers the night before.”
We asked Richard what the reaction has been on site to his new-found baking fame? “The show comes out on a Wednesday evening and every Thursday morning the lads usually tear into to me. When you’re on a show that’s been watching by ten million people then it can be a bit of strange experience for someone who’s not used to it. We were at a food fair recently and there were people queuing up to have their photo done with me which was a bit surreal.”
So does Richard have any plans to swap a plasterer’s bucket for a mixing bowl and pursue a baking career? “It would have to be a very good offer indeed for me to consider jacking in the building game, to be honest. We’ve got a pretty successful business here and never lost a day even through the recession, so I’ve got no plans follow cooking as a career path. I’ll need to carry on working on site, anyway, because I’ve managed to put on a stone over the course of the show!”