13 year-old The Grammar School pupil Zack Cohen chats about his time as a contestant on the latest series of Channel 4’s Junior Bake Off.
Zack’s baking style may be “chaotic and crazy”, but baking is his calm place. The North Leeds baking whiz was taught by his mum and his grandma from a young age but now he uses the internet to hone his skills. His speciality is bread, and he is the go-to in the family for making traditional challah. Zack is self-taught on the bass guitar and plays in a band with his friends from school. Zack always takes on the big brother duty of baking a wonderful birthday cake for his brother, each year pushing himself to make it more elaborate than the last.
Tell us the story behind entering Junior Bake Off?
I saw the series being advertised locally and thought: ‘why not give it a go?’. I’ve always had a passion for baking since I was young. I watch it every year and thought it’s a great experience even just to go through the audition process.
The moment I got home after seeing the leaflet, I got on my phone and filled in the application form as quickly as possible. I didn’t have any help. I told my mum and she was like: ‘let’s have a look at what you’ve done’, but I had already sent it off.
Was it good fun getting to the location and meeting everyone?
We had a four-hour drive but it was worth it when we got there. It was weird on the way because of COVID we didn’t go into the service station but had our picnic lunch sat on a kerb. When I got there, other than being greeted by a COVID test, everyone was really friendly. I was so excited to start filming and make new friends.
How long have you been baking and what is your speciality?
I’ve been baking as long as I can remember and my grandma Leila is my biggest inspiration. At a young age I would go to her house and we would make cupcakes. I remember one time she had edible football wafer paper and I found it unbelievable that you can eat paper. I have early memories of baking with her and I’ve just kept it going. It’s got to the point now that she thinks I’m better than her, so that’s a bit awkward (it’s true).
I don’t have a speciality bake because I love experimenting with new ideas, usually stuff I’ve watched videos of on social media. I do love making bread and I’ve made a lot of it during lockdown and my speciality one is seasoned with za’atar – it’s delicious.
Who are your favourite celebrities in the current Bake Off programmes?
I’m loving watching Matt Lucas on the new series of GBBO. He’s so funny and I think he would be great with Harry Hill on JBO. Harry was just as I expected and sometimes I found it difficult when I was trying to focus in the tent if he was asking me a question!
Going into Bake off I didn’t know much about judge Ravneet Gill, but I soon got to know her and she was definitely the one I wanted to impress. I really relate to her baking style – she uses great flavours and experimental ideas with her food.
Were you excited to watch it on TV?
It’s been impossible keeping this massive secret. I just want to shout about it and I couldn’t wait until it was on TV and I could finally talk about it.
I had planned a bit of a watch party but COVID restrictions ruined that. But it was great to watch it with my mum Nikki, dad Ashley, sister Scarlett and brother Jules even though we couldn’t have anyone else over. I don’t like listening to myself on tape, so it was a strange experience watching myself!
If you were a cake at a children’s party, what would you be and why?
I would be a coffee cake as this is my favourite flavour, but little kids don’t like it – so I would avoid getting eaten.