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Family, culture influence flavours for Greater Victoria bakers in T.V. competition

Langford, Victoria residents whip up new friendships while battling for top spot

Two Greater Victoria bakers are among the fresh batch of competitors rising to the occasion in the sixth season of The Great Canadian Baking Show.

Baking dates back to childhood and family bonds for John Fowler of Langford and Zoya Thawer of Victoria, both fans of the CBC competition where 10 people take to a tent for making and tasting that whittles down to one winner over the weeks.

Thawer credits her mom, a single mother who inspired her daughter with a first book of baking recipes at age eight or nine. “We’d pick something out every Sunday to bake together.”

Her flavour profile reaches even further back than those core memories. Thawer is an Ismaili Muslim who aims to share a taste of her culture. Born in Tanzania, the family moved to Vancouver at three, and Thawer embraces the culinary influences of her East African roots and a touch of India.

“I really had the opportunity to lean into that and bring some of those flavours to the bakes I did in the tent which was cool,” Thawer says.

Fowler calls himself lucky to grow up with a grandmother who was a phenomenal baker and his ’nan’ shared that passion. Every week she would make bread, squares, cookies, pies, cakes. “As a kid she used to make cream puffs and for me that was the most magical thing you could make.”

READ ALSO: Island contestant competes on Great Canadian Baking Show

Originally from Newfoundland, he shifted coasts in 2001 to pursue his masters degree at the University of Victoria. The lure of this coast took hold and two decades later he works as an administrative officer for the Department of Geography. It’s not uncommon to see coworkers more frequently than friends and family, and so Fowler admits his colleagues often serve as guinea pigs for his creations. There are also mini bake-offs a couple times a year at work, and Fowler insists he doesn’t always win.

A fan since season one, Fowler figured getting on the show would be a challenge and a great way to potentially make like-minded friends.

“In my day-to-day life no one wants to talk about the different types of buttercream, or pros and cons of buttercream,” says Fowler.

Careful to steer clear of potential spoilers for the coming season, Fowler says it is a highlight is just to make the show.“Being one of 60 people in Canada who has made it into that tent is phenomenal.”

“It’s a competition, but it’s not really a competition between bakers, it’s a competition with ingredients and time,” he says. While someone goes home each week, the show is not cutthroat and of course has the warm and comforting vibe inherent to baking.

READ ALSO: B.C. down to one contestant on Great Canadian Baking Show

A recent transplant from Edmonton, Thawer is a pediatric endocrinologist and compares the friendships forged on the show to the bonds built during medical residency. It’s a unique experience with no alternative but to grow close quickly, she says.

Participants learned from each other, plus the taste testing can’t be beat.

They’re still in touch to the point that Fowler recalls the odd feeling the first Saturday that went by without anyone chirping in on the group text.

“It’s life changing and these are people I would consider more than friends, almost family really,” he says.

Each one-hour episode features three rounds: The Signature Bake, the Technical Bake and the Show Stopper. After the baked goods are tasted and critiqued, the judges decide who is the week’s Star Baker, and who heads home.

The Great Canadian Baking Show airs Sundays at 8 p.m. starting Oct. 2, and streams on CBC Gem.

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Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

Longtime journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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