Candice Brown is a baker, publican and former teacher, best known for winning The Great British Bake Off in 2016; the last series shown on the BBC. Brown lives in Bedfordshire with her partner. She owns the Green Man pub in the village of Eversholt with her brother, Ben.
Best thing you’ve ever baked?
The gingerbread pub I made on Bake Off. My mum and dad ran pubs for 25 years so when we were challenged to make a 3D sculpture out of gingerbread of course I was going to make a pub. But could I do it in practice? No, I could not. Everything I made was too big, you could have gone in it and ordered a pint. I was prepared to go home that week, and then on the day, I pulled my finger out and got Star Baker. To this day I have no idea how.
Best thing about owning a pub?
The hard work. I love a challenge, I love learning, and it’s important for me to get stuck in. I do it all, I get in the kitchen, I pull pints, I wait on tables, I clean if I have to and I change barrels. It’s good to be able to meet these challenges. I am still a teacher at heart, so it’s nice to be able to learn and then pass those things on as well.
Best thing you do for the environment?
One of the things we’ve always done but has become relevant to our recent work on the Green Pub Guide is to have a seasonal menu which changes, sometimes weekly, depending on what’s available from local suppliers. That means the ingredients aren’t travelling as far and we’re serving customers delicious fresh, seasonal produce when it’s at its best.
Best thing on your pub menu?
My sticky toffee pudding. It is the best thing you will put in your mouth. I have it on great authority from many customers that if we took that off the menu, people would be up in arms. The secret of a great sticky toffee pudding is that it needs to be properly sticky, slightly stodgy but well-balanced with lightness – and don’t scrimp on the portion sizes!
Best day of your life?
Winning Bake Off. Very few people understand that sense of accomplishment. It blew away any self-doubt or any of the demons I had which were telling me I wasn’t good enough or I shouldn’t be doing that or “people will see that you’re not good enough”. It’s funny, when you watch telly, you see people waiting for the result or waiting for their name to be called but you can’t understand what a special feeling it is.
Best celebrity you’ve ever met?
They used to call me “Babs” in the Bake Off tent, because I’m a Londoner with a bit of a potty mouth and everything I said was an innuendo, so I reminded them of Dame Barbara Windsor who I’d always been a huge fan of. Not long after the finale, I got to meet Barbara and she was just this tiny force of nature with white-blonde hair, just as beautiful as she’d always been.
I’ve always loved the Carry On films so it was a treat to meet her. I went up to her and said what a pleasure it was, and I told her how everyone used to call me Babs. She looked at me and said “they used to call you ‘Babs’? Where are your bosoms?” I said “I’ve been asking myself the same thing for years!” And she threw her head back and laughed that cackle of hers. I thought: if I die tomorrow, I’ll die a happy woman.
Best Carry On films?
I love Carry On Cruising, I love Carry On Up The Khyber (you know it’s going to be good when the title pun makes you laugh – it’s genius) and I love Carry On Screaming!. Honestly, I could watch them over and over again. That Carry On Camping scene where Babs’ bra pings off? Just brilliant. Comedy is not done like that anymore.
Best advice you’ve ever had?
My dad used to say: “Be yourself and show them you.” It’s an old-fashioned thing: show them what you’re made of. Don’t change for anybody.
Worst thing about being a teacher?
For me, teaching was always about helping young people come out of school being decent human beings: knowing the difference between right and wrong, showing acts of kindness. Yes, lessons are important but they’re not everything. One of the worst things was having breakthroughs with young people who weren’t the star students and knowing it wasn’t going to be enough, because of the way modern schools are all about grades and box-ticking.
The ones who had improved their attendance, or their behaviour, or their mental health – they were doing amazing things and, for me, that was what it was all about. But it can be a tough battle to celebrate those things. I think good teachers are now leaving the job because of those kinds of box-ticking exercises.
Worst holiday you’ve ever been on?
When I travel, I want to try new things and experience new tastes. I’m the person who wants to try the mystery meat off the side of the road and eat off the random food stalls and in the dodgy little cafés. My worst holiday was when I went to Cuba when I was 17 and the food was terrible. They were serving nothing but Brussels sprouts, pumpkin – and even uncooked chicken once. For pretty much the whole time I ate nothing but rice, pineapple and bread.
Worst day of your life?
When my nan passed away. The bottom of my world fell out. She was my favourite person in the world. I love all my family, but we had a special connection. My nan was an incredible cook and an incredible baker and I like to think all of my success has come down from her. It still breaks my heart every single day.
Worst thing that you’ve baked?
I’m not very good with numbers and I’d tried to convert American units in a red velvet cake recipe. I must have got it wrong because this cake went in the oven and just kept growing. It was like that 1950s film The Blob. It’s just growing and growing in the oven. I was putting trays down to catch it all but it wouldn’t stop. It tasted OK but it ruined my oven.
Worst thing about owning a pub?
We had a massive leak a few months ago where I spent literally three days bailing water out from the cellar, filling a bucket with water, climbing the steps, pouring the water out, going back down and doing it again. I had to do that for three days. We have the freehold so it was all us on our own to deal with it. It was heartbreaking, but we persevered.
the ABSOLUTE WORST
Peas. I hate them in every way, shape, or form. We’ve had some beautiful pea dishes on the menu. Everyone else seems to love them and they’ve been in season and everything. We had a pea and watercress soup which people say is amazing, but I just can’t deal with them. Absolutely not. That’s totally my biggest, most irrational hatred. Peas.
Candice Brown is working with Heineken SmartDispense to launch the first ever Green Pub Guide – showcasing the pubs across the country striving for a greener future, with initiatives such as zero-waste menus, eco-friendly tech and banishing single use plastic.