At home with Alvin Magallanes
PUBLISHED: 17:10 08 December 2015 | UPDATED: 17:10 08 December 2015
Invite editor Jan Raycroft and Maureen McLean round and be prepared: the bar is now very high because we've been spoilt with an exclusive 'Showstopper'
We are in the kitchen of our Great British Bake Off star Alvin Magallanes, sneakily hunting in the cupboards for the secret ingredients that make his cakes scrumptious and pastry so melt-in-the-mouth. But mostly we find rice, pasta and family staples, with some intriguing little jars poked into corners and labelled ‘Alvin’.
“Oh I know my place here,” explains Alvin. “The family kitchen is really the domain of Michelle. She’s a brilliant cook and she’s the boss who allows me into her kitchen. Actually, she’s also the boss at work!”
Wife Michelle genuinely enjoys this teasing. After all, it’s Alvin’s 38th birthday and what he says is true. The couple both work as nurses in the operating theatres at Heatherwood Hospital, Ascot, and Michelle, a matron, has the higher grade.
Right now the couple, together with children Eunice, 11, and Caleb, three, are squeezed into a rented flat in Bracknell, as a ‘half way house’ while they wait for a move to their new home in Binfield to be completed.
“We seem to have always been sharing a life because we met at school in the Philippines and then went to university together,” Alvin shyly offers, while revealing a magnificent cake he’s baked not for his birthday, but our visit. He tells us the magnificent middle of the cake is filled with pandan ice cream (find pandan online or at Asian stores, you’re going to love it!)
The couple brought their skills to the UK in 2002, and soon loved this country, even though their arrival was in a cold, dark winter.
So how did Alvin start baking? “Eunice came to me and said ‘Dad we need to have homemade cakes for a charity bake sale at school tomorrow. So I made some cupcakes and couldn’t stop making more, trying different recipes. That went on for a couple of years, then Bake Off came along and I was hooked. I wanted to be there.”
Watching GBBO and wishing to take part became something of obsession, but a nice one. Alvin applied three times before he was accepted, noting that each year GBBO was raising the standards. His first attempt got as far as a phone call from the producers, the second took him to the same stage. “I decided to try once more, and up my game. This time I was invited to an audition at Bristol and it was there I met Stu for the first time.”
Both Stu Henshall and Alvin survived the technical tests and questions, and a second audition in London and would go on to the actual series, filmed at beautiful Welford Park in West Berkshire.
“I was at work and had just come out of surgery when a call came from Anna Driver, the casting producer, to say I’d made it on to the show,” Alvin recalls. “I was so excited, but you have to keep it a secret apart from those who must know, and they have to keep the secret as well. My manager, Andrew, was brilliant at this, he managed my shifts so I was available for the three days and two nights’ filming of each episode.”
And so the series began and Alvin’s baking treats were to come under the scrutiny of judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. “I wanted to win it, we were all there to compete, everyone wanted to stay. But at the same time the respect was huge because you know how hard it was to get there and you soon learn all the other contestants are nice people.”
But each week someone goes home and the first ‘shocker’ for Alvin was the departure of Stu in Week One. And then there was the praise, or otherwise, from those famous judges. Mary, Alvin declares, is “a beautiful person, inside and out”, and his respect for Paul is huge: “When he is critical it is constructive. The judges are at the top of their game, you cannot fool them.
“I remember when Paul said my figs were ‘chunky’ and all I could think was ‘shall I cut them up a bit?’ but it was too late, they were already mixed into the butter.”
Viewers were delighted that the resulting version of Madeira cake passed the test, but it was Episode Three when Alvin won many hearts with his showstopper in Bread Week – that massive cornucopia 3D bread sculpture must surely be the largest item ever produced for the show.
All seemed to be going well until disaster struck in Episode Six. “On Day One, the Signature Dish, I made some fundamental mistakes with the plum frangipane tart. But you have to go forward and think you can pick it up. But the technical threw me, I’d never heard of flauones (a Cypriot cheese filled pastry) and that just left the Showstopper. Oh dear, some raw pastry and that is a ‘no no’.
“It was my turn to go and I have no regrets. It was a wonderful personal experience.”
Alvin still finds himself being accosted while filling the family car or out shopping, as GBBO fans tell him: “I was rooting for you,” and he’s in a lot of people’s selfies as a result.
The whole Magallanes family went to Welford Park for the final, having a great time meeting the other contestants’ relatives and sharing in the delight as Nadiya Hussain took this year’s title.
For the future they have that house move to look forward to, plus Alvin is taking a university course under The Royal College of Surgeons which will lead to a qualification allowing him to be first assistant to surgeons in the operating theatre.
Meanwhile, he’ll leave Michelle to excel at the family cooking!
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