Now in its fifth season, The Great Canadian Baking Show is a Canadian adaptation of The Great British Bake Off produced for CBC Television. Over the course of eight weeks, ten amateur bakers from around Canada compete against one another in a series of challenges, presenting their sweet creations before a panel of judges.
This year’s judging panel includes French chef, restaurateur and television personality Bruno Feldeisen, and Canadian pastry chef, Kyla Kennaley. Out of the ten contestants on the show this year, only three of them hail from Toronto and its surrounding cities. We caught up with Vincent Chan, a graphic designer from Mississauga, Alina Fintineanu, a dental hygienist from Toronto, and Steve Levitt, a small business owner from Aurora, to learn more about what inspired them to audition for the show.
Is this your first time auditioning for the show?
ALINA: I auditioned for Season 4, but I did not put my best foot forward! Not getting a call back was the impetus to get really serious about it, and step my game up significantly for my application to be on Season 5. An additional year of intense practice paid off!
VINCENT: No, I have auditioned for Seasons 2, 3, and 4, prior to being cast on Season 5. I did not audition for Season 1 because I wanted to see if the Canadian version had the same feeling of joy and camaraderie as the The Great British Baking Show. I was so happy that it did!
STEVE: Not even close actually. I applied in seasons 1, 3, 4 and 5. I skipped 2 because after having a phone interview for season 1 I realized that I was nowhere near ready and had done nothing to improve my skills by season 2. For season 3, I actually made it to the audition stage. Finally, all the stars aligned for season 5.
Why did you audition?
ALINA: I auditioned because I love to challenge myself and be a part of wholesome things. I am such a passionate home baker that I felt compelled to give it a try! I’ve watched and loved the show for so long, and watching Season 4 in particular I felt that FOMO (fear of missing out). So, I resolved to audition and give it my all!
VINCENT: The main reason for my auditioning for The Great Canadian Baking Show was to see how I would fare against the best home bakers from across the country. I have been told that my bakes were beautiful and tasted amazing from friends and family, but I feel they have to say that because they are getting free baked goods. Being my own worst critic, I wanted an objective view and opinion of where my abilities lie in terms of baking.
STEVE: There were a few reasons. First, I had recently found baking as a pleasurable hobby. Second, and not to be diminished at all, was that my wife and I were huge fans of Schitt’s Creek. My wife was obsessed with Dan Levy. One day, my co-worker walked into my office and said, “Did you know that they’re making a Canadian version of the Great British Baking Show…and Dan Levy is one of the hosts?” I immediately began filling out the application. I told my wife I would get on the show so she could meet him. Crazy, but true. (I still haven’t made good on that promise to her). And finally, I kept with it because I just love the show. Everything about it. It is the only cooking/baking show I have even considered applying for. And I knew if I kept working on my skills that, even if I didn’t get on the show, at least I’d be a better baker for it.
Where did your love of baking come from?
ALINA: I started baking from a young age with my mom making loaf cakes and fruit tarts. I honed my love and passion myself over the years; when it goes right, baking is something that relaxes me. My favourite way to bake it is to put on some music by Ludovico Einaudi and see what comes out of my kitchen.
VINCENT: I have always loved baking. I come from a long line of cooks and chefs. Although I like to cook, baking is where I found my groove. I like structure, rules, and cleanliness. But being a designer, I also like creativity, colour and flow. Baking is very structured and precise, but I love to find ways of being creative within these confines. That is what I really love about baking. It is a challenge.
STEVE: My love for baking developed from a lifestyle change where I began a fitness regimen and eating healthy. Stay with me on this…once I dropped 110 pounds and was “stable”, I wanted to introduce sweets (in moderation) back into my life – especially chocolate chip cookies. I figured if I was going to eat one, it better be the best possible cookie for the calories. Cookies led to cakes, cakes led to my Season 1 application and my push to Season 3 led to what has become quite a passion.
What’s your signature baked good, or item you love to bake?
ALINA: My signature baked good has been French entremets but it’s changed recently! I’ve been baking more than ever and now I’m very good at choux pastry desserts as well as mirror glazed cakes.
VINCENT: Well, that is a loaded question. I had a few “no fail” recipes before going into the tent. Unfortunately, I learned that they can fail while I am surrounded by cameras and a stomach full of nerves. But, I would have to say that I can make my Sans Rival Cake consistently well. It is a cashew dacquoise filled with mocha cream, salted caramel and topped with chopped, roasted cashews. It is one of my favourite bakes. I made a version of this for my Showstopper on Celebration Week.
STEVE: While I’d love to say chocolate chip cookies, I think that my chocolate cake in any of its many, many variations is my signature.
What’s your least favourite thing to bake and why?
ALINA: Unsurprisingly, my least favourite thing to bake is bread. I love eating it, but baking it is a whole other story! It’s purely the lack of experience – I like to call it my Achilles’ heel because I started baking bread in quarantine and didn’t make all that much of it.
VINCENT: I honestly cannot say that I do not dislike any bake. I am not fond of cakes that require fondant, but fondant has its place. I guess if I had to choose, I would say cupcakes. I don’t understand why people like them. Overly iced and a bit boring. Meh. Give me a slice of cake any day.
STEVE: Gee…when I read that it reminded me of the expression that “even a bad day fishing is better than a good day working”. Even my least favourite thing to bake is enjoyable. It used to be macarons. But instead of stopping, I embraced them, and now I love to make them. Currently, I’d have to say any type of mousse. The reason is simply that I’m still not continually successful with them (look no further than my performance in the Technical Bake during Celebration Week). I will not give up on it since I love to eat it. One day I hope to move it to the category of one of my signatures.
Are you baker by profession? If not, what is your professional background?
ALINA: I have been working for 11 years in dentistry and specifically orthodontics. The Tooth Fairy gone rogue! In the last several years I got more involved outside of clinical practice also – I am a Certified Training Practitioner and have trained and taught internationally on braces and clear aligners, I am a published author of several articles in prominent dental publications, and I have a background in adult education and have created continuing ed courses in orthodontics.
VINCENT: I have been a graphic designer and had my own business for 35 years. I have slowly been transitioning into interior design and decorating over the last few years.
STEVE: I started a promotional products company about 30 years ago (gosh, maybe even longer). Like baking, I’m self-taught in all aspects (including computer work and basic design and accounting). I’ve always been artistic and drawn to things like painting, photography and drawing. I’m an avid motorcycle rider and yoga enthusiast. I’m married, for the past 26 years to the greatest person I’ve ever met. Everything great that I’ve done or that has happened is as a direct result of her support, love and guidance. I’m a dad to two wonderful daughters. Yes, all of that is part of my background. If I’m not a good person, husband, father and friend, the rest doesn’t matter.
What’s been your favourite challenge on the show so far?
ALINA: My favourite challenge so far on the show was the Celebration Week Signature Bake: éclairs! I was still mastering my technique the night before the bake, and have gotten extremely good at perfecting éclairs since. I wish I could show one off to Bruno now!
VINCENT: I would say Cookie Week was my favourite week so far. I enjoyed making the Cookie Mosaic the most because I was doing it for the man I love, and a cherished memory of mine.
STEVE: My favourite challenge thus far has been the Celebration Week Showstopper: the meringue wedding centrepiece. That pushed me way out of my comfort zone. I also knew that my design would be unlike anyone else’s and was hoping that I could pull it off visually, flavour-wise and in the time given.
If you win, what are your plans afterwards?
ALINA: Spoiler alert! I left the Tent at the end of Bread Week. That being said, whether I won or didn’t, my plans are to dive head-first into baking and TV! I had never been on camera before and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m working very hard on my social media presence, I’ve been baking some really interesting and beautiful things so I’d like to partner with companies for content creation, food/product styling or other collaborations, I have a business I’d love to launch (stay tuned!) and I’d love to be in front of the camera again – whether that’s judging on other shows, having my own show, anything and everything!
VINCENT: Wow! Winning would be amazing. I would love to start some kind of career in the baking world. Whether it is a cookbook, baking classes, a baking business or all of them. I have always believed that if you are lucky enough to have your passion be your career, you will never have to work a day in your life. So far, I have been incredibly fortunate that this has been true in my life. Win or not, now it is time to see where this new path will lead me. Where ever it leads, I will enjoy the walk.
STEVE: I’m now a 55-year-old man with kids in school. As much as I’d love to bake all day long (who wouldn’t), I have a successful business that provides me and my family with a nice lifestyle. I’d like to keep on baking as a hobby and for people’s celebrations. It’s so lovely to be part of other people’s joy. It’s quite contagious. In a perfect world I can see “the finish line” of my working life some years down the road, and perhaps I’ll have a second chapter later on when I don’t have to make a living anymore and baking can take over as a bigger hobby. Honestly, I’ve seen and done a lot in my life to this point. I’ve learned not to make too rigid a plan. Life has a way of taking you down a path you didn’t even know existed. Heck, seven years ago I didn’t even know how to bake a cookie.
You can stream all episodes of The Great Canadian Baking Show, or tune in Sundays at 8 p.m. EST on CBC.