Tthere was a disastrous anti-gravity cake in the first week, but then a decent cookie in the second week. Then suddenly, in week four, Chigs Parmar, the most inexperienced competitor of The Great British Cake, received the distinction of star baker for his black forest cake. Now, the contestant seen a few weeks ago as one of the most unlikely to win the show is in the final.
“I have no idea what I’m doing here, how did that happen?” I’m so shocked I don’t know what to say, ”Chigs said after finding out he had qualified for the final last week. “I’m hitting him now.”
Chigs’ story holds special resonance for the thousands of Britons who started cooking when the lockdown hit in 2020 and the shelves were stripped of flour. The 40-year-old only started cooking last year, starting, like many others, with sourdough bread. “He’s doing incredibly well to get from zero to where he’s at now, where it will likely change his life,” said Rob Percy, who runs Cake Origin in Leicester with his wife, Tracey. Like many others in Midland Town, he rallies to the Chigs ahead of Tuesday’s final.
Besides sharing the same hometown, he has a few more reasons to support Chigs. He worked in the same company as the Pastry shop star (although they never met) and Percy himself started cooking during the lockdown. “His story really touches me because I have never been a baker, even though I was involved in the business. It was really only during the initial lockdown last year that I was able to practice my skills as well, and it benefited him in the same way, ”he said.
Along with his baking, Sales Manager Chigs leads an active lifestyle and enjoys bouldering, skydiving and hiking. He visits the Social Climbing gym in Leicester several times a week.
“He’s actually a pretty good climber,” said Joseph Helmore, center manager. “All the staff know who he is, he’s really good at talking to people, and people recognize him a lot now, which is good.”
He said staff and customers are hoping he can bring some of his pastries to the center soon so they can taste for themselves what the judges are raving about. Chigs had come in for some of the rock climbing a few days earlier, Helmore said, and is apparently “really happy with everything that has happened and all of its results.”
“He came not to expect to have his talents, which in my opinion is quite impressive and probably an inspiration to a lot of people,” he said. “I hope he’s helped a lot of people see it a little bit differently, to show that you can just pick something up and run with it.”
For many people in Leicester, it’s the fact that Chigs started cooking so recently – his Instagram username is “the last bloomer” – that is most impressive. “I think it would be nice for Chigs to win to show that anyone can start cooking and get started,” said Liberty Vinci, a 21-year-old English literature student at De Montfort University. “He’s adorable and he’s grown a lot taller than the other two. He was random, then he turned into a dark horse.
“And he’s always smiling,” said his friend, Luke Bunn, 20.
“He looks pretty surprised that he made it this far,” said Peter Wyeth, 50, shopping with his partner, Mary Dye, 48. “He’s been a bit of a wild card all along and you wonder if he’ll be able to pull it off then he’s the star baker.”
He also said it was nice to see someone take something positive out of a difficult year, especially as Leicester have been hit hard by Covid, enduring England’s longest lockdown.
“It’s something that everyone has gone through so that we can all understand, and it’s good for Leicester as well as we were locked out longer than anywhere else,” said Wyeth.
“It’s always nice to see someone from your hometown doing well,” Dye added.
They also appreciated that Chigs helped promote the area with their ‘Leicester Pork Pie’ during Pastry Week, showcasing the region’s food heritage as a place for the classic British snack.
“It’s great to see someone locally doing so well and obviously we are crossing our fingers for the final,” said Percy. “But no matter what, it’s great to see someone follow their dreams and show what you can accomplish.”
The other contenders
The Italian engineer, who lives in Bristol with his wife and three young sons, has been strong throughout the competition and has been crowned Michelin-starred baker on several occasions. Many of his pastries were inspired by his Italian heritage, and his focaccia earned him the first Paul Hollywood handshake of the season.
He often fought against Jürgen Krauss, the other most consistent baker in this series, for the star baker each week, with many calling the competition a two-horse race. But after Jurgen was controversially picked to go to the semi-finals, the Italian became the favorite.
The 45-year-old enjoys using his engineering skills to create awe-inspiring shows – including a gravity-defying Jack-and-the-Beanstalk cake – so there’s a great wait to see what he’ll produce in the final.
Born in North West London to Kenyan and Portuguese-Goan parents, she is another baker who has excelled in the final weeks of the competition. She loves to travel, speaks four impressive languages, and has used her heritage and travels to bring a diverse range of flavors into the tent (many have noticed her penchant for using Japanese seasoned miso).
She has always been an avid baker and was a “head taster” in her house when she was growing up, although she only started cooking in earnest about three years ago.
Although she’s had a hectic few weeks, a good show in the semifinals saw her land her second All-Star Baker, and her showtopper was described as “flawless” by the judges. “I came into this week with a lot of impostor syndrome,” she posted on Instagram, and said she was “in total and utter shock” to make it to the final.