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Celebrity Judge Prue Leith On What She Loves About ‘The Great American Baking Show’ 

New York, New York. — (The Hollywood Times) — 5/20/2024 — It is time for us to take a big bite out of Season 2 of The Great American Baking Show, and who better to guide us than the colorful Prue Leith, the series judge, restauranteur, entrepreneur, and cookbook author?

The Great American Baking Show, a Roku Original, is the American version of the most beloved baking show on the planet, bringing together passionate, talented bakers from around the country to see who will be named America’s Best Amateur Baker. 

Roku announced in April that The Great American Baking Show has approved a third season plus three seasonal specials.

After high school in South Africa, Leith talked her parents into allowing her to attend the Sorbonne, (formally, the University of Paris), to learn better French. But while she was at the school, she realized she wanted a career in the food industry. Her sought-after cookbooks include the 2018 best-seller, Prue: My All-Time Favourite Recipes.

This celebrity judge is also known as Dame Prudence Margaret Leith, after being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2021 for her contributions to food, broadcasting, and charity. Leith is the best-selling author of several cookbooks, for being a noted businesswoman and TV host, and for her colorful clothing and accessories, especially her eyeglasses and necklaces. 

She is so popular that wherever she and her husband travel, she is stopped numerous times to pose for photos with her doting fans, in particular those who love The Great American Baking Show and The Great British Baking Show

As Judge Paul Hollywood likes to say, and Leith wholeheartedly agrees, the show “is like a warm blanket on a cold day.” Who doesn’t crave that type of comfort during these often stressful and difficult times?

Judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith, with hosts Casey Wilson and Zach Cherry on The Great American Baking Show

Have you always been this colorful?  I love your fashion sense – your clothing line, eyeglasses, and other ways that you express yourself.

Prue Leith:  No, I haven’t always been this colorful. I’ve always liked color, but since I married my second husband 12 or 13 years ago, he used to be in the fashion business and is extremely good at working with color. He started buying my clothes for me. I love that because I never have to shop, and I hate shopping. So, he does all that and he’s the one.  If I say to him, “Do you think these earrings are too much?” he’ll say, “No, why didn’t you put on bigger ones?” Or, “They’re not enough.”

How is Season 2 different from Season 1 of The Great American Baking Show?

Well, if you watch them back-to-back you would definitely see that the Season 2 bakers are better than the Season 1 bakers. No question about it. Overall, they just are. But then that’s also what happened with The Great British Bake Off, as well.

I think it has to do with that in [COVID-19] lockdown people were baking a lot and so they got a lot of practice. Then because of the lockdown and the success of the baking shows more people applied for both the British and American shows. We had a much bigger pool of bakers to choose from, and so we had better bakers. I’m just hoping that continues next year. 

What have you learned from doing these two baking shows, the American and British versions?

I’ve learned that Americans are not that different from Brits. Obviously, their baking skills are the same, but probably the Americans wear their hearts on their sleeve a little bit more, they perhaps show their emotions a bit more. The Brits are sort of famously all about the stiff upper lip and a bit more reserved.

But by and large, these bakers are the same. They badly want to win, they’re too polite to show how badly they want to win. They’re helpful to each other, they’re warm and friendly, and they understand the bake-off vibe, which is all about having a lovely time in a nice, safe place. 

What would we have if we were getting together for a lovely cup of tea and some sweets?

If we were sitting down for a nice cup of tea I would like a polenta cake, that’s made with a lot of ground almonds in it, like an orange polenta cake.  I love that ground almond texture. It is a sponge cake that varies from a very light genoise, with a lot of egg white whisked into it so that it’s light and airy. 

Or you can get a really heavy, very flavorful carrot cake at the other end, which is quite almost stodgy. It’s delicious, but it’s quite hefty. In the middle is this perfect textured polenta cake, which is a little heavier than a light sponge but it’s moist and it still dissolves in your mouth Not at all stodgy. I like it with lemon or with oranges, with caramelized pineapple or anything. Basically, I love polenta cake.

What kind of tea would we be drinking?

Well, we would be drinking boring, old English breakfast tea with cows’ milk in it. And just to make it even more difficult to get hold of, is the fact that I like decaf.  Because I drink gallons of it and I don’t want too much caffeine. So decaf English breakfast.

I’m a Darjeeling tea drinker myself. Can you tease or characterize the overall Season 2 in terms of what we need to look forward to 

Well, better baking for a start, and lots of laughs. I saw a lot more joy in the tent this year. It’s just about people seeming to have a good time.  A few tears, because you do get genuinely fond of those bakers, and when they have to go. My mother used to call me a “Hard-Hearted Hannah” when I was little. It would always be me who was sort of dry-eyed when the chickens died or something. My brothers would be upset. 

I’m supposed to be the tough one, but I feel quite sad when we have to get rid of a baker. This happened this season in The Great American Baking Show. When we send somebody home it isn’t the baker who was crying, it is her colleagues and her rivals, the people who should be delighted that it’s her and not them that they’re going home. They are the ones who are in tears.

Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith on The Great American Baking Show

I feel like the success of the show is how you relate to the contestants and they relate to each other. I don’t bake a lick. And yet I love both baking shows that you judge. Talk about that.

It’s interesting because I’m not really a baker, either. I have this reputation for being a baker because people imagine that I wouldn’t be judging a baking show if I weren’t a baker. The reason I’m there is because for many, many years I had with the Leith’s School of Food and Wine, which is a chef’s school. I was judging cooking, not baking. The school is still there although I’m no longer involved with it, But obviously, baking was part of it. But I was judging food three times a year for exams for all these students. It was thousands and thousands of students.

Then for 11 years, I was on a television show called The Great British Menu, which featured professional, top Michelin-type chefs. They were making dinner. For 11 years every week, I would be judging one of these episodes. I was highly qualified as a taster rather than a baker. So that’s why I got the show.

Talk about some of the highlights of what you enjoy about working with Paul on this show.

Well, I love working with Paul. Partly because he’s become a true friend. And so, we’re always pleased to see each other and we enjoy it, and I think we work well together. I also quite like the rivalry because he can be quite dictatorial, shall we say. He’ll just announce that something is absolute perfection and he’ll give it a handshake and I’ll think no it’s not, it’s not worth that. 

When I first started working with Paul, I was so in awe of him that I wouldn’t have said that’s not worth a handshake, but now I do. It doesn’t happen often, because nearly always I agree with him.  And, in fact, nearly always we agree with each other on everything.

Please tell me more about the Prue-Paul dynamic that we all enjoy watching.

One of the things that’s interesting is people often say, “You and Paul don’t agree and you are much kinder than Paul. You probably mark the contestants much more highly than he does.” What you don’t see is we mark every single dish that we taste just so that we have a record. So that if we’re trying to discuss who’s to go home, we can go back and look at the bakes they made yesterday and say I gave it a seven and you gave it a six, and so forth. 

We find when you look at the marks, that we almost always do the same mark. We almost always give it – we both give it a seven or we both give it a five or something. I think once or twice it’s happened that I’ll give it two marks away from Paul because I don’t agree with him about something.  But it’s never more than two marks.  It’s usually one mark away or we’re bang on.  That’s comforting because if we were constantly disagreeing, I think it would be really hard to do this job, but we don’t 

Also, I like his sense of humor, and I sometimes want to throttle him. He is entirely responsible for the fact that I have a reputation as a fantastic drinker because he bangs on all the time about how much I love alcohol. When it’s perfectly true I do think a bit of booze in cake generally helps it a lot. A Rum Baba is my idea of heaven. So, I do like booze in cake and I do like booze generally, but to listen to Paul you’d think I was a real old soak. It’s quite funny.

Judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith, with hosts Zach Cherry and Casey Wilson on The Great American Baking Show

What is your overall advice for somebody who’s thinking about participating in the show or has been chosen?

Well, if they’ve not yet been chosen and they’re thinking about applying, the first thing I’d say to them is don’t apply unless you are an extremely experienced, regular baker. Because if you haven’t got a lot of experience and if you’re not practically obsessive about baking there’s no point in doing this because it’s going to take months of hard work, messes, and messes or practices.

You’re going to be staying up until 2 a.m. practicing your baking after you’ve collected the children from school, bathed them, put them to bed, or whatever. Then you’re going to be baking for two or three hours. Before you go to work the next morning. So, it’s a hard slog.

What else would you add in terms of advice?

Secondly, I’d say you need the right attitude to come into the bake-off tent. You need to want to do it for the fun of it and because you love baking rather than for some idea that you’ll be famous. Because, yes, you’ll get a bit of television attention.

But it comes with a lot of hard work. And that’s only fun if everybody in the tent is in the same boat, all the people who got that far are dedicated bakers. They talk about baking all the time. On their few days off in between filming, they are at home or in their B&Bs practicing – that requires a lot of time and effort.

What can we look forward to in the future besides the upcoming season of the show?

Yes, well, at the moment my latest cookbook came out about a year ago called Bliss on Toast. Long ago I decided that anything good on a plate tastes better as leftovers on toast. Even things like coq au vin or fish pie. If they were good the first time around, they’d be better on toast the second time around. So that’s called bliss on toast, and it’s everything from really expensive filet steaks with café de Paris butter on top that you could serve at a dinner party, to beans on toast with sausages for stew.

What else is coming up for you?

The book I’m working on at the moment and I’m just doing the proofs for, it’ll come out in the autumn, is called Life’s Too Short to Stuff a Mushroom. Because it’s about hacks and cheats and simple dishes that you can do quickly. It’s all about really good food. It’s about homemade food with extremely good ingredients. So, it’s not just about assembling supermarket versions; it is about the real thing. But it’s about the simple, efficient, quick ways of doing them. I think it’ll be fun.

Please talk briefly about the celebrity aspect of it for you. When people come up to you and they’ve been watching you on TV for years and they have all the cookbooks. Is that fun?  Is it difficult? Is it both? 

It’s interesting because this is where Paul and I differ so much. Paul is always very polite and nice to people who want a photograph with him or a selfie or his autograph or something, but he doesn’t like it. He’d rather not meet anybody. Because underneath all that macho stuff he’s quite shy.

While I, on the other hand, absolutely adore it. I love the attention. I’m a total egotist. Yesterday my husband and I walked along the highline. It’s spring, it was a beautiful day, the flowers were out, it was fantastic.  We must have been stopped 20 times walking the length of the Highline by people who wanted pictures. For me it just made the afternoon, I loved it.  I’m a sucker for attention. 

You have had such a rich and full life. What is your definition of success?

This is going to sound very boring, but my definition of success is a job well done.

Why do you think the American show and the British version have been so successful from day one?

Well, it’s surprising. When the first Great British Menu went on the air nobody expected it to be the success it was. The producers were astonished to find that old men were listening to it, school children were listening to it, and whole families were viewing it. They couldn’t believe the success they had on their hands. I think what they hadn’t reckoned was how people are crying out for something warm and comforting and nice and friendly.

There’s so much on television that is loud and violent and obscene and bloody. The characters are increasingly not just baddies, they’re horrible people and they do disgusting things to other people. It’s all very stressful. Whereas with The Great American Baking Show, you go to bed as I’ve worked on various bake-offs now for the last eight years and I have never heard anybody shout at anybody else, I’ve never heard anybody quarrel. That atmosphere you see on the television when you’re watching is exactly the truth. Nobody is nasty to anybody. 

If you were invited to or hosting Christmas dinner, brunch, or lunch what would you make or bring?  What would they want you to bring?  

Well, a lot of people don’t like English Christmas pudding, which is very traditional. But everybody likes a bit of spice. And so, I make a Christmas-shaped pudding, like an upturned bowl. 

But it’s made out of vanilla ice cream with crumbled-up Christmas cake in it. And a bit of booze. I am keen on a bit of booze.  So, Christmas pudding ice cream is my specialty, and it’s delicious. It’s easy to make. You just get soft vanilla ice cream and put enough either mincemeat or crushed-up Christmas pudding or crushed-up mince pies in it, mix it up, refreeze it, and it’s perfect.

Since it is summer what summer dish do you fancy bringing to a party?

For a summer dish, I’d bring my favorite pudding, which is probably pavlova, which is just a meringue shell but soft in the middle but crunchy on the outside, filled with whipped cream and fruit.

I take it that you are looking forward to doing a Season 3. 

I definitely want to do it. Apart from anything else, I get to come to America for a week, like I am now, to promote it. Which is what I’m busy doing. I love New York, and it’s a lovely excuse to come here. Of course, I adore this show.

The Great American Baking Show, Season 2, is available on The Roku Channel starting on Friday, May 24.