‘Great Kiwi Bake Off’ turn ‘a strange experience’

For former Oamaru man Alby Hailes, competing in The Great Kiwi Bake Off and watching it on television were two wildly different experiences.

The former St Kevin’s College pupil was last week announced as the winner of the third season of the New Zealand reality TV show. But filming actually wrapped up in August, and Dr Hailes has been keeping the result a secret for almost four months.

"It’s been quite a strange experience. Then obviously, having to sit and watch yourself — and what they end up showing on television is maybe 5% of what they actually filmed," he said.

"But it’s been awesome."

He experienced a "roller coaster of all emotions" during the final episode, almost having a complete breakdown on national television after his buttercream split four times.

But he pulled himself together, and his final show-stopper cake — that showcased all of his favourite things such as meringues, swiss rolls and his ideal marriage of flavours such as matcha, raspberry and pistachio — was his proudest baking effort to date, he said.

When his name was read out as the winner, everything was a bit of a blur — but it was special to share the moment with his partner, Alex Hedley, his family and all the other contestants, Dr Hailes said.

"Because everyone was amazing I think everyone deserved to win this as much as me and it was just such a cool experience we all got to share."

He believed what made him stand out on the show was that baking was not actually his forte — and the judges often commented about the mix of unusual flavours he used.

"I do a lot of other cooking, so I’m often experimenting with lots of different flavours.

"So I feel like all of that maybe played to my advantage, because at the end of the day, I think it was probably that point of difference that maybe carried me through."

While the TV show ran over two months, filming only took three weeks and each episode was filmed over two days. Before filming started, the contestants were given a brief for many of the challenges in the show and had about a month to come up with, and test out, original recipes.

The time pressures on the show were very real — and he laughed about how "so incredibly anxious and serious" he looked on camera.

Former Oamaru man Alby Hailes reacts to being named the winner of season 3 of The Great Kiwi Bake...
Former Oamaru man Alby Hailes reacts to being named the winner of season 3 of The Great Kiwi Bake Off.
"I take the things I do seriously and, you know, when you put a lot of your heart and soul into what you’re baking, and then it’s being critiqued — yeah, I guess I was pretty intense about it all."

But as a naturally competitive person, he thrived on the experience.

Dr Hailes, who grew up in Oamaru, said he was overwhelmed by all the "amazing" support he had received from people in the North Otago town, in his new home of Whangarei and from others around the country.

He entered the competition to push himself outside his comfort zone, meet some new people and learn some new skills — and it ticked all of those boxes, he said.

"The actual experience itself was awesome. I thoroughly enjoyed it and took so much from it — the people I met, the things I learned and I guess having that almost escape from real life.

"It’s almost like a dream escape where you’re kind of doing all this baking and with TVs and cameras, and kind of like a world away from your day-to-day."

In everyday life, Dr Hailes works for the Northland District Health Board, specialising in psychiatry and mental health.

His experience on The Great Kiwi Bake Off had prompted him to think about how he could incorporate food into his career in medicine, he said.

"Trying to just figure out how I can connect the two fields of mental health and food together, some kind of sweet spot where I might be able to work in both spheres."

He had been working on a recipe book and was in discussions with publishers.

The book would be based on his general philosophy of having a balanced approach to food — "where you grow your own food, and you’re preparing it yourself".

"That’s kind of a healthy relationship to have with what you’re eating.

"There’ll be stuff to kind of cater to all different kinds of diets and, you know, vegan, non-vegan stuff and lots of baking too obviously."

He was looking forward to spending Christmas with his family in Dunedin.



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