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Bake Off champion, cookbook author and publican Candice Brown on dining solo...
For me, food has always been about more than just eating. It’s the cooking, the process from start to finish that I love. From the first thought or idea that excites you, to choosing each ingredient and turning it into something comforting and exciting. Even when it doesn’t go to plan, cooking raises my spirits.
My most memorable meal isn’t a big, joyous family Christmas, nor is it a small, intimate meal with someone special. Instead, my most memorable meal is one I ate on my own, in Scotland, where I’d been asked to do a baking demonstration. It was the 2017 Taste Of Angus food and drink festival and I was staying in Dundee, at The Newport. It’s owned by Jamie Scott, a brilliant chef, and has the most incredible restaurant with a little pub at the front, right on the shores of the River Tay. I’d be happy in a Premier Inn – but this was just so beautiful.
I’m quite content with my own company. I actually like eating on my own; taking a book and just sitting. That night, I went down to my little table with my Harry Potter book (I love Harry Potter), and Jamie appeared to say they had prepared a 12-course menu. Unbelievable! The courses started coming out, with wine and everything. It was all incredible – small plates done so imaginatively, with perfect wine pairings. There were fish courses, a heritage tomato dish that was delicious (and I don’t even like tomatoes much!) and the most delicate, melt-in- the-mouth piece of beef. But then there came a dish I’ll never forget – a beautiful cauliflower cheese, which was like a tempura with a cheese foam. It was absolutely delicious; simply one of the best things I had ever tasted.
There I was, so happy in my own company, with my food and my book. All night people asked me to go and join them, and I was like, ‘Honestly, I am fine!’ Finally, there were three pudding courses and I ate the lot. Jamie came back out and said, ‘You are my hero!’ And I said, ‘I’ll take that!’ It was one of my happiest moments ever. We take food for granted so much. We rush what we eat and just throw it down our throats, and as much as conversation and company is lovely, sometimes just me and food and my own weird little brain is the best way of eating. I loved those few hours.
In 2016 when I won Bake Off, my life went crazy. It was insane; a whirlwind, a hurricane. I went on it thinking it would be brilliant to be part of something that I love so much. Never in my wildest dreams didI think I’d get on the show, let alone win it. Bake Off is the most amazing experience of my life. I owe it everything. But nobody could guess how bad my anxiety can be. I struggle with my mental health and depression, and baking is my therapy. Cooking gives me confidence when I’m feeling my least confident. It reminds me I can do something good; that I can make people smile and bring joy through something I have created. Cooking reminds me that I am good enough. I cook and bake when I’m happy, when I’m sad and when I’m bored, anxious or fidgety.
The past year has been brutal, to say the least. I’ve tried to put one foot in front of the other, but there have been times when I’ve taken a giant leap backwards and the rain cloud descends. As much as I feel like my brain lets me down, the fact that I’m here and I’ve got the pub [The Green Man in Eversholt, Bedfordshire] is testament to how strong we actually are.
Candice Brown’s new cookbook, Happy Cooking (Ebury Press, £22), is out now.