Good news, everyone! The Great British Bake Off is exactly as cute behind-the-scenes as it is onscreen.
Former Top Chef culinary producer Shannon Wilkinson told Seattle Met in a 2012 interview that he and the other members of his team would “go to Whole Foods and spend $5,000” to stock the show’s expansive pantry.
Said Wilkinson, “When you see the Top Chef pantry, we built it and stocked all the supplies. We came up with the ingredient list, the stuff you see when they’re in there grabbing ingredients during a challenge. We also supplied and managed all the equipment. … Chicago was the season we started working with [Whole Foods], and the people there were super friendly. We’d roll through there with four or five carts, just loading stuff in.”
Lots of food means lots of leftovers, and luckily for the crew, they get to choose the very best of the ingredients to bring to their hotels.
Wilkinson said, “Since these challenges were often weeks apart, we would take any leftover product that would have spoiled back to the hotel and have dinner parties. For me, that was one of the best perks; we’d go back to our hotel and eat caviar and foie [gras] and lobster.”
Though some food would inevitably spoil from being left out during filming, the team “always made sure the caviar was saved.”
As for snagging an invite to the show’s famed, once-a-season “Restaurant Wars” challenge, Wilkinson said it’s all about who you know.
He explained, “It’s people who know someone who’s associated with the show. It’s friends of producers or friends of people who are associated with the show in some way. It’s not like they’re going to take an ad out in the paper.”
According to Entertainment Weekly, Top Chef host/judge Padma Lakshmi, judge Gail Simmons, and regular guest judge Éric Ripert revealed at a 2010 New York Times’ Arts & Leisure panel that judges’ table critiques and deliberations can last up to 8 hours, despite the fact that they’re whittled down to just a few minutes on the show.
Lakshmi said, “If we can’t make a decision, the producers will sit us there. It’s like detention.” Ripert joked, “It’s really great TV because at 5 a.m. you truly say what you mean!”
In 2007, executive producer Shauna Minoprio told the New York Daily News that only one crew member tasted all of the food on the show: the technical coordinator, T-Bone.
T-Bone shot all of the close-ups of the dishes. Minoprio said, “So he’s sort of the inside mole, and if you want to get a sense of whose food tasted the best and who he thinks might do well at the judges’ table, go ask T-Bone.” And according to Entertainment Weekly, T-Bone eats the food after filming it, so he truly has the scoop on who did the best job.
Let’s move on to Cutthroat Kitchen, where chefs bid on “sabotages” to make it nigh-impossible for their competitors to successfully complete a dish. Despite the playfully mean-spirited premise, host Alton Brown told Bon Appétit that the show drew the line at showing anyone getting hurt.
Brown explained, “A few weeks ago on Cutthroat Kitchen, we had a young lady who cut herself badly enough that she had to be taken out of the competition. We didn’t try to cover that up, but we would never show the actual moment of injury.”
Speaking of danger in the kitchen: The doors to the pantry where contestants do their frantic pre-challenge shopping, for which they only have one minute, weren’t lined with glass, to reduce the potential of someone getting hurt (or making a mess).
In a 2015 tweet, Brown revealed that the briefcases full of cash seen on the show didn’t contain actual currency.
Brown wrote that they used “high-end motion picture” cash because “insurance won’t let us use real [money] on set.”
In a 2017 essay for Thrillist, Chopped applicant Julianne Feder revealed that the show casts “standby chefs,” who compete if one of the four original contestants is for some reason unable to.
Feder was cast as a standby twice, but didn’t get to compete either time. About the first time, she wrote, “All five of us were then ushered across the street to the studios. The four real contestants were brought one place; I waited in another. They brought me breakfast. I read a book. An hour passed and then another. The butterflies slowly faded away. No accidents. No competition jitters. Everyone made it through the first round.”
In an interview with FN Dish, Chopped host Ted Allen said that contestants prepare four plates, despite the fact that there are only three judges, for two reasons. Firstly, if that contestant gets eliminated, Allen has to reveal their dish from “underneath the cloche,” and it can’t be “a plate that’s already been half-eaten.”
And that fourth plate is the one the show uses for “close-up shots.” As for whether anyone would want to eat the untouched food afterwards, Allen explained, “By the time we’re done with that fourth plate, it’s about two and a half hours after it was cooked, and it’s been sitting out at room temperature, so no one’s going to eat that.”
In the same interview, Allen said that judging usually takes around 15 to 20 minutes per round, but the viewers “only see little moments of it.” Occasionally, if there’s a disagreement, it can take 30 to 45 minutes to decide who to eliminate.
And as for the legendarily cursed ice cream machine, don’t bet on the producers adding a second one. Allen explained, “Here’s the dirty little secret: Producers of competition shows don’t want to make it easy for contestants, so they enjoy it when people fight over the ice cream machine. But the fact is, it is totally possible for two batches of ice cream to get made within a 30-minute round, and when that happens, it’s exciting for us. So I don’t think we’re going to add another ice cream machine.”
Quantity of ice cream machines aside, the show does do its contestants some favors. According to contestant Josh Lewis’s interview with the A.V. Club, the ovens in the kitchen are preheated to 350 before the beginning of the round, and there’s already a pot of boiling water available, so chefs “don’t have to waste time doing that.”
Allen told Food Republic about a potential mystery basket item that he and judge Geoffrey Zakarian immediately rejected: A lollipop shaped like a toilet.
Allen explained that he will “fight” if he thinks the ingredients are “too sadistic,” “too tacky,” or have the potential to “reflect poorly on our judges who own restaurants.” About the lollipop, he said, “We’re not going to discuss whether there’s enough toilet flavor in the dish.”
And for dramatic effect, the production turns to a comparatively paltry 150 pounds of dry ice, which is “pumped through the studio all day long.”
In an interview with Vulture, reigning Great British Bake Off champion Giuseppe Dell’Anno said that hosts Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas spent plenty of time with the contestants even when the cameras weren’t rolling.
Dell’Anno said, “Matt and Noel are also two true gentlemen. They would eat lunch with us every day and be so supportive and concerned about our well-being. I wasn’t expecting the experience to be so wholesome. It’s soaked with warmth when it’s filmed, and it transpires on the screen.”
Bake Off home economist Faenia Moore gathers and organizes the equipment and ingredients needed by the bakers. In a 2019 interview with the L.A. Times, Moore said, “My job is, I go through all of the recipes, and I basically source and buy and organize all the bakers’ ingredients and all the equipment they need. When there’s 12 bakers, it’s quite a lot of information. I have a million lists.”
One time, a contestant wanted freeze-dried raspberries, but they didn’t get there in time for shooting. So Moore and her assistant went digging through boxes of cereal to gather the desired product. Said Moore, “There was a time you could get Special K with freeze-dried raspberries. I had a light-bulb moment. This person wanted 5 grams of freeze-dried raspberries. They’re extremely light, so my assistant and I went through about 20 packets in order to get these coveted freeze-dried raspberries.”
Prior to all that shopping, Moore helps cast the show. She said they interview “400 to 500” people each year. Each interview lasts “under 10 minutes,” and involves both technical questions about baking and personal questions about how the baker got their start. The list of questions is identical for each person, since “it’s all about being fair.”
Christina Wilson, winner of Season 10 of Hell’s Kitchen, told Mashed that there’s always a lawyer on set to make sure the competition stays fair.
Wilson explained, “People don’t know this, and it’s not the sexy part of the show, but there’s a lawyer on set, from Fox, every time that we’re recording, [and] anytime there’s a challenge or a dinner service. There’s no funny business. It’s a cash prize. It’s handled just like a blackjack table would be. It has to be fair, all the way around.”
Hell’s Kitchen champion Ariel Malone told Delish that she and her fellow competitors weren’t allowed to communicate with their friends, family, or the wider outside world during production.
That doesn’t mean that your loved ones remain totally in the dark about what’s going on with you, though. Said Malone, “The producers will call our parents to update them on what’s going on and let them know that everything’s okay.”
MasterChef contestant Elise Mayfield said in an interview with the A.V. Club that when she went to an open call for the show in 2013, she was instructed to show up with a meal. Mayfield was told that no one would have access to “any heating or cooling elements,” so potential competitors had to either “find a way to keep your food hot or cold, or make something that could be at room temperature.”
Mayfield prepared “chicken pot hand pies and a Brussels sprout slaw with a honey mustard and bacon vinaigrette.” She kept the pies hot via a combination of a sock full of rice that she’d heated in the microwave and some “glove warmer things.” (She clarified that the sock was clean.) The slaw was kept cool the old-fashioned way, with a “couple little ice packs.”
When Mayfield found out that she had advanced to the final audition in Los Angeles, she got 10 days to prepare. At that point, it wasn’t guaranteed that she’d actually make it onto the show, but she was told to “to pack for a couple of months,” just in case.
There were 100 potential participants at the LA hotel, which was then cut down to the lucky 30 who would actually get a chance to compete. Mayfield recalled, “When my name was called, I think I ‘beauty queened,’ like hands to the face. There were a lot of people that were like, ‘Yeah! Woo!’ I just immediately started crying, which I guess was the theme of my entire time on that show.”
According to the Food Network, the grocery store featured in Guy’s Grocery Games, aka “Flavortown Market,” contains more than 20,000 items. For instance, the produce section boasts 241 different items, the meat section has around 67, and in the seafood section, you can find roughly 442 pounds of fresh and frozen products.
And here’s what happens to all the leftovers: Everything that’s “still good” at the end of the week goes to local food pantries, while food scraps from challenges are transported to “a local farm for animal feed.”
According to Entertainment Weekly, the young competitors on MasterChef Junior aren’t told in advance what they will be cooking. They are, however, given a pre-filming tutorial on how to safely navigate the kitchen.
And finally: While the contestants are undeniably talented, they’re still just kids, so MasterChef Junior eliminates them in pairs, rather than individually, to minimize any hurt feelings. Gordon Ramsay told Entertainment Weekly, “We hate saying goodbye.”